The IT department has historically been viewed as the provider of application development services in most organizations. However, demand is exploding as the pace of business accelerates and mobile increasingly dominates the landscape. Consumers prefer to interact with your organization online and expect near real-time responsiveness – if your software development cycle takes months, you’re at a huge disadvantage against your nimbler competitors.
Most IT departments are hopelessly bogged down and simply cannot keep up with modern speed and agility demands. As a result, more and more companies are turning to so-called citizen developers – that is, professionals who are not coders by trade – to develop applications. What’s making this possible? The answer is modern, visual, low-code development platforms.
What is a Low-Code Development Platform?
Low-code environments allow users to create applications through visual interfaces, wizards and configuration rather than traditional programming languages. Non-technical users can use pre-built templates, drag-and-drop designers and point-and-click wizards to create mobile-enabled forms, business processes, and applications.
Why Low Code?
It’s common for mobile apps to take months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s an eternity and, often, by the time the app is deployed, business conditions have changed. Even if you have the time and money, skilled programmers are very hard to find and expensive to retain. Modern technology changes so fast that it’s very difficult even for skilled people to stay current.
A low-code platform helps by streamlining the development process so IT can create applications faster. Notwithstanding the benefits to IT, the real win comes from spreading app development among more users – the citizen developers.
How should you choose a solution?
Citizen developers using low-code development platforms can only be truly successful if they are fully supported by IT and embraced by the business. When evaluating a solution for your organization, pay attention to the following eight aspects.
1. World-Class User Experience
Great UX is crucial, and you should evaluate the platform carefully on this aspect. Everyone uses mobile devices and they’re used to slick, intuitive and fast user interfaces. Ensure that apps developed using your platform of choice look great and perform well. Otherwise, your citizen developers will only end up building shelf-ware.
Make sure that the resulting apps run well on mobile without any additional coding. The user interface should be specifically designed for mobile not just a responsive web page. For example, buttons need to be slightly bigger so they’re easy to click using a finger on a touchscreen. Large forms may need to be broken up into multiple pages to optimize screen real estate.
3. Pre-built templates
Templates dramatically increase productivity. For example, if you’re looking at low-code platforms for process automation, make sure that your solution provides a variety of pre-built templates that can serve as starting points for your citizen developers so they can get an app up and running quickly. It speeds up app development but the templates are well designed and tested so you’ll end up with a more reliable and secure application.
4. Visual Tools
Intuitive, easy-to-use tools are a must for business users. Consider what your employees do on a day-to-day basis – they’re probably filling out or processing forms, signing and approving documents, sending them out for approvals, entering data into HR, Finance and other systems. In this scenario, you’re looking for drag-and-drop form and process designers, electronic signatures, wizards that can connect with systems and so on. Even if I.T. ends up doing some of the more complex tasks like connecting to SQL databases, you’re still likely to end up meeting business requirements if your business users are involved throughout.
5. Cloud Deployment
Embrace the cloud. Seriously. Today, it makes little sense to do otherwise. Cloud vendors know that securing your data is paramount to the viability of their business and they invest far more in this area than most organizations. It’s highly likely that your data is safer in a cloud vendor’s data center than in your own.
On top of security, cloud deployment speeds things up a lot. There aren’t any VMs to setup, patches to install, settings to configure – simply click a button and off you go. You also get instant access to the latest updates, features and technologies. Practically every low-code development platform is available in the cloud and supports easy deployment of your app in the cloud. Take advantage of it.
6. Customization & Connectivity
It’s possible that you’ll be perfectly happy with apps created using your platform of choice but I wouldn’t bet on it. Eventually, you’ll need to customize the look and feel somewhere, connect to an internal system or database in order to retrieve data or setup your own authentication and authorization.
Every platform provides some degree of customization and configuration but you should pay attention to the degree of IT involvement required. If every little thing requires IT support, it defeats the purpose. The platform should include visual tools so that business users can customize and manage their apps themselves.
7. Training and Support
Regularly scheduled and on-demand training programs delivered online are vital. This could easily be one of the most important differentiating factors – after all, your goal is to make citizen developers self-sufficient not hand hold them as they create apps.
Customer support is another vital aspect. Pay attention to the SLA and read online reviews. Happy customers often mention the quality of support they receive and it’s something you should look out for in reviews and referrals.
8. Don’t forget the basics
It’s highly likely that any vendor you select will provide these. Nevertheless, scalability, availability (e.g. a 99 percent uptime SLA), global reach (nowadays, business takes place worldwide), and security are important. In many cases, vendors have so much experience in these areas that even your most skilled developers will benefit.
The scarcity and cost of skilled talent, accelerating speed of business, ubiquity of mobile, and the importance of digital transformation all contribute to a drastically changed business environment. A low-code development platform has the potential to be a game-changer for your organization.