Low-code platforms are software solutions that are now driving a major shift in the way companies can develop their applications and improvements to functionality faster. But will they reduce the need for highly skilled engineers who build and develop digital platforms? Will low-code solutions be transformative and, if so, what are the implications?
What is driving the rise of low-code platforms?
Benefits. When looking at the drivers for the emergence of these solutions, let’s start with the benefits. Companies using low-code platform solutions are achieving or expecting benefits, including faster time to market, as the solutions accelerate application development and implementation time (less than three months, compared to three to six months).
Other benefits include increasing automation to streamline workflows (particularly manual processes) and empowering business users to help develop functionality that solves business problems. In the acute global talent shortage we face, some companies are looking to use low-code solutions as a way to reduce IT backlogs and close the gap between business demands and the scarce availability of IT resources. Others hope to reduce investment in developer and data engineering expertise.
Democratize programming. In addition to benefits, an important driver is that low-code platforms are democratizing programming. They enable individuals with less formal education to develop technical functionalities, allowing many more people to participate in app development. It’s similar to the way the cloud democratized computing power and made it available to a larger portion of the business population, making it easier to consume and use.
Pathway to low-code solutions. Efforts to democratize programming and reduce reliance on heavy technical skills are not new. Companies have been on this trajectory for a long time.
First came attempts to create automated code or generate code based on data models. Case technology was the ability to build a robust tight data model and then generate the code for the functionality to drive the business. This solution had a place, but it fell through because the time spent building the data model was significant and on par with developing the code. In addition, the code this solution generated was brittle and difficult to maintain.
Object-oriented programming replaced the data model approach, and it’s still with us today. Its promise was that it would enable programmers to rebuild and reuse objects and generate substantial productivity from them. But as far as democratization is concerned, the results have been modest. Object-oriented programming worked, but it fueled the heavy tech movement rather than democratizing coding. While companies could reuse code components, they had to customize many of them; so the hope of a world of objects that can be easily linked together never arose.
The next stage of evolution was automated code writers and by 2014 there were several solutions on the market.
Today’s solutions for low-code platforms are the latest version of the evolution to democratize programming. Low-code platforms emerged, but were underdeveloped for some time until they became robust enough to support widespread adoption. Low-code solutions seem more promising than object-oriented programming. They scale well and many companies are productively using low-code platforms and getting good results.
Low-code platforms could become the “next cloud”
The low-code market is taking off very quickly and solutions are now widely available in the market. There are many versions. The Everest Group’s research (based on buyer interactions) ranks four providers as leaders in 2022: Outsystems, Mendix, Salesforce and ServiceNow. There are several low-code solutions in the cloud, with AWS, Google, IBM and Microsoft leading the way. They also provide low-code solutions for adding AI to applications. We believe that business platform service providers will capture the lion’s share (75%) of this market in the future.
Low-code platforms are poised to play a dramatic role in the ongoing evolution of democratizing programming. Our research at Everest Group shows that adoption will grow exponentially in the coming years. In fact, we believe that low-code platforms could become the ‘next cloud’, which would be a critical asset for digital transformation at scale.
How important and transformative will low-code solutions be?
How important is this phenomenon of low-code platform solutions? I think they will be especially important in helping AI develop. They will also enable increased productivity as organizations can develop application functionalities much faster.
Still, I don’t believe they will replace the need for heavy engineering skills. In fact, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the need for heavy-duty technical talent as the low-code platforms gain market share. How can we reconcile the growth of both at once?
The answer is that we need both as we enter the platform era where companies want to grow by building platforms to improve their competitiveness. They need both heavy-duty engineering and low-code platforms that allow for fast and easy development.
Low-code solutions will be important components of programming in the future. They allow business people to play a role in development. They are a fast, low-cost way to build prototypes and functionality, while the heavier engineering skills are required for components for platforms that power high-volume transactions and require greater accuracy and expertise.
Companies will develop parts of their technical functionalities in low code and others through traditional engineering and IT vehicles. But low-code will be part of the tech stack and not compete against the tech stack.
How companies need to change
Gone are the days of the fortress mentality of central IT departments dictating to businesses what they can and cannot do. Technologies are now too important and embedded in the way companies do business. The more they use platforms to compete, the more vital business users have in participating in the functionality. They cannot wait for a centralized IT organization to develop functionality and must take responsibility for the functionality themselves. Low-code platforms give them the opportunity to participate.
Businesses should embrace low-code platform solutions. They must combine low-code solutions with heavy engineering of platforms so that there is no contradiction between them. In fact, I believe that IT departments should educate the business people in selecting the right platforms and maybe give them training. They should also provide governance and guidelines for understanding when to turn a low-code programming project over to the heavier engineers to install scaled components.
If low-code platforms achieve the expected benefits, will there still be a need for third-party service providers? Absolute. Heavy engineering activity will continue to grow, not shrink.
We are now at the point where it is clear that low-code solutions are with us for the foreseeable future and will play an important role in organizations’ tech stacks.