The What, When, and Why of Low-Code and No-Code Platforms for Software Development
In traditional software development, it takes an average of three to nine months to build a functional app. Choosing a tech stack, hiring a team, coding, testing, and deploying a product takes time. If you need to ship an MVP as fast as humanly possible, you can have developers build it in a month or even several weeks at a push.
Sometimes though, you might not need to spend that much time or, more importantly, as many resources to bring your app to life.
How is that possible? Say hello to low-code and no-code platforms.
What is a low-code or no-code platform exactly?
Low-code is a development approach that requires minimal manual code. In low-code development, pre-written, ready-made pieces of code can be combined and turned into a fully fledged product.
As part of the software development trend of fourth-generation programming languages, low-code’s history can be traced back to the 1980s. It was used to help build programs with just a few lines of code.
However, it wasn’t until 2014 that low-code was defined by Forrester Research; a move that addressed the rise of platforms that allowed rapid app delivery with little to no manual code and minimal upfront investment.
How are no-code platforms different?
Even with the best low-code platforms, some coding skills or a developer who can work with pre-written code are needed. In contrast, no-code platforms allow the creation of apps and integrations without a single line of new code.
There’s an interesting analogy that explains low-code and no-code: the former functions like an automatic car (it makes the ride easier but you still have to know how to drive), while the latter is more like a driverless car (you only set the destination and it drives you there).
Low-code and no-code tools perform a variety of uses and functions:
- Content management systems and website builders like WordPress or Drupal are examples of low-code platforms. They offer in-built functionalities and the potential to build custom additional elements.
- Some no-code and low-code platforms are designed specifically for mobile and web app development. That includes all-in-one solutions such as Outsystems and Mendix simpler drag-and-drop tools like Bubble and Thunkable.
- Many no-code solutions are dedicated to automating integrations. Zapier and Parabola are popular examples.
Building blocks in the low-code platform Airtable. Source: Airtable
The benefits of low-code and no-code app development platforms
When handled by developers with the right level of expertise, low-code allows swift insight into interfaces and functionality. And it provides the efficiency of pre-written, reusable components.
When something has been realised in a million projects before yours, it makes sense to avoid writing excess code and instead concentrate on the big-picture business logic and your app’s unique features. Let’s see how you can benefit from incorporating low-code and no-code.
Faster time to market
The major advantage is clear: the less code a project requires, the faster it is built, tested, and released. If you have an idea and want to validate it in a real-world environment, or need an app for internal business use and don’t want to waste another year or so, low-code or no-code makes sense.
With the help of these platforms, you can release your product in mere weeks and analyse its value and the user feedback right away.
Even when businesses are not in a hurry, delays in software developments are among the most daunting problems affecting product launches: 76 per cent of entrepreneurs involved in app development admitted that delayed processes negatively impacted their work performance. The best low-code and no-code platforms can take the burden off teams that struggle with long development times.
Entrepreneurs have shared many stories about how low-code expedited mobile development. For example, projects estimated to take a year have been built in as little as 11 days. You also can find stories about people who managed to deliver an app not in a matter of hours using a low-code platform with automatic cross-platform deployment.
Less development time and resources mean significant cost reductions. Moreover, some low-code development platforms are free. One company reported a $20.52 million profit over a three-year period thanks to low-code. They saved money on app delivery and received incremental revenue from the accelerated time to market and improved user engagement.
Low-code and no-code offer a distinct economic advantage to both SMBs and enterprise-level companies looking for cost-efficiency and rapid development of their solutions.
Time and cost aren’t the only reasons businesses are attracted to low-code platforms. Low-code and no-code experiments and development projects indicate that productivity was improved by up to an impressive seven times when compared to traditional programming. The 2020 No-Code Census survey also confirmed the productivity benefits of low-code and no-code platforms.
Contrary to popular belief, you can manage custom integrations without complex development processes. No-code tools like Zapier have a lot of ready-to-use templates for synchronising data across platforms, and provide options to integrate other supported services.
At MadAppGang, we adopted n8n for the Evergen project. N8n allows the creation of nodes — pre-written pieces of code that are pasted into the n8n editor — that trigger specific actions or data. For instance, there are pre-made nodes for newsletter signups, bulk SMSs, and many other functionalities. We also adopted Airtable, a flexible no-code database solution with numerous custom integration options.
The drawbacks of low-code and no-code
The automation of processes and increased efficiency pre-generated components offer is incredibly useful. But the more you sacrifice control over the code, the harder it can be to maintain the end product, let alone improve and scale it in the long run.
Let’s explore the other drawbacks that may stop businesses from adopting low-code and no-code.
The proprietary nature of platforms
A lot of low-code platforms are proprietary and may not show the code that is in use. When working with proprietary systems, you are tied to one particular provider and may suffer from the lack of transparency. Plus, you might not get enough information when platforms don’t indicate the syntax or code errors.
At MadAppGang, we believe in the power of open source. Whenever possible, we choose open-code platforms and avoid proprietary frameworks in app and web development.
One of the biggest downsides to no-code and low-code is shadow IT that leads to security and compliance issues and increases technical debt. Shadow IT means anything that is used in development but not governed by the team. It has been estimated that shadow IT takes up to 50 per cent of enterprise IT spending.
Some argue that low-code helps battle this problem while others maintain that low-code contributes to the issue, but one thing is clear: when applying a low-code or no-code approach, you need to encourage process documentation for better management and control over development and the software product.
The learning curve involved
Even though the purpose of low-code and no-code platforms is to improve productivity and hasten development, it takes time and effort to get acquainted with a particular platform and put it to good use on a particular project. Even in the simplest low and no-code platforms there is a learning curve involved.
You might face a problem and spend days reading through documentation and community posts to find a viable solution or an answer. It always makes sense to combine low-code or no-code with traditional development and have seasoned developers work on your project.
The need for multiple solutions
Some platforms are described as all-in-one solutions, but this is rarely the case. You might design interfaces and basic functionalities using one platform but then need several separate platforms for integrations. This increases the load on developers, but the most important thing here is choosing platforms with cross-compatible components.
Your own code is always easier to support. With automated solutions (especially when these are not open source low-code or no-code platforms), you might experience problems with after-launch support and maintenance. Many developers believe that a lack of support and control over the process increases the load on testing, which can negate the time-saving benefits.
The lack of flexibility
Low-code and no-code statistics show that these tools are used across all industries and to build several product types (for customers, partners, and employees), as well as replacing legacy apps. But are they flexible enough? It’s true, you can’t make a complex, scalable app without manual coding.
If you’re unsure if an app built with low or no-code platforms will be sufficiently feature-rich and flexible, consult with expert developers who will take into account your business objectives and any possible limitations.
After all, it's not the tools themselves that build applications but people. Hire developers with expertise in your field: they will analyse your business requirements, compare low-code and no-code platforms, and come up with the most suitable solutions.
The lack of scalability
Low-code and no-code tools may fail if applied to large-scale apps and complicated projects. Analysing different solutions, PCMag concluded that change management is low-code’s weakest point. It’s hard to enhance developed features and scale these applications. By exploiting predefined workflows and on-click deployment, you can successfully run ‘simple’ apps, but low-code platforms may fall short when it comes to complex apps where you need control over and access to a full architecture.
Nevertheless, there are examples of successful low-code implementation in high-traffic systems. For example, the University of Sydney used a low-code platform to develop an app that was accessed by tens of thousands of users simultaneously.
Are low-code platforms the future of development?
According to Gartner, low-code platforms will hold a 65 per cent share of all app development by 2024. While this prediction might come true, we believe that the pro-code approach will never be fully replaced by automated tools.
Reusable pieces of code and drag-and-drop building blocks do help in app development, but only when used by people who know what they are doing. In other words, you can’t underestimate the value of development teams: they can analyse your project’s needs, combine the right tools, and build the app according to industry best practices. This way, you won’t end with an unrefined piece of software that’s vulnerable to security breaches and other issues.
When to use a low-code platform for app development
Low-code and no-code is well suited to simple products with standard functionalities. These platforms can also make development accessible to people without coding experience.
When you’re short on budget or time, such platforms can be a lifesaver. But for complex solutions that require custom architecture and considered processes, you can’t do without manual code and need to hire the right developers. In fact, there’s no limit to low-code and no-code if you’re collaborating with an expert team.
At MadAppGang, we choose low-code and no-code tools exclusively with open APIs and open code so we have full control. We have developed solutions based on low-code and no-code capabilities for the solar battery optimisation company, Evergen. We also developed an installer portal that acts as a marketplace for company partners by implementing Strapi and n8n. Strapi is an open source platform that functions as a headless CMS, which means it can have any front-end connected.
Example of Strapi CMS. Source: Strapi
In each of these projects, among others, we’ve used low and no-code tools to cut development spend and timings for our clients, whilst still maintaining full control and delivering fully featured applications that are secure, scalable, and work as intended.
If you’re looking for rapid software development, drop us a line. MadAppGang’s experienced developers will help you choose the product architecture, conduct a low-code platform comparison to find suitable tools, and enhance these with our expertise.