Low-code and BPM: Differences and similarities

Low-code development and business process management help digitize and optimize a business's operations. Learn how each works, and how together they enable digital transformation.

Businesses in today's digital marketplace need to rapidly respond to customer demands, worker needs and changing dynamics, and also keep costs in check.

To accomplish this, they embrace processes and tools to support efficient and effective operations. Two of these are a strong business process management (BPM) discipline and low-code development. Both of these approaches aim to simplify execution of business processes, but they also can be used together.

What is low-code development?

Low-code development is a modular approach to software development. Users assemble an application from a list of reusable software components that represent particular functions or capabilities. They then link those components  to create the desired computerized workflow using drag-and-drop visual blocks. This contrasts sharply with traditional software development, whereby programmers write lines of code to create the capabilities required for a specific application.

Low-code benefits include faster application development and delivery, and operational and cost efficiencies by freeing developers from more mundane programming tasks. Some aspects of low-code require some knowledge of application design and programming skills to add discrete functions. This distinguishes low-code from "no-code" development, which requires almost no actual computer programming to accomplish and is typically done by departmental employees with no software development experience.

What is BPM?

BPM is a discipline by which an enterprise analyzes and models a business process from beginning to end, and continuously reengineers the process to optimize its efficiency and effectiveness. It is part of a change management series of actions that uses various methodologies, such as Lean and Six Sigma, to not only articulate the "how we do things" but also identify bottlenecks to fix.

"[It's] a first step to digitize operations and prepare the firm to optimize and automate operations. It helps companies to prioritize which processes they need to focus on," said Michael Larner, principal analyst at ABI Research, a global tech market advisory firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Successful BPM delivers a range of benefits: improved productivity, increased collaboration, a consistent customer experience, heightened regulatory compliance and greater accuracy rates.

How low-code and BPM differ and work together

Low-code and BPM share some fundamental differences. Low-code simplifies the creation and delivery of apps and functions, often to address specific customer needs. BPM models and streamlines business processes toward many goals, one of which is improved customer interaction.

However, low-code and BPM overlap as well. Organizations can use low-code not just to build an app but also to codify a specific process as part of a broader BPM initiative. Both practices seek to prioritize an understanding of a business goal, and can be less stringent about knowledge of application design or programming.

Low-code development and BPM software

Low-code and BPM share some elemental goals, so it's not surprising that technologies created to support these efforts also overlap.

BPM software capabilities include information gathering and validation, the ability to trigger additional actions and management reporting. Some vendors have added chat bot support, machine learning and AI features to their more traditional interfaces. Many incorporate some low-code capabilities for users to graphically design and connect processes.

"BPM software covers a wide range of platforms, starting from tools that configure specialist mobile apps up to the more conventional large-scale tools for managing major enterprise processes," said Richard Marshall, analyst at The Analyst Syndicate, an analyst firm in Boston. "The classic large tools are very much focused on big business systems with comprehensive integrations and the ability to handle lengthy processes with many stakeholders and extremely complex business rules."

Meanwhile, some low-code platform vendors list BPM initiatives among many potential uses, although these tools typically don't offer many of the process-centric functions found in a BPM platform. Many BPM platforms incorporate some low-code functionality to empower business unit workers who best know the business processes but possess limited technical knowledge. They can create the BPM applications and improve them over time without involving the IT department or software developers.

However, this may limit functionality and access to required systems that really do require IT staff with application design or programming skills. "Due to the limitations related to database access and the inability to add complex calculation and data retrieval logics, applications built on such platforms have limited expansion and maintenance capability," said Manan Thakkar, consulting manager for business process and software solutions at Synoptek, a global IT services provider based in Irvine, Calif.

Low-code platform users don't have to wait for IT and upgrade cycles to introduce changes, and they have greater control over the interface and how they interact with the software, added ABI's Larner. On the other hand, businesses must provide governance so that users embrace new ways to perform tasks and don't spend too much time tweaking platforms, he said.

Low-code and BPM use case: Support digital transformation

Many businesses that invest in BPM, as well as low-code, use these tools to support digital transformation strategies. Business users can quickly work on multiple ideas and try various possibilities to provide the best customer interaction. Organizations, meanwhile, can improve overall process efficiency, maximize automation and minimize manual errors and optimize costs, Thakkar said.

Low-code and BPM together can support transformation in multiple ways, but first and foremost to reveal portions of a process that operate in segments or silos and understand them a broader context, said Robert Dutile, chief commercial officer at UST, an IT services and solutions company.

This includes identifying steps, functions and activities that are inefficient or redundant and can be either automated or eliminated.

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