What Is Low-code Development and Why You Should Pay Attention To Low-code

What Is Low-code Development

 
Low-code platforms are on the rise and the growing demand of low-code platforms is obvious. Writing software by hand is time consuming. Businesses can’t deliver software fast enough to meet their growing needs, and there aren’t enough software developers available to fulfill the demand. Essentially, software is not being delivered on time, and the quality and security of software are major concerns for businesses.
 
According to the Wall Street Journal, low-code platforms will grow 70% by year 2025. Gartner predicts that Low-code platforms will be responsible for more than 65% of all app dev activity by 2024.
 
Low code platforms growth 
 
Image courtesy Graphite GTC
 
Major technology players including Microsoft, Google, Oracle, SAP and several others are jumping on the low-code bandwagon and have already deployed or plan to deploy low-code platforms and tools as a part of their large product portfolios.
 
So, what exactly is low-code development, what are low-code platforms and why you should pay attention to this quickly growing technology?
 

What Is Low-code Development

 
Today, most software is written manually by hand. The demand of new software is growing and there aren’t enough coders in the world. The need for faster software delivery, low or no maintenance or upgrades, speed and performance of user experience, and security of code and data are all major concerns for CIOs and CTOs.
 
Low-code development is the process of building software by automating the process of coding, debugging, testing, and deployment of software development. In low-code development, the software is created by a tool, called Low-code platform or a low-code tool or IDE (Integrated Development Environment). The platform provides workflows and features to automatically debug, test, and deploy software applications in the cloud or on premises. Once deployed, the software runs and managed by the platform itself.
 

What Are Low-code Platforms

 
Low-code platforms allow its users to use visual diagrams and features like drag and drop, connectors, and properties to build workflows, create entities, build relationships, define events and actions, and processes. The tool in the background writes software, creates user interfaces, business logics, and backend databases. Some low-code platforms allow developers to build, test, and deploy software solutions in the cloud.
 
A low-code platform usually has a visual designer where its users can select visual objects from a list of objects, drag and drop them to a canvas, and visually create workflows and set properties, events, actions, and data models.
 
Once workflows are completed, the tool lets its users to build, test, and deploy applications in cloud or on premises. Most of the software applications developed by low-code tools are Web applications or mobile apps.
 
Think of a low-code platform as the next generation of rapid application development (RAD) tools such as Visual Basic, Visual Studio, and Delphi.
 

Benefits of Low-code Platforms

 
The main goal of businesses is to build faster and cheaper software with quality. The following is a list of key benefits of using low-code platforms that directly lead to the same goal:
 
Low code platforms benefits 
 
Speed of development
 
The key purpose of low-code platforms is to write faster code and reduce the duration of the release cycle of a product. By using RAD designers and UI tools, the Low-code platforms can reduce the overall software development and delivery time by 50% or even more. Less development time and less resources directly lead to cost savings of total software ownership cost.
 
All businesses care about is spending less money and faster delivery. Low-code platforms deliver that.
 
Code quality
 
Pressure of faster software delivery often leads to bad quality of code that eventually affects the usability, reliability, availability, and performance of software. Some development teams use less experienced developers, don’t follow industry’s best practices and patterns, and hence produce poor-quality code. In the long run, bad quality code leads to major problems.
 
Security
 
Secure code, data security, and integrity have become a major concern for enterprises. Hackers and cyber criminals have access to more data than ever in our lifetime. 1000’s of websites are hacked each day. One of the major reasons for cyber hacks is that code and user interfaces are not secured and encrypted.
 
Low-code platforms follow industry standards on code security and data security and integrity.
 
Industry standard and best practices
 
Most low-code platforms follow industry standards and best practices and produce high quality code and build industry’s recommended user experiences.
 
Flexible and extensible
 
Most low-code platforms are flexible and extensible. Developers can build modules that can easily be shared and plugged-in to low-code platforms to extend functionality of existing software.
 
Integration with third party APIs
 
Most low-code platforms allow developers to integrate with third party APIs by simply configuring APIs via user interfaces without writing any code.
 
Auto Deployment and Testing
 
Building, testing, and deployment can be a cumbersome process of the software release cycle if CI/CD practices have not been implemented in an organization. Low-code platforms automate the process of testing, and deployment that directly related to the faster software delivery cycles.
 

How Do Low-code Platforms Work?

 
Most low-code platforms let users register and login online and build their applications via designers and tools. Users also build business logic and other functionality. Once the application is built, users can QA and test their applications and once satisfied, applications are deployed using just a few clicks.
 
Low code platform process 
 
Only a few low-code platforms actually build a project that can be opened in software IDEs.
 
Graphite GTC is one of the low-code platforms that allows developers to open their completed applications in Visual Studio IDE and can look and modify code however the way they like.
 

Where Is My Application or Code Deployed?

 
Once an application is built and tested, it is usually deployed in a cloud or on a Web server. Most platforms provide options to deploy completed apps in their own production environment (default option), on-premises, public clouds, and private clouds.
 
Low code platform cloud 

Why Should I Pay Attention to Low Code Platforms?

 
Low-code and No-code development is on the rise. Large technology companies including Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Google, and several others have introduced their own low-code platforms or acquired smaller low-code/no-code platforms.
 
As I mentioned earlier, in coming years, a large number of applications will be created using low-code/No-code platforms. This is a good time to start learning low-code development and get your hands dirty with this technology.
 
Several large technology leaders including Microsoft, Google, and Oracle are actively involved in low-code development. Microsoft’s Power Platform and Azure Designers are nothing but Low-code/No-code development.
 
Google Cloud and AWS also provides online designers that allow you to create your workflows, build user interfaces, connect with backend databases, deploy and run applications in the cloud.
In coming few years, the number of jobs for low-code developers and experts are expected to grow at a rapid pace.
 

What Are the Leading Low-code Platforms?

 
According to Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, Mendex and OutSystems are two leading low-code platforms.
Top low code platforms 
 
The above image shows the leading low-code platforms as of July 2019. Besides Outsystems and Mendix, the top names in this list include Microsoft, Salesforce, Appian, Betty Blocks, Pega, ServiceNow, and Oracle.
 

Outsystems

 
Low code platform Outsystems
 
Outsystems platform supports full stack visual development via drag drop including UI screens and elements, business workflows, business logic, and data models. You can also add your own custom code or import other modules.
 
Outsystems allows enterprise grade app developed via using its IDE and deployed in Outsystems cloud. The IDE lets you create apps to target desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. The app can also be generated as native apps.
 
Outsystems supports integration with any external enterprise systems, database, or custom app via pre-built open-source connectors, popular cloud services, and APIs.
Outsystems comes with pre-built stunning modern UI templates for desktop, tablets, and mobile apps.
 
The following table lists various pricing options.
 
  • Edition Users Hosting Env CI/CD Price On-premises
  • Free 100 Shared cloud 1 No Free No
  • Basic 1000 Dedicated cloud 3 Yes $4,000 No
  • Standard Unlimited Dedicated cloud 3 Yes $10,000 Yes
  • Enterprise Unlimited Dedicated cloud 5 Yes Custom Yes
 

Mendix

 
Mendix Studio is an IDE that lets you design your Web and mobile apps using a drag/drop feature.
 
Mendix targets IT leaders, business developers, and professional developers. To build and deploy applications, you don’t need to have any coding knowledge.
The following table lists Mendix editions and their features.
 
Edition Free Single App Professional Enterprise
 
Public Cloud Yes Yes Yes Yes
On-premises Yes
Private Cloud Yes
No. of Environments 1 2 2 3
Dedicated app container Yes Yes Yes
CI/CD Yes
Pricing on Mendix website is not clear. There is a free version that provides unlimited applications in Mendix cloud with 1GB memory + 0.5GB storage per free app. The paid version is $1,875 per month, billed annually.
 

Microsoft Power Platform

 
Low code power platform 
 
Microsoft Power Platform is a new cloud-based but one of the fasters growing players in the Low-code/No-code world.
 
Microsoft Power Platform allows business users to build user interfaces, business workflows, and data models, and deploy in Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
 
The four offerings of Microsoft Power Platform are Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents.
 
Low code Power Apps 
 
Each of these products has its own pricing model, per user per month, starting at $9.99 per month. Once the apps are built using Power Platform tools, the production apps can be deployed in Azure cloud.
 

Appian

 
Appian is a cloud based Low-code platform. The key functionality of Appian revolves around business process management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA), case management, content management, and intelligent automation.
 
Like Outsystems and Mendix, Appian supports both Appian cloud and public cloud deployments (AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure).
 
Appian provides a free trial that lets you set up your app on the Appian cloud only. To have Appian full managed cloud, on premises, or public cloud options, you must be a paid user.
 
Appian pricing is subscription based starting at $90 per user per month for standard development licensing. Appian also has option to buy application licensing at a fixed cost.
 

Salesforce Lightening

 
Low code platform Salesforce Lightening 
 
Unlike previous Low-code products that lets you deploy your applications and apps on any public cloud or on premises, Salesforce Lightning is for Salesforce CRM users who want to build their own user experiences end support desktop, tablets and mobile devices without writing any code.
 
Salesforce Lightning is a framework for Salesforce users to create business UI and workflow on Salesforce without involving developers.
 
Salesforce Lightening includes the Lightning Component Framework that lets developers to develop components using the App Builder and reuse the existing components in other apps.
 
Salesforce Lightening is a part of Salesforce Platform that offers a try for free option. The Platform Starter and Platform Plus licensing are the paid options costs $25 per user per month and $100 per user per month.
 
Once the application is built and deployed, there may be additional cloud costs to run the app depending on bandwidth, number of users, memory, process, storage, and other resource consumptions.
 

Betty Blocks

 
Low code platform Betty Blocks 
 
Betty Blocks proudly calls itself a NoCode platform with lightning fast speed. Like other platforms, Betty Blocks supports drag and drop to build UI, business processes, and data models. Betty Blocks claims to build applications 8x faster. You create blocks of functionality and reuse them in your future applications.
 
Betty Blocks pricing starts at $1400 per month, billed annually that includes 100 Building Blocks, Public cloud with 10GB storage, and Standard SLA.
 

Pega

 
Pega Platform considered itself as a No-code platform is an app development platform that allows its users to build, automate, and deploy apps faster in the cloud.
 
Paga offers a 30-day free trial. The Enterprise Starter price is $90 per user per month. For larger customers, Enterprise Transformation pricing is available upon call.
 

ServiceNow

 
Low code platform ServiceNow 
 
ServiceNow’s Now Platform allows its users to build, automate, and deploy apps without writing any code. The key components of the platform are Flow Designer, IntegrationHub, Mobile Studio, Application Development, Virtual Agent, Predictive Intelligence, CMDB, and Performance Analytics.
 
ServiceNow’s pricing isn’t listed on their website.
 

Oracle Apex

 
Low code platform Apex 
 
Oracle Application Express (APEX) is a low-code development platform from Oracle. APEX enables its users to build scalable, secure enterprise apps that can be deployed anywhere.
 
The best part of Oracle APEX is, it is FREE to Oracle database owners and offers native access to all the capabilities of Oracle Database.
 
APEX’s IDE provides full developer experience with drag-drop and other IDE features including responsive designer, wizards, components, debugging, testing, and CI/CD.
APEX applications can be easily packaged into a single file that can be deployed in Oracle’s cloud or other public clouds with the click of a mouse.
 

Graphite Studio

 
We just saw the top low-code platforms in the market. But there is a new kid on the block, Graphite Studio. Graphite Studio is an IDE developed by Graphite GTC. Unlike other Low-code platforms, Graphite Studio has some unique advantages for developers specifically if you’re a Microsoft stack developer.
 
Graphite Studio IDE not only allows you to build your UI screens, business logic, and data models using drag and drop features but also let you visually debug the project in the designer, review and update your, take your project anywhere and even share with your team.
 
Quality of the code, performance, and security are at the heart of Graphite Studio. Graphite Studio follows Microsoft’s best practices and standards. The code written by the IDE is C# and .NET and it uses SQL Server as default backend database. The SQL Server database follows industry best practices related to data integrity, security, compliance and encryption.
 
Graphite Studio pricing is simple. There is a free version for developers with all features. Only time you pay is when you deploy the app. The Premium version is $300 /month/developer to build unlimited applications. There may be additional charges after the application is deployed in production.
 
The best part of Graphite Studio is that it generates C# and .NET code for you in a Visual Studio project that can be opened in Visual Studio. In other words, you own the code.
 
The final built project can be deployed on premises, in private or hybrid cloud, or any public cloud including Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud.
 
 

Summary

 
Low-code development is on the rise. In the coming years, a major portion of software will be written and managed by Low-code platforms and tools. The goal of low-code platforms is simple, i.e., build software without writing manual code, just by using visual IDE features such as drag and drop in designers. Once the application is built, it can easily be debugged, tested, and deployed using few clicks without involvement of DevOps and IT teams.
 
Low-code platforms not only offer faster app development and deployment but also ensure the quality and performance of the software is industry standard. Low-code platforms are designed and developed by experts and have been tested by hundreds of customers with enterprise-grade applications.
 

References

 
Product owners and their respective websites and documentation.