Software applications are used in every business, small or large, either to serve customers or to facilitate internal operations. Although there is a wide variety of software solutions on the market that fits most of the requirements of businesses, many businesses, at one point or another, realize that they need a custom software solution to promote their strengths and competitive advantages. Such custom solutions usually integrate different tools and services to support a business process in a business unit.
As an example, consider a municipal organization wants to provide its citizens with a Municipal Permit Management Application in which they can get permits for their new construction project. In such a process, the organization needs to integrate multiple data sources and tools behind secured servers to develop an integrated application that supports their process. A GIS server that provides a master database for addresses and roads to accurately locate the project, a database server that finds the required permits and calculates related fees and a payment service in which the user can pay for the services online, are just a few examples of services that need to be integrated for such process.
You may have a vendor or an in-house development team to develop a customized application for you but developing new software from scratch is usually a risky, expensive and time-consuming project. Maintaining and upgrading such software is another hustle that you are going to encounter. Sooner or later, you may find that software that was supposed to support your business becomes a huge liability that needs constant support and attention.
Although there is no full-fledged solution to the above problem, Low-Code development platforms like OutSystems, Mendix, etc. can help you develop the application you need with lower risk and more manageable cost. Low-Code development environment helps you design, develop, and deploy customized applications faster with minimum coding. It provides reusable modules and components that you need in your application, so you don’t need to develop everything from scratch. Although your needs are slightly different, you still find more than 80% of the features in your requirements already available in the platform itself. Components and modules in Low-Code environment are the building blocks that you can use to build your applications. In our above example, you can design and develop your application process and user interfaces in hours instead of weeks. A visual development environment helps developers create the required process threads from submitting a permit application to granting the requested permit by dragging and dropping components such as Assignment, Conditions, Error handlers, Connectors, and Aggregated Data elements. They can also develop user interfaces for each stage of the process in the same development environment. Each of the required user interfaces for such application such as Permit Application, Payment, Review, Grant/Reject permission, and Notification can be developed in a few hours. Developers can easily find predeveloped control boxes, forms, and charts from the development environment and use them in their user interface with a simple drag-and-drop gesture.
Low-Code platforms walk you through the process of development and directs you how to use the best practices. In most cases, the low code environment knows how to connect a new component to existing ones or recommends the developers to set the component with appropriate values and parameters. For example, if you add a condition to show the review decision and connect it to different threads, the development environment fills the default values based on the components you select for granting and rejecting a permit request. The IDE provides you with a facility in which you can build your components and let other developers reuse it in their applications. If you are creating a GIS module in which you integrate an external API to locate a project, another developer can use it in the Permit application form to provide the users with an easy to use project locator functionality. In other words, you can extend the prebuilt components in your Low-Code environment, while you are developing a new system. In many cases, you may find useful extensions that someone else has already developed it.
Although Low-Code is relatively a new term in the software development industry, the idea is as old as many decades where the communication between the business experts and software developers become a real challenge. There are many cases that a business invested a tremendous amount of money and time to develop software, but it couldn’t be used effectively to satisfy the needs of the business. Shortening the gap between gathering the requirements and delivering the appropriate product can reduce such risks. That’s why most of the software development methodologies are focusing on making the communication between business and development team better. The ideal condition is when they become one team and can work together to develop an application in the same development environment. Low-Code development tries to address the issue by providing an integrated development environment in which those two diverse teams with different skill sets and preferences can work together. It empowers the team members, no matter if they are experts in business or information technology, to contribute to the entire development process and give them the flexibility they need to be creative and productive. Such a team is self-managed and understands how to take advantage of the opportunities by developing an application and customize the business processes effectively.
In traditional approaches, the hierarchy of the organization and the stage-gate style in project management process restricted the power of teams, while the new approaches encourage a flat and self-managed team in which everybody can contribute during the whole process of the development. Low-Code development thrives in such environment and helps the development teams contribute and deliver more. In Low-Code environment, developers can start the project from the end by developing the forms and processes that are required by the business. If the functional aspects of a project become visual earlier, everybody can see the results and can change the requirements in early stages if it’s necessary.
Caution: Although Low-Code provides an easy to use development environment for developing and delivering applications quickly, you still need IT experts and software engineers to develop and maintain the software architecture and its deployment environment. Designing the layer of data, services, and securities, managing the development projects and teams, integration, and many other aspects of a customized project still need to be done by experts who contribute in the development process. The environment can help make the entire process faster and more reliable by involving all the contributors in the same integrated environment.