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Have you ever had an idea for an amazing app that would make peoples lives so much easier? Have you ever found yourself in the office performing a repetitive task that consumes a lot of your time and that you wish you could automate? Great, now all you need to do is create the app or program. One problem, you don’t know the first thing about coding or programming. In the past, this would have been the end of the discussion and you would have to carry on without your app and with performing the repetitive process. But, thanks to a new (sort of…) type of software known as low-code application development platforms (also known as LCAP or no-code development platforms), people with little to no knowledge of coding or programming (also known as citizen developers) can easily build apps and automate repetitive tasks across their favorite apps and services.
What are Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms?
A low-code no-code application development platform is a type of software that enables users to develop desktop and mobile applications with little syntax-based coding or programming. Instead, apps developed on these platforms are built through drag and drop graphical interfaces, visual workflow modelers and front-end configuration. Building apps in an LCAP is as simple as dragging and dropping elements such as buttons, checkboxes, and input fields onto forms and screens all without needing to write a single line of code. Some LCAPs even feature app-wizards that walk users through a step-by-step process of creating an app by answering a series of questions and by importing spreadsheets of data that will be used by the app.
Are Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms New?
Yes, most of the feature-rich low-code application development platforms available on the market today are relatively new however, they conceptually trace back to the early 1990’s. In the early 1990’s software engineering practices changed to place greater emphasis on model-driven design. Model driven design is a software development approach that focuses on analyzing and illustrating the context associated with a problem domain instead of analyzing the programming constructs needed to address the problem domain. As technology evolved and became more complex, this practice became an integral part of software development and disciplines such as business analysis evolved to help carry it out (for more information on model driven business analysis, check out this article). Eventually, low-code application development platforms were conceived to allow for visual programming and the detailing of models right within software.
What in the World is Citizen Development?
Citizen development is when non-technical business users design and build software applications. This is different than traditional application development practices, where the business user’s role was limited to providing the requirements for an application by describing them to a business analyst or product owner who would then analyze and document them for handover to a developer. Using low-code no-code application development platforms, citizen developers can take their requirements and immediately start to implement this in the form of an application complete with the functionality, logic, workflow and more.
What Are the Benefits of Using Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms?
While it is important to understand your organizations drivers for wanting to purchase and implement a low-code application development platform before going to market, the following is a list of some commonly cited benefits for implementing low-code no-code application development platforms:
LCAPs enable organizations to rapidly develop and deliver business solutions
LCAPs offer a shorter time to market than conventionally developed apps
LCAPs may reduce the number of shadow IT solutions deployed
LCAPs reduce the need for costly and scarce development resources
LCAPs can be modified or extended much more quickly and easily than conventionally developed apps
Some LCAPs allow users to develop both desktop and mobile apps
LCAPs offer easy integration with many other third-party apps and services
Many LCAPs support what you see is what you get (or WYSIWYG) which allows the developer to see the end result as its being developed
What Are the Different Components of Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms?
Low-code no-code application development platforms typically consist of the following components:
Interface Designer: An interface designer is used to design the app’s entry forms or screens. The interface designer is typically here you add fields, text and other layout elements to the app screens or forms.
Workflow Designer: A workflow designer is used to implement business logic and workflow. For example, if building a submission form, the workflow designer would be used to define where the form should go after submission.
Common Database: An integrated database contains the data tables that store the data to be created, retrieved and updated through the app.
Connectors: Connectors (sometimes referred to as spokes, web hooks or interfaces) allow you to easily connect your app to other third-party apps or services. Connectors allow you to automate workflows and tasks across many apps and services all from within the context of your app by exposing app data or services or by retrieving, consuming, or updating data from other apps or invoking their services.
How Do Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platform Connectors Work?
Low-code no-code application development platform connectors vary significantly between platforms. LCAP vendors typically offer out-of-the-box connectors which are connections that have already been built by the platform vendor. With these connectors, developers would just need to configure or setup the connection and grant or authorize the low-code platform permission to be able to connect their app to a third-party app or service. Some low-code platforms also support custom connectors which allow the developer to connect to third party apps or services that are not included out-of-the-box through web APIs. Lastly, some low-code platforms feature robust connector ecosystems where the makers of other third-party apps or services can publish and sell a pre-configured connector to their app.
How Much Do Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms Cost?
Most modern LCAPs are cloud based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions and while pricing varies significantly across platforms, the pricing generally consists of some combination of the following elements:
Monthly or annual per user licencing fees which grant you access to the platform itself for the purpose of developing apps.
Most LCAPs also charge in some form for access to connectors. This is particularly the case for premium connectors or highly demanded third party apps or services.
Some LCAPs charge for access to a common database that can be used to store data to be accessed by all the apps you will ever develop.
Note that pricing models and prices vary by vendor. Typical pricing models include:
Price per user: which grants users entitlement to a predetermined number of apps
Unlimited: which grants user entitlements to an unlimited number of apps
Table Entitlements: Some vendors have a pricing model that grants users entitlements to a fixed number of custom data tables. For example, if a user has an entitlement to 10 data tables, they would be able to use 2 apps that each use 5 tables or 1 app that uses all 10 tables.
What Are the Biggest Risks or Constraints of Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms?
The following is a list of some possible risks and constraints associated with low-code application development platforms:
Barrier to entry is high: Depending on the low-code platform selected, the barrier to entry can be high. Some of the enterprise grade platforms can be expensive especially where you are not looking to purchase a large number of licenses. In such a case, it may require you to build a high volume of high-value apps (i.e. apps that create cost savings or efficiencies) in order to achieve a positive return on investment.
Risk that you may try to build overly complex apps: A big risk with using low-code application development platforms is that organizations may try to build overly complex apps that may not be fit for purpose. It is typically not advised to try and build apps that may already exist as commercially available software in the market.
They are not actually 100% no-code: A big risk with using self-proclaimed no-code app development platforms is that they are not truly no-code. While building forms and workflows could probably be done without any code, the minute you start to talk about logic or complex business rules, you're likely going to require some knowledge of the underlying programming language.
Which Are The Top Low-Code No-Code Application Development Platforms Available in the Market?
The following is a list of the top low low-code no-code application development platforms in the market.
Microsoft Power Automate
Oracle Application Express & Visual Builder Cloud Service