Low-code platforms are software solutions now creating a major shift in how companies can develop their applications and enhancements to functionalities faster. But will they reduce the need for highly skilled engineers that build and evolve digital platforms? Will low-code solutions be transformative and, if so, what are the implications?
What’s causing the rise of low-code platforms?
Benefits. In looking at drivers for the rise in these solutions, let’s start with the benefits. Companies adopting low-code platform solutions are achieving, or expect to achieve, benefits including accelerated time to market because the solutions speed up application development and deployment time (less than three months, compared to three to six months).
Other benefits include increasing automation to streamline workflows (especially manual processes) and enabling business users to help develop functionality that solves business problems. In the acute global talent shortage we face, some companies want to use low-code solutions as a way to reduce IT backlogs and close the gap between business demands and the scarce availability of IT resources. Others hope to reduce investment in developer and data engineering expertise.
Democratize programming. Besides benefits, an important driver is that low-code platforms democratize programming. They allow individuals with less formal training to develop tech functionalities, thus enabling many more people to participate in app development. It is similar to the way cloud democratized compute power and made it available to a wider portion of the business population, making it easier to consume and use.
Trajectory toward low-code solutions. The effort to democratize programming and reduce the dependence on heavy-duty engineering skills is not new. Businesses have been on this trajectory for a long time.
First came attempts to either create automated code or generate code from data models. Case technology was the ability to build a robust tight data model and then generate the code for the functionality to drive the business. This solution had a place, but it fizzled out because the time spent building the data model was significant and equal to that of developing the code. In addition, the code this solution generated was brittle and difficult to maintain.
Object-oriented programming replaced the data model approach, and it is still with us today. Its promise was that it allowed programmers to rebuild and reuse objects and generate substantial productivity from that. But the results turned out to be modest with regard to democratization. Object-oriented programming worked but it fueled the track for the heavy engineering movement instead of democratizing coding. Although companies could reuse components of code, they had to create much of it bespoke; so, the hope of a world of objects that could be easily linked together never emerged.
The next stage of evolution was automated code writers, and there were several solutions in the market by 2014.
Today’s solutions for low-code platforms are the latest iteration of the evolution to democratize programming. Low-code platforms emerged but were underdeveloped for some time until they became robust enough to support broad adoption. Low-code solutions appear to be more promising than object-oriented programming. They scale well, and many companies are productively using low-code platforms and achieving good results.
Low-code platforms may become the “next cloud”
The low-code market is taking off very fast, and solutions are widely available in the marketplace now. There are many versions. The Everest Group research (based on interactions with buyers) ranks four providers as Leaders in 2022: Outsystems, Mendix, Salesforce, and ServiceNow. There are several low-code solutions in the cloud, with AWS, Google, IBM, and Microsoft leading the pack. They also offer low-code solutions for adding AI to applications. We believe that enterprise platform service providers will grab the lion’s share (75%) of this market in the future.
Low-code platforms are poised to play a dramatic role in the ongoing evolution of democratizing programming. Our research at Everest Group shows adoption will grow exponentially over the next few years. In fact, we believe that low-code platforms could become the “next cloud,” which would be a critical asset for digital transformation at scale.
How important and transformative will low-code solutions be?
How important is this phenomenon of low-code platform solutions? I believe they will be especially important in assisting with AI development. They also will enable improved productivity as organizations will be able to develop application functionalities much faster.
Even so, I do not believe they will take replace the need for heavy engineering skills. In fact, we have a dramatic increase in the need for heavy-duty engineering talent happening at the same time as low-code platforms are taking market share. How can we reconcile the growth of both at the same time?
The answer is we need both as we move into the platform era where companies look to grow through building platforms to improve their competitive capabilities. They need both heavy-duty engineering and low-code platforms that enable quick and easy development.
Low-code solutions will be important components in programming moving forward. They allow business people to play a role in development. They are a quick, cheap way to build prototypes and functionality, while the more heavyweight engineering skills are necessary for components for platforms that drive high-volume transactions and need more rigor and expertise.
Companies will develop parts of their technical functionalities in low code and develop other parts through traditional engineering and IT vehicles. But low code will be part of the tech stack, not warring against the tech stack.
How companies must change
The days of the fortress mentality of central IT departments dictating to the business community what they can and cannot do are over. Technologies are now too important and are embedded in how companies conduct business. The more they use platforms to compete, the more it increases business users’ vital interest in participating in the functionality. They cannot wait on a centralized IT organization to develop functionality, and they need to take responsibility for the functionality themselves. Low-code platforms give them an opportunity to participate.
Companies should embrace low-code platform solutions. They need to marry low-code solutions with heavy engineering of platforms, not allowing opposition between them. In fact, I believe IT departments need to educate the business people in selecting the right platforms and perhaps provide training for them. They also should provide governance and guidelines for understanding when to turn a low-code programming project over to the more heavyweight engineers to put scaled components in place.
If low-code platforms achieve the expected benefits, will there still be a need for third-party service providers? Absolutely. The heavy engineering activity will continue to grow, not shrink.
We are now at the point where it is evident that low-code solutions are with us for the foreseeable future and will play an important part in organizations’ tech stacks.