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What Is a Low-Code App?

By
Matt D'Angelo
,
business.com writer
|
Sep 17, 2018
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> Technology
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Low-code dev platforms empower SMB owners to achieve once wistful production ideas.

Low-code development platforms allow businesses to create custom applications and programs for their business, eliminating inefficiencies that once went unaddressed because of a lack of resources. Heather Johnson, a compliance officer with North Carolina-based embroidering manufacturer A-B Emblem, was analyzing a co-worker's workflow when she turned to a low-code platform to create a custom program.

"We took a three-day process down to about three minutes for her," she said.

Shrouded in business-speak and terminology, low-code and no-code platforms are basically programs that allow non-coders to create their own software, whether it be an application or a portal. They usually feature drag-and-drop functionality to intuitively create functional and attractive business programs. There is inherent value to functionality like this – instead of bringing in a developer to work on a process, the individuals involved in the workflow can create a program that meets all their needs.

"It put a lot of power into the hands of the process managers or the process experts," Johnson said. "The difference is they can not only build now, they can maintain it themselves."

This ability to build, implement and then adjust applications and programs to meet new needs makes low-code applications and portals dynamic business solutions. [Interested in app maker and development solutions? Check out our best picks.]

Johnson developed a full-fledged employee portal using Kintone. Their system hosts 117 apps that address needs ranging from shipping to price quoting. Johnson said three people built the whole system, with the help of some specialists at Kintone.

"Small businesses are very dynamic, and things are changing all the time,"said Dave Landa, Kintone's CEO. "To have a software platform that the business operator, when they recognize a change, … they can go in and make that change [themselves]."

What are the advantages of no-code development?

While very similar, there is an important distinction between low-code and no-code solutions. The difference, while fairly obvious, can have important business implications – low-code platforms still have an element of coding involved, while no-code development is more suitable for those with a limited coding background. Low-code and no-code platforms have taken off at the enterprise level, with major companies empowering "citizen developers" within their organizations to build out new processes for their business.

According to a Forrester report, these citizen developers may not have a programming background but are intimately familiar with the day-to-day processes of these major businesses. The existence of the citizen developer signals that this technology could continue to trickle down to the small business level. While these platforms could one day be used to create consumer-oriented applications, the primary value in this technology is revamping back-end business processes.

"There aren't enough developers, especially for small and medium businesses – they can't even afford them, so there has to be a higher level of abstraction," said Mike Duensing, CTO for low-code development platform Skuid.

Duensing said the power of low-code and no-code platforms like Skuid is in the ability to take complicated, abstract processes and quickly create concrete, real-world answers to problems. He also said it's way less expensive than it would be to create a custom application or program with a group of developers.

The other thing both Duensing and Landa said is once low-code and no-code technology gets a foothold within your organization, it tends to spread quickly to other areas of your business. Nowhere is this more apparent than at A-B Emblem. Johnson said building and managing low-code applications throughout the business has become a major task. It's permeated all areas of A-B's business, with only the accounting department being separate from Kintone. Johnson said even that department is "on the table" for some kind of low-code application.

Is it right for your business?

Low-code and no-code development platforms can be ideal if you're looking to solve major inefficiencies within your business using technology. You don't have to hire a developer, which can be both expensive and time-consuming. Instead you can work with platforms like Kintone and Skuid to create the kind of program you need.

Another aspect to account for with these services is the usability and user experience of the applications. Both Landa and Duensing said they prioritized a design experience in their platforms. This means your workers or colleagues will be using applications they actually want to use. Landa said this can help prevent "shadow IT" situations, where workers turn to unapproved online tools to get work done.

"The user experience, the design, if you look at the people coming into the workforce today, they demand a consumer design experience," Duensing said. "That's been something that we've really tried to focus on."

Limitations

The main limitation of this kind of technology lies in customization. These platforms provide a lot of template-based creation and some other tools to fully adjust and change things as you need, but if you're looking to develop a fully new solution from top to bottom, you may be better off work with a developer.

"There's kind of a tradeoff between productivity and efficiency and sort of complete customization capabilities," Landa said.

The bottom line

If you're looking for a way to better your business, low-code and no-code platforms could be a good place to start. This depends largely, of course, on your business's needs. For a company like Johnson's, low-code and no-code technology was exactly what was needed.

"It puts the power of the software people use every day in their own hands," she said. "It's like, 'You know what works best, so you build it.'"

Matt D'Angelo
Matt D'Angelo
Matt D'Angelo is a staff writer covering small business for Business.com and Business News Daily. After graduating from James Madison University with a degree in journalism, Matt gained experience as a copy editor and writer for newspapers and various online publications. In addition to his writing and reporting, Matt edits articles. He reviews small business services, including PEOs, small business loans and GPS fleet tracking services. He's been with Business.com and Business News Daily since 2017.
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