First Salesforce, then Microsoft, now Google…are we entering the age of ‘Low-code’?

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NOTE: This post was first featured on the Business 2 Community Blog

Last month saw the introduction of ‘App Maker’ from Google, a new addition to their business applications ‘G Suite’ that the search giant describes as a ‘Low-code, application development tool that lets you quickly build and deploy custom apps tailored to your organization’s needs’.

This announcement comes in a year when both Microsoft and Salesforce also entered the Low-code arena with their respective PowerApps and Lightning platforms. With industry experts Forrester predicting the Low-code software market to reach $15bn by 2020 it’s easy to see why the big names are now starting to pay it serious attention.

Here’s the thing though…Low-code has the potential to be a true game-changer. It could permanently alter the way businesses solve their IT problems and disrupt the software development model. If anything, that figure could be too conservative. And yet most people are still largely unaware that it even exists.

If you’re one of those people, here’s a quick catchup.

The term ‘Low-code’ is used to describe a platform of tools that allow business applications to be developed and delivered very quickly without the need for any coding or development knowledge. Imagine a box of building-block components that can be easily pieced together to create whatever software your business needs.

Low-code (or sometimes ‘no code’) is becoming increasingly popular because it provides solutions to five famous problems associated with traditional IT projects:

Solution 1: Deliver software faster

Not only does writing code take time but developers are humans and they make mistakes. The average program has between 15 and 50 errors per 1000 line of code, and when you consider that Microsoft Office has about 50 million lines you can start to understand the importance of testing. This process takes time, and time means money. Whilst testers still need to ensure that a Low-code solution does what it was intended to do, Low-code platforms use pre-coded components that have already been thoroughly tested. Cutting out development and reducing test cycles speeds up delivery time by an order of magnitude.

Solution 2: Reduce your IT spend

Time equals money. The longer it takes to create the software, the more expensive it becomes. In addition, developers are expensive resources. A 2012 research project looked at over 5400 projects and found a total cost overrun of $66 billion – that’s more than the GDP of Luxembourg. By exchanging developers for cheaper resources and reducing the project timeline, Low-code solutions can dramatically reduce the budget of a new software build. In addition, the lifetime costs of a Low-code project are far less because of the reduced cost of change – systems can be changed easily without involving developers.

Solution 3: Lower the risk

Because ‘hard-coded’ software is very expensive to change, it places a huge emphasis on getting your requirements right first time. This necessitates the need for a long requirements gathering phase, during which your business and your industry is changing. The system you end up with may meet a set of requirements that have since evolved. The irony is that this process that was designed to reduce risk ends up compounding it and is a big reason that the average IT project delivers 56 percent less value than predicted. Because they’re so easy to alter, a missing feature can be quickly added in a Low-code platform therefore mitigate the need to get it right first time.

Solution 4: Address the changing nature of the ‘IT Budget’

The idea of the ‘traditional’ IT budget is changing. The growth in popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS) and the prevalence of cloud technologies mean that the days of a CIO controlling an annual IT spend made up of expensive servers and a big software project are increasingly a thing of the past. Operational staff from all over the business expect solutions fast and they are increasingly part of the decision making process. Low-code platforms provide this agility and allow users from outside IT to own an IT project. In addition, monthly licence fees and low up-front costs meet the growing trend for OpEx over CapEx.

Solution 5: It’s your system not someone else’s

Low-code provides a third option to the traditional question of ‘Build or Buy’ that has long been the model for new IT projects. Aside from the pitfalls of ‘Building’ your own system, ‘Buying’ one off-the-shelf to meet a specific business requirement is often an exercise in compromise. The product is someone else’s idea of how your process should function and you’ll have very little control over the future development of the system. Low-code platforms allow businesses to create solutions that can be entirely customized. In addition, because they can be configured to manage any process, the ROI is much higher.

Perhaps the most important benefit of Low-code platforms comes as a result of these solutions. Because its faster and less expensive to deliver systems – businesses are free to experiment. Ideas which may have previously lay dormant with an IT department too busy just ‘keeping the lights on’ can be piloted without risk. In short, Low-code has the potential to drive a culture of innovation.

Any new technology brings unique challenges and Low-code is no different. Just because anyone can create a software solution doesn’t mean they should of course. The concepts of good process design and a governance framework that ensures systems align with the overall business directives must remain in place to ensure the success of a Low-code project.

Get this right, however, and the idea of the bloated, expensive IT project fraught with overspend could be a thing of the past. Low-code is quietly changing the landscape. Big players are now dipping their toes in the water with lightweight offerings, but they are already finding themselves playing catchup with smaller startups doing incredible things with very powerful platforms.

One thing is clear, Low-code is gathering momentum and it might be time to pay it some serious attention.