Adopting low-code programming: what does it mean for IT departments?

Low and no code software such as RPA are making waves in businesses. But how far should companies embrace them?

Low-code apps are transforming enterprise technology. No longer do software developers need to spend weeks writing and testing the code for new business applications. Low-code platforms allow staff in accounts, HR, marketing or any other department to quickly build apps and tailor them to their specific needs. They use simple drag and drop methods and simple graphics. This is democratising app development and giving rise to a cohort of "citizen developers", interested amateurs inside businesses with the tools to create their own solutions.

Over the past five years, platforms such as Appian, Zoho, Outsystems, Microsoft PowerApps and Google App Maker have offered large organisations easy-to-build apps for their day to day business. These are suited to creating apps for specific operations such as running a contact database or scheduling tasks for staff. However, some believe low-code platforms struggle to process large amounts of data and are weak on business logic, linking back-end systems and the user interface.

The low-code movement has been building for ten years and is finally going mainstream. "Low-code development is certainly coming of age," says Appian's senior vice president for Asia Pacific and Europe Paul Maguire.

He points to Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli, which has created dozens of apps on the Appian platform. More than 2,500 employees in 12 countries make use of 65 low-code apps to handle everything from the approval of invoices to managing tyre moulds.

Maguire argues that the low-code approach offers significant benefits for businesses such as Pirelli. "What they want is to build applications quicker so it's more cost effective. Low-code allows the organisation to respond to the ever-increasing number of applications that the business needs," he says. Low code platforms are also strong at creating multichannel applications and creating responsive, cross-platform apps which work across different devices and operating systems.

To make the apps simple to programme, the platforms use graphic representations rather than complex code. "It's about using business metaphors like flow charts, for example, where you are actually graphically drawing an application rather than coding it and using a language that very few people understand and know in detail," says Maguire.

Analysts believe low-code platforms will expand rapidly in the next few years as growing numbers of large organisations adopt them and increase their share of IT tasks. Forrester expects spending on low-code to hit $21bn by 2022, while Gartner predicts that 65% of app development activity will rely on low-code by 2024.  

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