If you’re a change agent, an innovator, someone who sees opportunities to drive your organization forward and then seizes them – there’s never been a better time to make an impact. Thanks to new application development technologies like low-code, anyone at an organization – whether technical or not – has the power to create highly functional business applications.
But with all this freedom of choice comes another (potentially anxiety-producing) question: how do I know if low-code is the right choice for my organization and its needs?
There’s no need to worry. The goal of this post is to help you determine when using a low-code approach is right for you. We’ll go through each alternative in detail to help you decide. Let’s get started.
Business needs drive low-code adoption
Before we get into the pros and cons of each type of development approach, let’s take a step back and look at why low-code is quickly becoming the most popular way to create applications. Low-code has been a super-hot megatrend in application development for years, but we’re now at the tipping point.
And the data supports that reality: global low-code platform market revenue is forecast to reach approximately 65 billion U.S. dollars in 2027. Further, Gartner suggests that “by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by organizations will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020.” Gartner also predicts that most enterprises (80%) will establish policies for citizen developers by 2024.
There are many reasons why low-code is quickly becoming the gold standard for application development. Organizations need to develop more new applications, and do it faster, than ever before. Low-code is perfectly suited for this because it empowers business users to take on much more of the development process than they ever could before, ensuring that developer resources never become the bottleneck. Low-code development platforms further increase speed by seamlessly handling all the logistics of the application environment itself – a task that used to rely heavily on DevOps. There simply aren’t enough developer resources available to meet the needs of fast-moving organizations, so low-code is the perfect solution.
Pros and cons of various development approaches
As we mentioned, there’s so many ways to develop a new application these days. How do you know which path to choose? Let’s review the most popular methods and compare them to see which is best for your organization.
1. Expand a legacy system to meet new needs
There’s a good chance your organization already has at least one, if not several, comprehensive business systems in your portfolio. While you rely on these systems to run your day-to-day operations, that doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for trying to build new tailored applications. Yes, it’s true – they often have many features and functions available. But they have several downsides when it comes to new app development.
First, they’re expensive, and trying to use them for a new purpose may cause you to have to shift to a different tier of service or renegotiate your contract, which could add tremendous cost that isn’t necessary. Second, they’re often slow and difficult to build within, and you run the risk of affecting key business processes that could derail your entire organization, impacting your bottom line through lost revenue and paying for emergency fixes. A third downside is that these systems are intentionally broad and multipurpose – making it difficult to force them into a very specific use case that you need to accomplish.
For all those reasons (and more), it’s not ideal to use monolithic, legacy systems, which provide you with neither speed nor the possibility of perfect customization. However, there are some reasons why it might make sense. By developing within your core systems, you don’t need to add a new platform into your overall IT mix, and you get a relatively safe and stable solution that is already connected to your core processes, minimizing integration work.
2. Buy a niche, “best of breed” off-the-shelf system
Depending on the business problem you’re trying to solve, there is more than likely already an application out there waiting for you to simply buy and put to work. Going this route can be fast and efficient because there’s no development time at all. However, that doesn’t make it better than other solutions. You run a high risk of needing to compromise somewhere, simply because the software wasn’t built for your organization – it was built for every organization. Because of this reality, you’ll need to adapt your processes to the software, instead of the other way around. Not to mention the danger of it becoming a siloed, isolated “island” of software that isn’t connected to your other core IT systems.
So, while you can get started quickly with this option, you rarely get exactly what you need – like buying clothing off the rack versus having it tailored to fit you perfectly. That might be fine if you’re trying to automate a fairly simple, standard process that won’t differentiate your business or create significant value.
3. Build an application from scratch entirely using your own code
Many organizations go this route because they need something highly specific to their business needs and don’t want to try expanding their legacy systems or buying something pre-made that’s suboptimal. For them, it feels like the only viable option is to use engineering resources to code the entire application by hand. While this can have huge upsides – you get exactly what you want and need – it can have huge downsides too. Development from scratch requires a lot of resources – both in terms of time and money. This might be fine if you don’t need it quickly and have a large budget for the project – but what business today has either of those?
Coding from scratch always takes longer than other approaches and you again face the bottleneck of depending on a few, already overburdened individuals – the developers. This path hinders innovation and rapid prototyping, both of which are critical in today’s fast-paced business environment. Finally, this approach adds to your overall technical debt, as coded from scratch applications will need to be maintained over time, further pulling resources from innovative new projects.
4. Build an application from scratch using low-code
As we mentioned earlier, more and more organizations are using low-code platforms to build their applications. With low-code, you can combine speed and perfect customization in a way that just isn’t possible with other development approaches. Starting with ready-made modules, you’re able to build the bulk of the application quickly. Then on top of that, you can (if you really need to) add your own code, customizing the solution exactly to your organization’s unique needs. You get all the upsides of traditional coding, just quicker and cheaper.
And this process doesn’t face the development resource bottleneck we’ve seen with a traditional development approach because business users participate throughout. This collaborative approach frees up development resources to focus on more strategic projects that only they can do – sharpening the organization’s long-term competitiveness.
Why leading organizations choose low-code development
At this point you may be thinking – low-code looks like the sure winner. But aren’t you biased? Fair question. But we’re only biased because we’ve seen how low-code development has transformed the way organizations innovate. Low-code is nothing new – talk of simplified development has been around for decades. What is new is the dramatic increase in demand for better business applications, and the need to have them ready faster than ever. This increased demand has in turn increased the pressure on low-code solution providers to refine their platforms and make them more powerful and easier to use.
The fact is that nowadays, most organizations need to be able to launch customized applications in a significantly shorter time than is feasible with traditional methods. Low-code makes this possible – both high speed and perfect customization.
Like building a house: low-code vs in-house development
Let’s look at the difference between traditional in-house development from scratch and low-code using a common analogy: building a house.
You’ve decided that you want to build a house from scratch versus buying an existing house. One of the biggest reasons for this is that you want it to be precisely designed to your exact wishes, without compromise. However, you also need it to be done quickly and to keep costs reasonable.
So, you hire a general contractor and have them and their team get to work, starting from the basics of smoothing the ground and pouring the foundation. Then you purchase wood, and they build the house board by board. You need walls, ceilings, windows, and doors. Electricity and water must be connected, and everything must be coordinated in a timely fashion. It’s a rather complex and time-consuming project. In addition, you will need different skills along the way. The person who builds the walls is not necessarily the same person as the person who puts shingles on the roof or runs cables for electricity.
Similarly, when it comes to application development, you can ask a team of engineers to build it from scratch, writing code line-by-line until it’s finished. It will take a long time, and by the time it’s done, your needs might have changed in ways big or small, causing delays and revisions. A series of specialists, project managers and engineering leads will be involved at different stages, and there’s always risk that handoffs aren’t smooth, creating more work along the way. Hopefully, in the end, you get everything just the way you want it. And because of all the time and resources required, you may not have budget for other critical projects, leading to risk-aversion and innovation stagnation.
Low-code: the best of both worlds
Instead of going all-in with your time and budget, low-code offers a different way. With low-code, you don’t have to choose between having something done quickly or having it done right – you can have both!
Returning to our home construction example, building applications on a low-code platform is like building a modular house. You get the foundation and other critical structural elements like walls, water pipes and electricity up quickly and cost-effectively with the help of ready-made standard modules. From there, you can easily add further customizations that bring your original vision to life, like a one-of-a-kind kitchen or beautiful wood patio, with a much lower total project cost.
In the same way, low-code enables you to quickly and easily build the core foundation and infrastructure needed for the application to work. By simply dragging and dropping ready-made modules, the heavy-lifting required to build a powerful app is done for you. But it’s also easy to go beyond the basics and add customizations that ensure the nuances of your organization are accounted for and every need is met.
Another big difference with this approach is that it requires fewer specialists (and their skills) along the way. Low-code development platforms make the process of app creation more accessible to more people in the organization through a visual drag-and-drop interface. Then, when the time is right for highly skilled developers to engage, they can apply their unique skills to customization and integration work by building code on top of what’s already been created by the business user – if that’s even needed.
Low-code as a springboard for digitalization
Moving at the pace of change means that speed is crucial in all digitization efforts. Of course, your competitors are also increasing their pace of innovation, which means that you can’t rely on the status quo or mimic everyone else if you are to remain competitive. In addition to speed, tailored applications that unleash the unique value your business brings are needed to achieve long-term success. Innovating faster and building tailored apps that bring your competitive differentiation to life are the new keys to success in a rapidly-changing world.
Low-code development empowers you to produce custom business applications faster than you’ve ever thought possible. And if it’s built on the right platform, it’s easy to integrate with other relevant systems in your tech stack, making it the perfect springboard for digitalization over time.