Growing demand for mobile apps across diverse industries such as manufacturing, financial services, technology and healthcare has led to a situation where developer skills are at a premium at a time when many organizations need to stretch their budgets to achieve more. To address the widening skills gap, many organizations are increasingly turning to low-code application development.
Low-code is a term that essentially refers to an application development methodology that abstracts away from traditional manual low-level coding by using visual models—such as drag-and-drop visual interfaces, graphical design techniques, form builds and prepackaged templates—to build or integrate software and other IT infrastructure.
The three key parts of a low-code platform are:
- Visual development: Low-code platforms are designed to let you draw your desired business workflows, data models and user interfaces.
- Automated database integration: The platform is able to take your data models and convert them into relational tables and SQL queries. Additionally, any data from external APIs are made available from your app.
- Full lifecycle management: The best low-code development platforms offer a variety of tools to ease the burden of application deployment and management. These include features such as one-click deployment, project management tools and automatic scaling capability.
Using low-code development tools, businesses can create and prototype apps much more quickly than when using traditional coding practices. Popular low-code platforms include OutSystems, Mendix, Google App Maker and Microsoft PowerApps, among others.
Some key benefits of low-code development include:
- Lower lifetime costs because low-code apps require fewer ongoing resources than high-code apps
- Less code means fewer bugs
- Higher accessibility because of lower requirements for compute resources, including less bandwidth
- Faster time-to-market for new apps
- Ability to integrate easily with other IT infrastructure
When Low-Code Development Makes Sense
Low-code enterprise application development makes plenty of sense if your business initiatives fall under one or several of these buckets:
- Need to innovate: Innovation apps are applications that help your organization grow and differentiate itself from competitors. This class of apps stems from new products and/or business models, and often leverages emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and machine learning.
- Improve the customer experience: Low-code is a great fit for customer engagement apps that enable your customers to better interact with you, improve satisfaction, grow revenue and improve customer retention. Many businesses have a fairly well-defined idea of what feature sets are required in customer-facing apps, yet the development team must be ready to adapt to any unknowns that might pop up.
- Improve operational efficiency: Operational efficiency apps are usually employee- or partner-facing applications designed to lower operating costs by automating manual or paper-based processes. A key requirement for such apps is that they have to seamlessly integrate with the organization's core apps.
- Legacy migration projects: Many legacy migration projects involve the creation of apps that can support current processes but with added functionality rather than a simple lift-and-shift of existing functionalities. Examples include transferring legacy Lotus Notes, Excel, SharePoint or Microsoft Access applications to updated systems.
- Other use cases: These may include when you need to rapidly build multiple apps for your business, your in-house development is slow or prone to errors, or when you need to create apps that work on all major mobile platforms.
Low-Code Platform Limitations
Many organizations find that low-code environments meet many of their requirements. However, there are several instances where low code might not be ideal for your organization. These include:
- Non-conformity to the platform: Low-code platforms requires apps that are built to conform to their functionalities. If your desired workflow, look, feel or functionality are not adequately addressed by the platform, you might have to resort to manual high-coding to achieve the desired result.
- Massive records: The platform might suffer from poor performance if your database contains too many records.
- Data portability: If you plan to switch to a new platform, low code or otherwise, in the future, you will need to rebuild from scratch because data is typically not portable between platforms.
Great Enterprise Apps Built on OutSystems
OutSystems is one of the most popular low-code platforms. It's a fully integrated platform that can be used to build, deploy and manage (full lifecycle) enterprise-grade apps, including large/complex applications. OutSystems allows you to build robust architectures that support large apps that can scale to millions of users. Here are a few notable portals and systems built on OutSystems:
Charles River Labs
Charles River Labs is a company that provides essential services to big pharma, biotech companies, government agencies and leading academic institutions to help accelerate their drug research and development efforts. Using the OutSystems platform, the company was able to build a custom web and mobile automated customer and workflow management platform that helps it connect seamlessly to its network of global customers. The solution was built and deployed in just five months.
Boston-based Liberty Insurance is a large property and casualty insurer. The company built Liberty Connect, a custom-built end-to-end insurance collaborative platform that helps connect more than 4,000 internal and external users, on the OutSystems platform. The system includes integration with the company's system of records.
Claims management services provider, Van Amehyde, used OutSystems to build a large claims handling solution integrated with SAP that helps it deliver customized claims handling based on the individual service agreements of its thousands of business customers. The system features several impressive capabilities, including centralized claims handling, standardized end-to-end resolution flows, tight integration to the SAP backend, as well as a friendly and easy-to-use front-end interface.
Are you considering a low-code platform but not sure if it's the right decision? Contact us, and we can help you think through your options.