What is low-code and how does it help drive business agility?

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Software development productivity is crucial for companies as they try to get ahead of the competition and drive business agility. This has become even more critical in the post-pandemic era.

With most (if not, all) businesses going fully digital, there’s an urgent need for software that can automate existing processes and quickly adapt to emerging ones. Low-code application platforms are designed to address these productivity challenges and pressures. Gartner predicts low-code applications platforms will be used for 65% of all application development activity in 5 years. Get the Gartner’s report to read more here.

Defining low-code

Low-code refers to the process of designing and developing software applications fast and with minimal hand-coding. It enables skilled people to deliver value more quickly and more reliably. Developers are able to create complete applications visually using a drag-and-drop interface.

Developers use visual modeling in a graphical interface to assemble and configure applications. This way, they skip all the infrastructure and re-implementation of patterns that can bog them down and go straight to the unique 10% of an application.

In the software world, we rely on libraries, APIs, and third-party infrastructure so that we can focus on delivering the unique bit of value that wouldn’t otherwise exist. But we still get bogged down.

Low-code describes a family of tools that helps developers Rather than writing thousands of lines of complex code and syntax, low-code platforms allow users to build complete applications with modern user interfaces, integrations, data and logic quickly and visually.

Here’s what a typical low-code development platform looks like:

  • A visual IDE: An environment for visually defining the UI, workflows, and data models of your application and, where necessary, adding hand-written code.
  • Connectors to various back-ends or services: Automatically handles data structures, storage, and retrieval.
  • Application lifecycle manager: Automated tools to build, debug, deploy, and maintain the application in test, staging, and production. 

Beyond those basics, no two low-code tools are exactly alike. Some are quite limited and more akin to a visual database front-end. Some focus on niche business needs, like case management. Others have adopted the low-code term to describe a purpose-built tool that has little to do with actual application development.

OutSystems, give you everything you need to create modern, cross-platform enterprise mobile and web applications with capabilities that complement existing team structures.

You can try low-code for yourself with OutSystems. Get started for free here by following our tutorials to build web and cross-platform mobile apps in a fraction of the time you’re used to. You’ll also be able to help out the next person who asks, “What is low-code?”

Working with low-code

Fundamentally, building software with low-code is the same as building software any other way. Unless you’re writing everything from scratch in machine code — and, no, assembly language doesn’t count — then you’re already taking shortcuts built on the work of others.

With low-code, it’s all about the things you don’t have to do. Rather than hand-coding yet another user management system, dealing with the idiosyncrasies of the latest programming framework, or writing ten tests before a single line of your app’s code, you get straight to creating something new and valuable. Why start new when these problems have already been solved and the patterns are well understood?

Let’s compare creating an application using a common web framework to creating it using low-code.

The Traditional Application Development Process. Whether you’re working with .NET MVC, Spring Boot, or Ruby on Rails, you (and your team) go through roughly the same 16 steps which ranges from scoping requirements, planning architecture, selecting back-end and front-end frameworks, libraries, data store, choosing deployment stack, setting up CI, wireframes and prototypes, writing a bunch of failing tests; defining your models and coding your business logic, to implementing your workflows, UI and  APIs, testing for security, performance, quality and user acceptance, to finally deploy, patch, monitor, update until the application’s end of life.

The Low-Code Development Process. With low-code you can concise all into these seven (7) steps:

  1. Determine the requirements
  2. Select any third-party APIs
  3. Draw the app’s workflows, data models, and user interfaces in the visual IDE
  4. Connect your APIs, usually with automatic capability discovery
  5. If necessary, add any hand-code either to the front-end or to customize the automatically generated SQL queries
  6. Test for user acceptance
  7. Deploy to production, then push updates with a single click

Low-code understands that most of the time spent hand-writing code in web and mobile apps is pretty much wheel spinning. There’s no need to tread the same path each time we start a new project. Low-code lets us create applications visually using battle-tested fundamentals. Our focus becomes delivering something valuable to the world.

Low-code is about getting more done

Ultimately, low-code is a way for developers to get more done. With low-code, you spend more time creating and building and less time on repetitive work. Sure, it’s fun to learn the latest faddish JavaScript framework or play with a cutting-edge NoSQL data store, but while you’re spending time debugging unfamiliar code, your competitor has an MVP in front of customers.

Low-code isn’t about reducing the value of developers. Low-code lets teams of developers produce more value more quickly while drawing on their understanding of how to create and maintain high-quality Web and mobile applications.

To learn more about Low-Code and OutSystems, feel free to contact our local consultant Ms. Catherine Manalansan at catherine.manalansan@outsystems.com.

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