Low-code platforms are software solutions that are now creating a major shift in how companies can develop their applications faster and improve their functionality. But will they reduce the need for highly skilled engineers building and evolving digital platforms? Will low-code solutions be transformative, and if so, what are the implications?
What is causing the rise of low-code platforms?
Advantages. Looking at the drivers for the increase in these solutions, let’s start with the benefits. Companies that adopt low-code platform solutions achieve or expect to achieve benefits, including accelerated time to market, as the solutions accelerate application development and deployment (less than three months, versus three to six months).
Other benefits include increased automation to streamline workflows (especially manual processes) and the ability for business users to help develop features that solve business problems. With the severe global talent shortage we face, some companies want to use low-code solutions to reduce IT backlogs and bridge the gap between business demands and scarce IT resources. Others hope to reduce investments in developer expertise and data engineering.
Democratize programming. Besides the benefits, a big driver is that low-code platforms democratize programming. They allow people with less formal training to develop technology functionality, thus enabling many more people to participate in application development. It sounds like how the cloud has democratized computing power and made it accessible to more of the business population, making it easier to consume and use.
Path to low-code solutions. The effort to democratize programming and reduce reliance on heavy engineering skills is not new. Companies have been on this trajectory for a long time.
Early attempts were to create automated code or generate code from data models. Case’s technology was the ability to build a tight, robust data model and then generate the feature code to drive the business. This solution had its place, but it fizzled because the time spent building the data model was large and equal to the time spent developing the code. Moreover, the code generated by this solution was fragile and difficult to maintain.
Object-oriented programming replaced the data model approach, and it’s still with us today. Its promise was that it allowed programmers to reconstruct and reuse objects and generate substantial productivity from it. But the results have been modest in terms of democratization. Object-oriented programming worked, but it fueled the heavy engineering movement instead of democratizing coding. Although companies could reuse components of code, they had to custom-build much of it; thus, the hope for a world of objects that could be easily linked together never emerged.
The next evolutionary step was automated code writers, and there were several solutions on the market in 2014.
Today’s solutions for low-code platforms are the latest evolutionary iteration to democratize programming. Low-code platforms emerged but were underdeveloped for some time until they became robust enough to allow wide adoption. Low-code solutions seem more promising than object-oriented programming. They are scaling well and many companies are productively using low-code platforms and seeing good results.
Low-code platforms could become the “next cloud”
The low-code market is taking off very quickly and the solutions are now widely available on the market. There are many versions. The Everest Group study (based on interactions with buyers) ranks four suppliers among the 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 apps. We believe that enterprise platform service providers will capture the lion’s share (75%) of this market in the future.
Low-code platforms are poised to play a dramatic role in the continued evolution of programming democratization. Our research at Everest Group shows that 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 an essential asset for large-scale digital transformation.
How important and transformative will low-code solutions be?
How important is this phenomenon of low-code platform solutions? I believe they will be particularly important in helping the development of AI. They will also improve productivity as organizations will be able to develop application functionality much faster.
Even so, I don’t believe they will replace the need for heavy engineering skills. In fact, we have a dramatic increase in the need for heavy engineering talent that is happening at the same time as low-code platforms take market share. How to reconcile the growth of both at the same time?
The answer is that we need both as we enter the era of platforms where companies seek to grow by building platforms to enhance their competitive abilities. They need both robust engineering and low-code platforms that allow for quick and easy development.
Low-code solutions will be important parts of programming in the future. They allow business people to play a role in development. They are a quick and inexpensive way to build prototypes and features, while heavier engineering skills are needed for platform components that generate high-volume transactions and require more rigor and expertise.
Companies will develop parts of their technical functionality in low code and develop other parts through traditional engineering and IT vehicles. But low code will be part of the tech stack, and won’t be at war with the tech stack.
How businesses need to change
Gone are the days of the fortress mentality of central IT departments telling businesses what they can and cannot do. Technology is now too important and an integral part of how companies do business. The more platforms they use to compete, the more it increases the vital interest of business users to participate in the feature. They can’t wait for a centralized IT organization to develop features, and they must take responsibility for those features themselves. Low-code platforms give them the opportunity to participate.
Enterprises should embrace low-code platform solutions. They must marry low-code solutions with heavy platform engineering, allowing no opposition between them. In fact, I believe that IT departments need to educate business people on selecting the right platforms and maybe provide some training. They should also provide governance and guidelines for understanding when to hand over a low-code programming project to the heavier engineers to get components to scale.
If low-code platforms achieve the expected benefits, will there still be a need for third-party service providers? Absolutely. Heavy engineering activity will continue to grow, not shrink.
We are now at the point where it is clear that low-code solutions are with us for the foreseeable future and will play an important role in organizations’ technology stacks.