When low-code becomes high maintenance

Low-code application development is expanding at an astounding rate. It’s easy to see why, given that it offers organisations the ability to build digital apps with relative ease and speed when compared to traditional methods. Complicated software often requires lots of programming by teams of experts and can take large amounts of time to implement, while low code/no code provides an alternative solution for businesses to stay ahead of the digital curve. Yet, the notion that low-code is easy, ubiquitous, app development for all, could come back to bite. Custom built applications might be able to help address business challenges and improve overall performance but without a carefully considered approach, these benefits will be short lived or may not be realised at all.

Low-code development boom

Even though low-code technology has been with us for more than a decade, its fair to say it has recently ‘come of age’, with one prediction suggesting we’ll see around 500 million new apps developed globally by 2025. There are a variety of factors that have ignited this recent surge, but perhaps none more so than the COVID-19 pandemic. With the urgency for digital transformation projects to be accelerated as well as the need to accommodate remote working, adopting low-code and no-code technology has become an attractive option for companies. Rather than relying on teams of computer programmers to implement traditional software, people outside the IT department, or ‘citizen developers’ are able to customise and build technology with minimal intervention.

According to Gartner, the low-code/no-code market will be worth $13.8 billion this year, up 23% from 2020; this is set to increase even further over the next few years, as the economic impacts of the pandemic have reinforced the value proposition of this type of technology. The timing for this growth is also likely to mirror changes in workforce behaviour and expectations. Gregg Aldana, senior director at ServiceNow, recently noted that Millennials and Gen-Z have grown up with low code tools and are in a prime position to take advantage of them rather than having to always rely on IT to build apps.

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Being aware of the risks

Undeniably, low code is a positive shift, however, as with any new technology, it isn’t a solution to all ills. It needs the right conditions to thrive – from appropriate scoping and business analysis of application needs and priorities, through to good IT governance (especially if control is increasingly being placed in the hands of non-techies). In fact, there’s a danger that low code could become high maintenance through shadow IT, scope creep, lack of compliance and too much complexity.

There are five risks that businesses should be mindful of to ensure value is being derived from applications:

  1. Lack of priority: Low-code offers the promise of rapid app creation on a massive scale but can easily become de-prioritised due to lack of understanding, internal capacity, or a skills gap within the team. This can often mean that objectives are either not aligned or are being missed, stifling return on investment. Just like any IT project, it’s crucial to take a step back before you begin building applications. Review your current systems and processes first, document any strengths and weaknesses, and define what success looks like to your business. These measures will ensure you know which areas require extra attention and resources, while providing clarity around application outcomes.
  2. Poor scoping: The simple ‘drag and drop’ mindset that is associated with low-code tools means there is a temptation to jump into the build without first scoping the business requirements. This largely depends on asking the right questions. However, many organisations struggle to apply this clear thinking when developing apps. A step-by-step approach can help ensure positive outcomes. Think about who will be involved; what you would like to achieve; how you will get there; the barriers; and, the measurement of success. Having a clear guide to follow will help increase the visibility surrounding each stage of the project.
  3. Business/IT disconnect: With the power in the hands of the business function and not the IT department, low-code could create a chasm rather than uniting the two sides. To unlock its full potential, business and IT should work together to ensure a seamless operation. For example, there maybe technical consideration that is complex for smaller and simpler apps, and IT needs to be onboard to help with programming and implementation.
  4. Duplicating work: Low-code platforms and developers have the potential to become powerful communities sharing pre-built apps amongst their network which can then be adapted for many uses. However, there’s a big risk of reinventing the wheel for the sake of it, when a solution might already exist. Using already built tools and apps shared among a low-code platform community, can save a considerable amount of time and effort, enabling users to configure applications to meet their requirements. Additionally, tapping into the collaborative world of developers can open other opportunities, giving insight into best practice as well as specialist knowledge.
  5. Over-engineering: The freedom low-code offers poses a threat of overengineering and ‘app artistry’, leading to highly customised but less adaptable apps that don’t stand the test of time. This can be anti-productive as not only can this result in applications that are tricky to manage and upgrade but may end in rebuilding the app from scratch. Choosing a platform that offers prebuilt functionality that can be standardised across multiple apps avoids creating functionality needlessly and ensures the app can be easily updated. For this it’s vital that the user understands what the system can offer out of the box.

Low-code can make a big impact. Yet, many businesses are shying away from taking development to the next level and instead, only focusing their efforts on small and simple process improvements – or worse, getting carried away with projects without proper consideration of the risks. By opting for a platform that can provide the right tool kit and building blocks to accelerate app development, businesses can gauge the level of customisation needed to address their challenges effectively without it becoming difficult to manage.

Written by Matthew Shears, co-founder and commercial director at UP3

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