Although computer programming languages have evolved significantly over the years, they remain the foundation of software development. Coding applications from scratch is a labor intensive process that requires a high level of expertise and a great deal of time to complete. Even the most skilled developers can spend months or even years building, testing, and maintaining software before it’s ever put to use. All of that has changed recently, however, thanks to the emergence of no-code and low-code platforms that offer an entirely new approach to application design.
What Is No-Code Application Design?
A no-code software development platform allows users with little or no programming knowledge to build applications through an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI). Instead of deploying line upon line of complex code, key application functions and capabilities are encapsulated into distinct component blocks that can be linked together to create the desired workflow. It works well for creating front-end applications such as websites, web portals, or mobile apps that perform relatively simple functions.
This “drag and drop” approach to building applications is ideally suited for business processes that need to be implemented quickly because it allows the people most familiar with the situation to create the solution that best meets their requirements. As long as they understand the fundamental logic involved with a business process, they can use no-code tools to build a workflow that carries out the desired tasks. Since all application functions are templated, they can be easily applied without any need for additional coding. By standardizing these core features, no-code platforms eliminate much of the uncertainty and scope creep that ends up increasing development costs.
Document automation tools that are used to eliminate paper-based processes are a good example of a no-code solution. They offer multiple prebuilt templates that can be used to create new workflows that move documents through a submission, review, and approval process that involves multiple participants, all without having to write a single line of code.
What Is Low-Code Application Design?
As the name suggests, low-code platforms work in much the same way as no-code solutions but can also incorporate minimal amounts of coding to provide expanded functionality not covered by the platform’s prebuilt components. This allows developers to customize their applications to meet more complex business needs. In most instances, this involves integration with systems used in other operational processes. Using the earlier example of document automation, a low-code solution might allow that same process to interact with a legacy database or other applications through a series of application programming interfaces (APIs).
One of the most popular examples of a low-code platform is WordPress, the versatile content management system used to build about 455 million websites. The platform provides prebuilt templates and a variety of plug-ins that can be used to create professional looking websites, but also features a code editor that allows web developers to add customized features.
Because of their added versatility, low-code platforms can be used to build applications that handle back end functions that are more integral to business operations. Even though they require some programming knowledge for development and deployment, these applications can go from idea to minimum viable product much more quickly (and cheaply) than software coded from scratch.
Benefits of No-Code and Low-Code Application Design
There are several advantages of using no-code and low-code platforms, but speed and cost stand out as the most obvious benefits. Rather than taking weeks or months to build a custom application, developers can often spin up a low-code prototype in a matter of days (or even hours) that can serve as a proof of concept or even something that could become a viable product. No-code solutions can prove even faster results because they don’t require anyone with programming knowledge to be involved. There’s no need to build, document, and maintain expensive development environments, which can significantly reduce IT expenditures. More importantly, highly skilled programmers can spend less time writing relatively simple code and instead focus on higher value development projects that will result in more innovative business solutions.
While cost and speed are obvious benefits of no-code and low-code application design, another important advantage is their ability to improve communication within an organization. Companies frequently struggle with articulating their business needs to the people tasked with creating the software to meet those needs. Departments often review their existing processes and compile their “wish list” of functionality in a requirements document that’s handed over to developers. Unfortunately, a lot of things tend to get lost in translation because the people writing the document usually don’t understand programming and the developers don’t have a day-to-day familiarity with the business processes in question.
The end result, then, is a lengthy development cycle that produces an application nobody is happy with. Of course, by that point, a lot of money and time has already been invested in building the software and it’s usually too late to change course. No-code and low-code platforms offer a profoundly different way of approaching the development process. Once a no-code solution is in place, non-developers can quickly build the applications they need without having to involve IT, or they can put together an example of what they need for developers to use as a guide. If a low-code platform is available, both sides can collaborate quickly and easily to design a system that is capable of meeting complex business requirements with minimal headache.
The Future of No-Code and Low-Code Application Development
As the technology platforms become more versatile in the future, more and more organizations are expected to use no-code and low-code solutions to streamline and accelerate their digital transformation efforts. By freeing their business processes from the cost and time constraints of software development, they can iterate faster and build more customized applications that better meet their unique organizational requirements.
That boundless potential is the main reason industry analysts expect the no-code and low-code platform market to thrive in the coming decade. In 2020, the global market for these solutions was worth about $12.5 billion, but is now projected to reach just over $190 billion by 2030. If organizations aren’t already rethinking their approach to software development, they could quickly find themselves falling behind competitors able to turn every employee into a “citizen developer” while refocusing their specialized IT resources on building the innovative applications and experiences of the future.
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To find out how our application-first approach to technology services can unlock your organization’s digital potential, talk to one of our solutions experts today.