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Building apps really fast – what is low-code?


Question: What is low-code?
Answer: It depends. There’s no single answer It depends on who’s talking about it, and it depends on the context.

Earlier this year Gartner, fount of much wisdom on all things IT, Issued a prediction for growth in the “Low-Code Development Technologies Market”.

It listed market size predictions for a whole grab bag of technologies:

– Low-Code Application Platforms (LCAP)

– Intelligent Business Process Management Suites

– Multiexperience Development Platforms (MDXP)

– Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

– Citizen Automation and Development Platform (CADP)

Not content with that list. Gartner added a line for “Other Low-Code Development (LCD) Technologies.” These it explained, “include rapid mobile app development (RMAD) tools and rapid application development (RAD) tools.”

Low code, Gartner explained “is the evolution of RAD to cloud and SaaS models.” Gartner also added a definition for a no-code application platform, describing it as “an LCAP that only requires text entry for formulae or simple expressions” adding “Furthermore ‘no code’ is not a sufficient criterion for tasks like citizen development, as many complex tooling configuration tasks are no code but still require specialist skills.”

Confused? I’m not surprised. And if that were not sufficient. In another document, its Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, Gartner adds: “An LCAP is characterised by its use of model-driven or visual development paradigms supported by expression languages and possibly scripting to address use cases such as citizen development, business unit IT, enterprise business processes, composable applications and even SaaS applications.” 

And an LCP is “an application platform that supports rapid application development, deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages, and one-step deployments.”

Gartner then introduces the idea of “an enterprise LCAP” that “supports rapid application development, deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages, and one-step deployments.”

Quite a mouthful! IDC is rather more helpful, putting its definition in the practical context of what, in its view, low code makes possible. In an IDC InfoBrief: Lasting Agility: The Business Case for Low-Code Development Platforms Now, IDC says: “Low-code development platforms let even non-developers create prototypes and collaborate with IT to build complex software rapidly,” and “give organisations a way to design and develop software applications fast and with minimal hand-coding [enabling] skilled people to deliver value quickly and reliably.”

It adds: “Asia-Pacific tech leaders are largely using low-code development platforms for prototypes and internal-facing applications, but external, customer-facing applications are catching up, too.”

Forrester has plenty to say about low code and some cautions. It questions “the degree to which apps created with low-code are tested, can be tested, and should be tested.” It then goes on to pose a series of questions that “come to light as we work with clients on low-code deployments,” namely:

“The layers of abstraction in low-code development create a somewhat uncharted grey area — how much traditional testing is still relevant when bundles of code come in pre-created components?

“In cases of customisation, how much custom code can be tested in the native low-code platform, and how onerous is it to integrate with existing continuous integration/continuous deployment tools?”

Forrester is credited with coining the term low-code in its 2014 report New Development Platforms Emerge For Customer-Facing Applications.

Kevin Shuler of Quandry Consulting Group says Forrester has since modified its definition, and give this as Forrester’s current definition.

“Low-code platforms employ visual, declarative techniques instead of traditional lines of programming. Both developers and non-developers can use these products, and they require less training to start. Common features include reusable components, drag-and-drop tools, and process modelling. Individuals or small teams can experiment, prototype, and deliver apps in days or weeks.


Another research firm, iResearch Global, has another name for low code development: application programming as a service (APaaS).

“Low code development refers to a solution that uses APaaS products to reduce or eliminate the demand for native code writing for application development by providing developers with a visual application development environment, thereby building applications conveniently. Therefore, low-code platforms are often referred to as APaaS platforms,” it says.

And it adds, “In a broad sense, the low-code concept covers all the application processes and services that can complete code integration and reduce code development. However, in a narrow sense, low code development refers to independent development platforms that can build simple applications and complex enterprise-level applications using a small amount of code or no code through a visual interface.”

iResearch Global, in its 2021 Low-code Industry Report, says, compared with traditional software development, low-code platforms have obvious advantages and cover increasingly diversified application scenarios.

“Low code development reduces the barriers to application construction and the reliance on professional engineers. The business departments can build application platforms in a drag-and-drop way, which can meet their personalized needs, reduce labour costs and repeated communication with the IT department, and shorten the project development cycle. As to later operation and maintenance, the low-code platforms iterate faster and are more flexible. They can be used for cross-platform application deployment and can access data in different systems.”

Analysys Mason says Low-code platforms could be a game-changer by virtue of their ability to make software development accessible to non-technical teams.

Low-code platforms use a software development framework that relies on graphical user interface (GUI)-based modelling to build applications and functions. Low-code platforms abstract the relevant functions and flows into a simplified interface without exposing the complexity of the underlying application or its dependencies. They offer capabilities such as visual modelling tools and standardised templates to help users with limited technical backgrounds to configure and set up new products and services.

Low-code platforms do not require knowledge of traditional coding or software development languages, which makes them accessible to a larger number of people across a variety of teams. This will be especially useful in helping business teams to reduce their reliance on IT, which is often a bottleneck that delays the launch of new products and offers into the market. Furthermore, low-code platforms can help CSPs to embrace a culture of rapid testing and fast, almost painless failures, which will be crucial to effectively compete against web-scalers and digital natives.

Finally, as Forrester is credited with creating low-code. It’s appropriate to give them the last (and the latest) word on the topic. This from The Forrester Wave: Low-Code Development Platforms For Professional Developers, Q2 2021

According to Forrester, low code platforms “are now a first-class development approach,” and the markets and applications for low code are converging with those for digital process automation (DPA) because “vendors from more specialized segments are maturing their capabilities across a wider range of use cases and developer personas.”


DPA, according to one definition is “a method whereby digital technology is used to automate one or more tasks involved in a business process.” If that sounds like robotic process automation — which, remember Gartner included in its grab bag of low-code development technologies — it’s not, according to Information Age.

RPA is “software technology that allows businesses to automate low-level tasks now and will assist humans with higher-level tasks in the future, as the technology improves.

DPA “the evolution of traditional business process management technologies [which ensure] that the infrastructure of an organisation’s business processes is solid and streamlines business processes for maximum efficiency and cost containment.”