Challenges shaping the tech industry
The unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 have resulted in the rapid acceleration of digital transformation initiatives with a laser-sharp focus from businesses on automation and modernization initiatives to help future-proof themselves for the next normal.
The technology industry has embarked on a generational shift toward cloud-based architectures, increased adoption of SaaS-based products, and an ever-changing proliferation of platforms. While this is helping enterprises drive customer experience, product innovation, and technology resilience, the gap between the velocity demanded by businesses and the speed delivered by IT seems to be widening, exacerbated by an industry-wide race for tech talent.
Low-code / No-code – Transition to mainstream
Low-code / no-code platforms are not a new phenomenon; they have been around for a while but have struggled to decisively counter the ‘hype versus reality’ debates that plague an industry that thrives on new trends.
However, it appears that these platforms are now racing ahead in terms of enterprise adoption, with Forbes calling it the ’Most Disruptive Trend Of 2021‘. Indeed, the low-code platform landscape now includes a multitude of offerings from leading cloud platforms, dedicated low-code companies, and even open-source variants.
There is now increased acceptance of low-code platforms within an enterprise’s technology canvas to accelerate innovation cycles, foster a culture of ’citizen development‘, and counter increasing talent shortages with some analysts projecting a CAGR 40+% growth in the global low-code developer pool between 2021 and 2025.
However, for those getting started on the journey, it is critical to be mindful that there is no silver bullet. Let us explore some of the key considerations as part of a low-code innovation journey:
Most low-code platforms provide building blocks that enable rapid development of intuitive user interfaces but sometimes, these have implicit constraints in creating hyper-customized or ’pixel-perfect‘ screens. Depending on the use case, this may not always be an issue but if the difference between a ‘neat’ UI and a ‘wow’ UI is critical, it is recommended to explore and discuss the constraints proactively with stakeholders at an early stage to avoid mismatch in expectations at a later stage.
While getting started quickly is always tempting, it is important to be mindful that traditional technical solution design, for instance, aspects like data modeling, integration strategies, internationalization approach, layered security etc., are all still critically important and if ignored, can result in rework and delays later in the project cycle. Use low-code to accelerate development but not as a shortcut to sound technical design.
Licensing / Total cost of ownership (TCO)
The licensing models for low-code tools and platforms typically vary between a combination of one-time costs, annual costs, per-user costs, etc. and it is important that the TCO breakdown needs to be evaluated carefully and should consider longer term ramp-up plans for the applications being designed for example, for a per-user licensed tool, an application that is projected to have an exponential ramp-up in the user base in the future, the TCO might not always justify the ROI forecasts.
Connectors and integration
Most low-code platforms facilitate seamless integration with enterprise systems based on open APIs and ready connectors. While it is impossible to conclusively define ‘future-state’ integration fitment during platform selection, in most cases, the 80-20 rule holds good, that is, 80% of interactions happen with 20% of enterprise systems and for those systems, it is advisable to validate and document the connector availability, and recommended approach and best practices for integration.
The capabilities unleashed by low-code platforms also expose the potential for security gaps, often related more to the way the tool is used rather than the underlying technology. Recent reports of configuration and misconfiguration issues resulting in data leaks have brought these aspects into the spotlight. It is critical to perform a detailed security assessment of the platform as well as the implementation design of the use case with particular focus on data storage and security layering.
Automation, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD)
Although the adoption of low-code tools is accelerating, large-scale development initiatives with distributed agile teams will push the boundaries of these tools and test the ability to align with continuous integration and delivery expectations that businesses are now accustomed to in achieving the vision of ‘perpetual innovation’. This is also an area where low-code tools will continue to evolve and is a dimension that should be explored proactively during platform fitment and establishing the ‘ways of working’.
Low-code platforms offer a strong value proposition and can be a genuine accelerator for innovation and time to value. However, to maximize returns, like other technology paradigms, it is important to take baby steps initially, properly evaluate potential use cases for the right fitment, and focus on design and the big picture when starting the journey.