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How to choose a low code platform: 3 tips

Low code tools can help businesses build apps with or without coding experience. Here's how to wade through the different options.

No developer? No problem. Businesses unable to hire developers in a hot market—and even those with developers who want to free up more of their time—are increasingly turning to low-code or no-code tools. These platforms allow tech and business professionals with no coding experience to build apps and potentially fill talent gaps in their organization.

Low-code adoption is growing, with leading vendors and smaller providers showing more than 50% growth per year, according to a Forrester report. These platforms brought in about $3.8 billion in 2017, the report noted.

While only about 10% to 15% of companies are using these platforms to build software, as opposed to traditional coding, some 67 distinct vendors already exist in the space, with dozens of others found on a small or regional scale, Forrester found. Among large enterprise vendors, only Salesforce had embraced low-code platforms with Force.com prior to 2017, the report noted. However, since then, Dell, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and SAP have also joined the market.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

Development teams, and, increasingly, CIOs are often the ones seeking out these solutions for their companies, said John Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester and author of the low-code report. "CIOs and higher levels are saying 'We are in a crisis here, we need to do something,'" he added.

Forrester predicts that the market for low-code tools will grow to $15 billion by 2020. With so many vendors in the space, it can be difficult for companies to know where to start.

Here are three tips for choosing a low code platform, according to Rymer.

1. Determine who is going to do the work.

Low-code platforms tend to fall into two market segments: Those for developers, and those for the business side.

For developers, low-code can help deliver more software in shorter time periods—say, weeks instead of months, Rymer said. "There are just not enough developers to go around, so by going low-code, you can get a lot done with ordinary developers that you can afford," he added.

For the business side, or "citizen developers," low-code allows people without programming experience to create their own software.

Companies must decide which side they need a platform for, Rymer said. "You are trying to empower your business people. You do not want to put a tool that is designed for developers in front of them, it makes things complicated," Rymer recommended. On the flip side, developers will need more control than a product designed for business people gives them, he added.

SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)

2. Figure out the use cases the company want to deliver.

Each tool offers different functions in different areas, Rymer said. "They're not all equal," he added. "There's a big thrust these days on workflow and business process applications. If that's what you need, pick a product that has the function there. If you're looking for a product that really helps you raise your user interface, you're going to look for a product that has deep functionality there."

3. Create a strategy that includes governance.

It's important to remember that building and maintaining software is difficult, with or without coding. "If you're going to bring in low-code, to get the full benefits over time, you have to have a strategy," Rymer said. "Too many people view this as just a tool. But you have to have governance, and think through who is going to do the work and what they need, and how you're going to maintain it."

For example, a large US insurance provider brought in a low-code platform for its business side, and did not implement any governance. In a short period of time, they found themselves with 16,000 apps with lots of overlap, all on a version of the platform that was no longer supported, Rymer said.

A strong strategy might include a portfolio management system, which can help employees keep track of what apps have already been built in the platform, Rymer said.

"Just because you can build something doesn't necessarily mean that you should," Rymer said. "Maybe you should reuse something that somebody already built, or take something somebody already built and customize it a little bit to meet your needs."

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Image: iStockphoto/BartekSzewczyk

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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