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Low-code development tipped to dominate the enterprise

4th Generation Business App

Blog by Mark Hosking, CEO and Expert Developer at Formbird

Low-code development wasn’t always part of the enterprise landscape. First, there was code: computer programs are written in languages like Fortran, Cobol, Basic and, in more recent years, languages like python and C++. 

Even before that there was assembler: a very basic programming tool tied closely to the instruction set of a particular processor. I started developing software on the Z80 processor in the nineteen-eighties.

I’ve been involved in building enterprise software solutions, throughout my career. And always the cost of development, the cost of delivery has been incredibly high, and there have been many failures.

With traditional programming, whatever an application needs to do, whatever input it accepts from users and how it presents information to users has to be specified line-by-line. It’s a costly and time-consuming process that requires programming skills and almost invariably requires several coding cycles as programmers translate what they understand to be the requirements into code, present the results to users and then make modifications based on feedback received.

A better way has long been sought and led to the emergence of fourth-generation programming languages and rapid application development tools. The former embedded some of the required functions required into code that could then be used and adapted to specific tasks. The latter is a methodology that brings customers and users into the development process so that what emerges is closer to final requirements. It has something in common with Agile development methodologies.

Examples of rapid development application tools are Oracle Forms Progress, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Access. All had limited capability and scalability.

I started developing a mobile product in 2000 using dot.net based on an Oracle SQL database for water utilities. One of our greatest challenges was determining what data model represented. As soon as someone wanted to introduce a change to their business, the model would collapse.

We decided that we really needed a new construct, and that really was the starting point for Formbird back in 2017, using low-code development technology. And low-code really is the future of software development.

The power of low-code

Low-code goes beyond programming languages and rapid application development tools. It enables an application developer to create the interfaces to the application using a graphical user interface and to specify the required logic and functionality, which is then implemented, transparent to the developer, by the system calling up pre-written code.

Note that low-code development is not designed to remove the need for developer skills, but it does enable less skilled developers to produce apps, and greatly accelerates the development process.

Forrester Research is credited with coming up with the term ‘low-code, in a 2014 report New Development Platforms Emerge For Customer-Facing Applications It proclaimed: “Low-code platforms are rising as an alternative for developing customer-facing apps. Initially targeted at speeding all projects, these platforms are finding traction in the age of the customers’ heightened priority for customer experience software.”

A $US13.8b market by 2021

Since then low-code has demonstrated its power and has been enthusiastically embraced for a wide range of applications. Gartner, in February 2021, forecasts the worldwide low-code development technologies market to grow 23 percent in 2021, reaching a value of $US13.8 billion.  Gartner also estimates that, by 2023, over 50 percent of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code application platform as one of their strategic application platforms.

Gartner research vice president Fabrizio Biscotti said a confluence of digital disruptions, hyperautomation and the rise of composable business had led to an influx of tools and rising demand.

He went to say: “Globally, most large organisations will have adopted multiple low-code tools in some form by year-end 2021. In the longer term, as companies embrace the tenets of a composable enterprise, they will turn to low-code technologies that support application innovation and integration.”

Of that $US13.8b, Gartner estimates low-code application platforms (LCAP) will account for $US5.75b, a 66 percent increase from 2019 ($US3.47b).

Low-code versus no-code

Those figures also include ‘no-code’ development platforms, which, logic might suggest, would further streamline the production of applications, but, according to Gartner: “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.”

No-code is a powerful tool for enabling anyone with no skill to develop simple applications, but like any powerful tool, misused or in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. Likely consequences of inappropriate use of no-code tools are shadow IT, poor security, integration problems, excessive use of resources.

The distinction is far from clear and there is little consensus. Gartner, in its 2020 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, said no-code vendors were not included, but some of the vendors evaluated described their offerings as being no-code development platforms. 

However, there does seem to be some consensus on the definitions, even if individual platforms might not seem to fit the label attached to them.

Low-code development to take the lead

Low-code is designed for people with software development skills, to make them more efficient and speed application development. No-code is for non-IT people who want very specific, and relatively simple applications. So it will have a place, but clearly, it is unrealistic to expect it fulfil the majority of application development requirements.

Low-code, on the other hand, looks set to dominate software development. Gartner estimates that by 2024 65 percent of application development activity will be low-code.