Low-code technology is on the rise, with Gartner predicting that “by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by organizations will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020.”
Should you invest in this increasingly popular technology for your business? What is low-code software, and what are its pros and cons? Low-code software has plenty of benefits, but it’s important to be informed before you jump in with both feet.
Low-code and no-code software platforms are just what they sound like: packaged software platforms designed to be set up with little or no coding experience necessary.
Low-code is “an app development process that focuses on visual development and interfaces, to enable quick app delivery with little hand-coding,” according to IBM Cloud Education. “The graphical user interface and the drag-and-drop features of a low-code platform automates aspects of the development process, eliminating dependencies on traditional computer programming approaches.” According to Geek Flare, examples of low-code platforms include Zoho Creator, Visual LANSA, Mendix, Microsoft Power Apps, and Caspio.
Similar to low-code software, “no-code development platforms provide drag-and-drop tools that enable businesses to develop software quickly without coding” at all, according to Adam Crivello, a buyer’s guide writer at G2. According to that same G2 guide, some examples of no-code platforms include AppSheet, Airtable, SurveySparrow, Appy Pie, and Kissflow.
It’s worth noting that not everyone agrees about what comprises no-code or low-code software platforms or what separates them from other packaged software systems. And in some cases, the distinction may not matter.
“The overused terms ‘low-code’ and ‘no-code’ are confusing application and software engineering leaders about which development tools to choose,” said Jason Wong at Gartner. “Leaders should focus on evaluating these tools based on their fit to use cases and skill sets, rather than the labels used to describe the products.”
Here are some general features that most low-code and no-code software platforms offer. Consider which of these features you most need and then use that as a starting place for evaluating software platforms:
Low-code and no-code development provide an alternative to custom development, the traditional method of app development. As relatively new approaches, they provide some significant benefits both to developers and to businesses:
Speed. The low-code or no-code approach to app development is much faster than building custom applications, taking hours or days rather than weeks or months. Custom development, on the other hand, can take months before you even get to the stages of technical analysis, prototyping, development, testing, and implementation.
Flexibility. In some respects, low-code solutions provide more flexibility than custom solutions. With a few clicks and drags, you can bring your vision to life and make changes on a dime. The budget and timeline of custom development make it harder to change directions.
Expertise required. No-code solutions are designed to be used by anyone. Low-code software is a step up as far as expertise is concerned, so you will need someone who is knowledgeable about programming. Custom development requires an entire team: software engineers, UX designers, QA engineers, and more.
Cost. When you pay to use low-code software, you pay for just that: access to the software. You may also need to hire a software developer to help you get everything integrated and make adjustments as needed. Traditional development is typically much more expensive. The team of experts and the length of the project multiply to require a significant investment, with “many custom software projects [falling] somewhere between the $50,000 and $250,000 mark,” according to Soltech.
The bottom line? Low-code software is a low-risk, high-ROI investment that has been a powerful enabler for many businesses over the last few years.
While low-code software can be the right solution in some cases, it’s not always the best choice. There’s a reason custom development is still around, and it’s in part because of the drawbacks inherent in low- or no-code software.
Limited flexibility. Low-code and no-code software may allow you to make changes on a dime, but those changes are limited to what the software offers. Custom development offers just what the name promises: the ability to build an app that is customized to fit your every need. You can choose the tools, APIs, technology stack, and hosting that best meet your requirements.
No property rights. Low-code solutions may or may not allow you to download the source code of the final product and move it to another hosting provider or platform. But with custom development, you don’t depend on third-party solutions, so the final product is yours to protect, move, or sell. You’re in complete control.
Short-term reliability. “Low code tools like Mendix are an excellent option for the automation of simple processes or prototyping,” according to Brocoders Company at Hackernoon. “However, once the prototyping stage is passed, the business logic becomes more complex eventually. To develop a project any further, you'll need an expert team.”
Limited functionality. Drag and drop functions may provide exactly what you need up to an extent, but when you need a unique feature, that’s where low-code solutions fall short. Integrating custom code allows you to build just what you need from scratch.
Technical expertise may be needed. While low-code solutions aren’t prohibitively difficult to use, they still require some expertise to ensure that they are built correctly.
Security limitations. With third-party, low-code solutions, you don’t have full control over data security, and you don’t have access to the source code. While low-code software typically has built-in security protocols, they don’t provide the same protection, or important information, as software you build yourself.
So, are low-code and no-code software just fads, or are they something you should invest in? As with anything in the tech industry, it depends. For startups especially, packaged software can be a necessary jump-start to get you up and running, and the less code required, the better. But no matter how low-code a packaged software is, it may only be able to get you started, lacking the agility you will need as you grow. If you have the resources to invest, custom development may be the way to go. That’s especially true if it’s important for your business to have the flexibility, property rights, long-term reliability, and functionality that custom-built applications can offer.
You have a decision to make: Packaged or not, you know how to pick a good software platform that is truly low-code or no-code, or you can go for custom development if that would better suit your needs.
Have a question about an upcoming low-code or custom development project? SVI is here to help. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.