what is low code development

10 MIN READWhat Is Low-Code Development & Why Is It Important for Business?

Low-code development is a term that first popped up on the radar in Dec 2014 but never really caught up until Sep 2018, a month after Forrester released its business report.

The report represents an important milestone in the progress of low-code development platforms as it shined light on the entire market from a reputable business source.

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But the question remains…

What is low-code development?

And why is it so important to business development when so many other platforms are available for planning, designing, structuring, and implementing your own application?

What Does “Low-Code” Development Mean?

As a concept, low-code development means exactly what it spells out—that you’re going to use less code to get your applications up and running, leaving some work to graphical interfaces.

This is because of the increased efficiencies that are now possible with pre-built elements that can be “slotted” into an application without having to code it from scratch.

glide components for low-code development
Various types of pre-made layouts and styles available on Glide

In the case of low-code development, this is paired with some programming where necessary, bridging the best of both worlds into one unified experience.

Although fully-fledged no-code development platforms are already available for developers and business users to work with, most of them aren’t nearly as flexible as low-code platforms.

You can think of these as integrated environments where you can develop your own application (web or mobile) from scratch with some degree of aid in the process.

Why Is Low-Code Development Compelling for Business Use?

You can’t fault small- to mid-sized businesses for complaining about traditional app development costs as they’re simply astronomical and/or highly-impractical for most of them.

For many of these, the benefit of using a modern, proprietary platform for their operational and automation needs is far outweighed by the immense costs associated with development.

comparison between traditional and low-code development costs
Low-code development is a lot cheaper than traditional development

That’s where low-code development comes in:

  1. Pre-made elements mean developers don’t have to waste time reinventing the wheel for things like user authentication, design patterns, billing systems, and more.
  2. Integrated development environments allow for a unified experience that gets rid of most configuration work necessary to deploy a web or mobile application.
  3. Collaboration tools allow to save time and work on the project faster with in-browser user management, comments, and real-time interactivity.

These are just a few of the business benefits you will encounter when working with a low-code development platform. Like most things, there are downsides to this equation:

  • Most low-code development platforms are proprietary, meaning that while you’ll own the app itself, what you use to create that app (including its backend), is proprietary.
  • While application scalability isn’t a problem due to elastic computing embedded within most platforms, you often have to rely on their servers, with migrations being complex.

Think of low-code development as a middle way between traditional development and no-code development: you’re getting the best of both worlds while sharing only some of the downsides.

What Low-Code Platforms are Currently Available?

g2 grid showing platforms for what is low-code development and why is it important
The G2 grid showing all low-code platforms on the market (Source: G2)

One thing to note is that the concept of making development easier and less time-consuming is nothing new, especially with the rise of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) development models.

Three examples of PaaS brands are:

  1. Heroku (by Salesforce)
  2. Digital Ocean
  3. Netlify

These are some of the original players who now dominate most of the PaaS market (if we don’t count the built-in services from the likes of AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and MS Azure).

The purpose of PaaS is to simplify the developer’s job by “abstracting” (hiding from view) the layers of infrastructure that they don’t care about and would rather avoid working on.

deployment of app via Heroku PaaS abstraction
Heroku PaaS abstracts the deployment process in various ways

Low-code platforms take the job of a PaaS a step further by not only abstracting the infrastructure but also providing pre-built components the developer can use.

There are many low-code platforms available today:

  • Retool – Primarily for building internal tools faster
  • Kissflow – Made for non-technical people to build apps
  • Zoho Creator – For enterprise use connecting to Zoho CRM
  • Outsystems – For professional-grade low-code development
  • Glide – A great solution if you’re looking to get started quickly

All of these tools allow you to create your own business application from scratch, some for a specific purpose and others with power and flexibility in mind.

The interface of these platforms can go anywhere from hyper user-friendly to Photoshop-like (i.e. complex and confusing at first). What you end up choosing depends on your goal.

Why Go with Low-Code vs No-Code Development

Some “no”-code development platforms do allow you to write bits of code to overcome the limitations of abstracting everything that isn’t available as-is.

One of these platforms is Bubble, letting developers create Plugins; JavaScript-based snippets of code that can solve specific problems for a company or larger ones for multiple users.

Bubble plugins useful for low-code development
Various plugins built by Bubble for their platform

So, choosing a low-code versus a no-code development platform to work with entirely depends on your business needs and how you’re planning to develop your apps in the future.

At LowCode Agency, we recommend starting with your business goals in mind and asking yourself whether it makes sense to go with one or the other depending on the requirements.

Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Determine whether your app will serve an internal purpose for collaborators to use or whether it needs to be accessed by end users. This is a key differentiator.
  2. Next, narrow down the scope of your app to what’s known as a Minimum Viable Product; the least amount of features and capabilities you’ll need for the app to be functional. (Make sure to cross out any features that are nice-to-haves. You only want to consider what’s critical for the business to gain immediate value from the app).
  3. Whitelist the features that are necessary and compare your available options between low- and no-code platforms: Do you need user authentication? Audio controls? Maybe some type of streaming technology? The possibilities are endless here.
  4. Based on your requirements, it’ll be clear what platform is best-suited for your needs. You’ll be surprised by how many useful apps you can build with no-code platforms that you didn’t think possible, but make sure you fully understand their limitations.

Platforms like Glide are tremendously helpful in creating powerful apps from scratch in a matter of weeks or even days instead of months (or years!). But they don’t allow custom code.

The reasoning behind this comes from Glide’s CEO David Siegel himself:

We [limit] custom HTML [because it] will likely break Glide apps when we publish them to app stores, which we are beginning to work on. We want to keep the implementation of Glide apps abstract, so we can run them on other platforms besides the web.

So, the convenience of having pre-made templates for almost anything you may need sometimes comes at the cost of not getting quite there with customizations.

This isn’t Glide’s fault, nor any other no-code platform’s.

You have to choose the right platform for your business needs.

To help you in this complex decision, find a table below highlighting some of the most common solutions to known business problems that can be fixed with either low- or no-code platforms:

Use caseLow-code platform?No-code platform?
Internal toolYesYes
End-user applicationYesYes
Custom codeYesLimited
Custom stylingYesLimited
Open sourceYes, ok for business purposesYes, not recommended for business purposes

Is Low-Code Development Worth It for Business?

The answer to this question is a big and resounding YES, and not because we’re biased. The benefits are now documented by big players like Forrester, G2, Gartner, & more.

G2 already has more than 150 results in the low-code development platforms section at the time of writing, and the growth of these platforms is clear in how users describe them.

retool reviews on g2 low-code development platform
Low-code platforms like Retool are racking up reviews on G2

While our customers are enjoying the benefits of no-code platforms like Glide most due to the insane cost savings, low-code platforms like Retool are fantastic at their specific job.

Just a few years ago, both of these concepts were relatively unknown.

Today, businesses are already leveraging most of their benefits.

The question isn’t whether low-code development is worth it for business purposes but rather what platform you’re going to use for your specific purpose.

Use this article as reference for all future doubts on low-code development and, if you want to know more, make sure to check out our blog where we release weekly updates on the topic.

Originally published 9 Mar 2021

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does low-code mean?

The term low-code is primarily concerned with developing business applications either internally or for the end user. Low-code means that you don’t have to code the entire application from scratch but rather use pre-made templates and only code what’s truly unique to your app.

What is low-code development?

Low-code development is a faster, more efficient way of doing development than traditional methods. It’s catching up quickly primarily because of the time and cost savings but also because of its visual nature. It’s easier for business users to create apps when they know what they look like.

Is low-code the future of development?

It depends on the use case. Low-code development is perfect for business users or organization looking for a middle-ground between traditional development and no-code development (without any code whatsoever). It’s not ideal for companies who rely on open-source technologies.

What’s the best low-code platform?

It depends on your needs. Every low-code development platform fits a different purpose and has a different target audience in mind. For example, Glide is perfect for small businesses looking to get their feet wet with development whereas Outsystems is better suited for enterprises.