Is ‘instant’ low-code software plain sailing?

It’s an emerging solution for software development, but just how straightforward is low-code?
18 February 2019

Is low-code always the easiest solution? Source: Shutterstock

There’s a new type of software. The industry likes to call it low-code software and it is meant to be a departure and an abstracted elevation from the low-level bits and bytes that hardcore programmers have learned to live on.

But the rise of low-code software platforms has not come without its controversy and a degree of misunderstanding.

Modular efficiency

There is a degree of new modularity achievable with these technologies; we have built enough versions of certain ‘common parts’ that feature in many software applications (like calculator functions, screen controls or perhaps repeatable database instructions and so on) such that we can potentially grab these as predefined blocks of software from other apps.

That word ‘grab’ is important… it leads us directly to ‘drag-and-drop’.

Software can now be built, in part, through drag-and-drop controls where programmers simply grab and pull the parts they need into new apps to build software, so much faster than ever before.

The challenge (or at least the issue) is that not every drag-and-drop part of a low-code software platform will be perfectly plug-and-play compliant once it is implemented.

Not a game of Lego

Building software this way isn’t quite a game of Lego. For a start, it takes months (if not years) of training to use most low-code software platforms if you’re going to build anything remotely resembling useful software for mission-critical enterprise deployment.

It’s fine to talk about ‘citizen developers’ as this new strain of businesspeople that can now start to influence the way the software systems work inside their organization, but we need to still exert a mantra of with great [software programming power through low-code platforms] comes great responsibility.

All that naysaying aside, if we can move forward and understand what kind of power we are putting in peoples’ hands— and, crucially, if we can look far enough ahead to make sure that we shoulder the compliance, integration, compatibility and management responsibility that comes from all these citizen developers’ applications that are going to be built— then low-code should be a positive addition to the global software stack.

Build vs. buy

The main flow of this argument has extensions to it because it leads us into the build vs. buy conundrum.

Where we used to either build software in house or, alternatively, purchase custom-built bought in solutions… the choice is now wider.

We can now opt to buy bought-in solutions but, due to the number of connected extensions that can now be ‘bolted on’ afterward (via Application Programming Interfaces APIs, or other services-based technologies), we can now look to augment and extend our software to a more fine-grained degree… just when we want to.

Many specialist technology vendors now offer fine-grained services that address a variety of areas: computation, storage, e-commerce, security, machine learning, payments etc. These services can be integrated with a firm’s own software components to help accomplish business objectives more efficiently.

Identify (point of) competitive advantage

The most effective approach here is to bias toward third-party software as the base foundation and only build the components that provide a business with a significant competitive advantage. This helps your current engineers focus on what’s most important.

Modular software architectures enable your business to be more agile and low-code is a reality that isn’t about to go away any time soon.

In the immediate future, some software will be custom-built from scratch (in-house or via dedicated suppliers), some will be packaged and comparatively standardized (almost like the Commercial-off-the-Shelf or COTS) software that we used to buy on CD-ROM… and some will be low-code software apps created by businesspeople.

All of that software (and we do mean all of it) will need integration, compliance management, governance checks, security provisioning, change and configuration management controls, optimization and all manner of compatibility controls… so go low-code, but please go carefully.