How to stop low-code platforms from becoming an IT nightmare

Low-code platforms are extremely useful for businesses looking to fill talent gaps, but the tool can also cause some major headaches. Here's how to avoid a low-code disaster.

Why the low-code movement is transforming the way the enterprise builds apps Low-code apps are being spun up in unlikely places to transform business processes and drive digital transformation.

Low-code platforms are gaining increasing popularity in the enterprise. Whether businesses are trying to fill developer talent gaps, or cut down on development time, low-code platforms are great for business pros attempting to hop on the digital transformation train.

When using low-code platforms, business professionals can create applications using graphical user interfaces instead of traditional computer programming methods. The beauty of low-code platforms is that the user doesn't have to be an expert in coding to create an application. It's important to distinguish between no-code and low-code platforms, however. Even though they both accomplish the same goals, different skill levels are required to get there.

"No-code platforms use pre-configured, drag-and-drop actions that you compose in a list or workflow diagram. You can assign attributes to certain things by just typing in what you need, and it creates basically an executable business or workflow application," explained Carl Lehmann, principal analyst at 451 Research. "Low-code means that you can actually go into the design and create or add scripts to customize a user interface. In a no-code environment, you don't have to understand a computing language. In a low-code environment, you need some knowledge of computing."

SEE: IT leader's guide to low-code development (Tech Pro Research)

Business pros are oftentimes more likely to use a no-code solution, because they don't typically have as much experience coding, explained vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, Jeffrey Hammond. With a professional developer, however, there will tend to be more code, due to a greater familiarity with programming, added Hammond.

The adoption of these solutions is sweeping the enterprise: Some 40% of development organizations are either using or considering using a low-code tool in the next year, said Hammond. And with a 50% annual growth rate in the market currently, numbers are only predicted to go up, according to a recent Forrester blog post.

"With the addition of no code, low code platforms over the past number of years, it really avails you to the opportunity to live outside standard software" said Bruce Squibb, director of IFM program development at Able Services. "You don't have to just deal with spreadsheets, you don't just have to deal with big databases. It really gives you the opportunity to work in a particular client environment and develop or drive solutions that meet the need for that client."

While low code platforms have proven to be advantageous for many businesses, problems can arise. Here is some advice on how to prevent low-code platform integration from going awry.

1. Maintain transparency

Often, business pros can feel a little out of their element with low-code platforms, so it's very common for developers to step in and help with execution, said Hammond. However, questions sometimes surface regarding how much access development organizations have to the way apps are implemented or built, said Hammond. He suggested being clear about open source frameworks or tools that are being used, because that will help developers feel more comfortable with the infrastructure the tools were built on, and be able to provide a better product.

Hammond also suggests looking for transparency in regards to price, as a hefty price tag is a major obstacle in trying to adopt these platforms. He recommends business pros "allow developers or even [other] business users to begin to experiment with those tools and see if there's value before you end up writing a big check to someone. If you do see that there's some value there, it's probably worth while to invest in some training."

2. Involve business and IT professionals

The union of business pros with IT pros is vital to the success of low-code platforms, according to Lehmann. When IT pros don't collaborate with business, the organization ends up risking infrastructure overload, along with integration and security issues, mainly because the IT side isn't privy to the business details.

However, if IT pros are aware of how often the technology is used, who is using it, and what other data is being leveraged, then the business side will work well with the new technology. Lehmann explained that if IT pros actively work with business pros and pick trusted vendors,they can circumnavigate infrastructure, integration, and security problems "by creating a perimeter within which that line of business user can fully exploit these low-code/no-code environments without getting into trouble from those perspectives."

3. Remember the purpose

Don't waste money on technology just for the sake of using technology—make sure there is a reason to implement the tech. "Never create or develop in a silo," explained Squibb. "Make sure that there are plenty of other stakeholders in the organization that need the solution, want the solution, and can help champion the need or the cause for the introduction of low code, no code into your organization."

All of that piggybacks off the above point: Communication is key, but not just between IT and the business. All relevant departments must be involved. s.

"Handling that issue or that problem is really about communication and demonstration," said Squibb. "when I first joined Able Services, the very first thing I did was sit with the IT department and other stakeholders from other departments, because IT impacts finance, it impacts operations, it impacts strategy and design. So, we met with all the department heads and the stakeholders and we did an inventory of all the solutions that we already had in our organization. That's really what this is about, driving operational enhancements for them and providing top line reporting for our leadership and client facing dashboards and reporting for our customers."

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