NashTech

Unblocking digital transformation with low-code

Unblocking digital transformation with low-code

Low-code-for-digital-transformation

Is your organisation struggling with a sluggish pace of digital transformation? Do you need to rapidly develop custom applications to enable your business to adapt and prosper? Low code platforms could be the solution you’re seeking, enabling your non-tech-savvy staff to craft the code your enterprise requires. Nevertheless, getting the best from extensions and integrations requires expert help. This article delves into the advantages and disadvantages of low code platforms and how you can navigate through the extension and integration challenges as well as the longer-term maintenance issues. 

The Bright Side of Low Code Platforms 

In conjunction with technological advancements in traditional software development, low code platforms have seen a significant evolution in their capabilities over the last few years. Improved web standards that make it easy to display complex user interfaces in browsers, API-led designs and the ubiquity of cloud services have helped low code platforms become not only a practical choice for many application development needs but also a competitive contender to traditional software development, particularly for internal processes. Low code platforms such as OutSystems and Microsoft’s Power Platform offer tangible benefits for business users and IT professionals alike. 

 

Easy to Get Started 

Developing low code platforms involves simple drag-and-drop operations that are easy to pick up and learn even for non-technical business users, enabling “citizen developers” to contribute to the rapid adoption of the technology. These platforms boast intuitive user interfaces that allow for easy assembly of components like labels, text boxes, drop-down lists and other elements that make up a typical application. The UI-driven approach provides immediate feedback on how the solution will look when it is run. Most platforms also offer a built-in database to store data and allow for easy integration with popular databases like Oracle or MS SQL Server.  

What’s more, learning the tools is as easy as attending structured training or referring to online tutorials and documentation. Popular platforms also have large online user communities that can offer technical advice and share practical solutions to common problems. 

Rapid Development 

Using pre-built components and connectors to widely used solutions like ERPs and databases development in low code platforms can be quicker and less prone to errors. The visual design and testing process is designed to be intuitive, can take less time and can be less prone to errors than the comparative approach of manually typing code in traditional software development. It should be noted that developers of software solutions also use a variety of tools and frameworks to reduce development effort but these themselves can be challenging to learn and are ever-changing. 

Developers using low code solutions can focus more on the implementation of business logic and output of a workflow than on low-level details of mostly boilerplate code. Low code platform developers are also able to leverage built-in features to reduce development time. For example, in traditional development producing an application that will work for both mobile and desktop usually takes extra effort while this comes as out-of-the-box features for most low code systems. Both studies and experience on the ground suggest low code platforms can reduce development time by up to 60%. 

 

Extensibility & Connectivity 

Previous generations of low code platforms did not garner significant market adoption because of their lack of flexibility to meet the diverse demands of enterprise application development. Most of these so-called fourth-generation languages (4GL) have user interfaces that are difficult to use, limited in their ability to access existing enterprise systems such as SAP and are difficult to extend to provide customised application behaviour.  

However, with advances in web browser standards like HTML5, language-agnostic web services exposed as REST APIs and flexible cloud deployments, today’s low code platforms can meet even the most demanding enterprise application requirements.  

Out of the box, these platforms come with a rich set of user interface elements that can handle both corporate desktop and mobile device displays. It integrates with common enterprise systems like SAP, Salesforce, Twilio and even social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And for complex requirements, the development of custom behaviour or algorithm, extensions can be implemented in many popular languages like javascript or c# then packaged and made available as a rest api that the low code platform can call.  

Understanding how to extend the solutions developed using a low code platform is key to success and may exceed the skills of a “citizen developer”. This is where an experienced developer comes in to develop the code to extend the solution by applying best practices.  

Maintenance & Security 

A significant portion of the total cost of ownership of most corporate applications is related to their maintenance in production. With visual and easy-to-understand components and workflows, low code platforms make it easier to identify and fix issues, reducing the time and effort spent on maintenance while mitigating impacts on the business. 

Low code platforms offer a layer of security protection out of the box. They can integrate with existing testing tools and automatically test for well-known vulnerabilities. For example, OutSystems, a well-known low code platform, automatically protects apps from the top threats identified in OWASP such as OWASP’s Top 10 Most Critical Web Application Security Risk and OWASP’s Top 10 Mobile Threats. Companies are also able to leverage the security expertise of low code platform when new threats are identified, and the corresponding security patches are released to address the vulnerability.  

 

Integration with AI  

Low code platforms are steadily introducing AI-powered tools natively, as well as different ways to integrate with such tools externally, thereby enabling the creation of smarter, AI-integrated applications without needing specific AI expertise. This integration accelerates the deployment of intelligent applications, streamlining your development process, and keeping your organisation competitive in the digital age. 

Are there Downsides to Low Code Platforms? 

While today’s low code platforms are powerful tools for application development, they are not a panacea for the diverse needs of an enterprise, particularly where very specific performance, scalability, or latency requirements are involved. The allure of drag-and-drop development can also become a problem in the hands of citizen developers producing applications that suffer performance or maintainability issues. Ensuring proper architecture and technical governance is crucial, even when using these automated tools. 

 

Navigating Extension and Integration Challenges 

Most low code platforms come with built-in integration and connectivity to popular enterprise resources. However, if specific integration needs aren’t covered by your chosen Low code platform, you should leverage the skills of experienced developers to create an appropriate API for the platform. Therefore, understanding which applications require integration before adopting a low code platform is crucial to ensure the right expertise is available for custom integration.  

 

When considering the use of a low code platform it is important to: 

  1. Select a platform that aligns with your overall technology investment strategy e.g., if your organisation is already making extensive use of Microsoft’s Power Platform products like Power BI and Power Automate it makes sense to consider Power Apps 
  2. Select a platform that aligns with your industry, some low code platforms have focused on addressing specific industry use cases 
  3. Consider the level of extensibility and integration required as it may influence your decision to build a solution using a low code platform or not 

Overcoming Maintenance Issues 

Although supporting and maintaining applications developed in low code platforms are relatively straightforward, organisations might still encounter issues depending on how they host the application in production.  

Just like traditional apps, organisations can host low code applications on-premise or through managed cloud service. The usual challenges of running applications on-premise like capacity provisioning, hardware and software maintenance, and system administration will remain. These maintenance challenges can be greatly reduced by opting for a managed cloud service provided by the low code platform, greatly reducing the amount of effort needed to run and maintain the low code application in production. 

 

NashTech as your partner 

Recent advancements in low code platforms in recent years have made them powerful tools to meet most internal enterprise application development needs. It has become a powerful tool that can be used, together with traditional software development approaches if needed, to accelerate the delivery of much-needed digitisation and transformation programmes of organisations.  

While they are powerful, their successful adoption still requires expertise in traditional software development in some cases and appropriate technical and architectural governance.  

With experience in implementing applications on popular low code platforms like MS Power Apps, OutSystems and Mendix, NashTech is well-positioned to guide your organisation in maximising the potential of these platforms and making the most out of your investments. From developing applications to designing solutions, developing custom APIs and extensions our varied expertise is ready to make your transition to low code as smooth as possible. 

 

Authors 

Emerson Sena – Pre-Sales Director, NashTech Singapore 

Qing Yuan Yeo – Senior Program Manager, NashTech 

George Lynch – Head of Technology Advisory, NashTech 

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