For the last few decades, organizations have had only two choices when it comes to building information systems. They could either hire a team of developers and build a custom-made solution or opt for a readymade off-the-shelf solution from vendors. The former provides more flexibility and allows the organization to build a tailor-made solution — but it is usually associated with higher maintenance and costs. On the other hand, while the use of off-the-shelf solutions is a cheaper alternative, it offers very little customization and might not exactly fit the business and operations as needed. However, today, low-code/no-code (LC/NC) development platforms serve as a stable third alternative in building information systems.
Low-code/no-code approach provides a modular approach to allow developers to drag-and-drop and connect fully functional components to develop information systems such as mobile and web applications. LC/NC approach can also save valuable time, money, resources, and effort to develop fully functional IT solutions or applications. Because of its drag-and-drop simplicity, even non-technical users can create apps and solutions.
While low-code and no-code development platforms serve a similar purpose and are built with speed and simplicity in mind, they both are fundamentally different. However, even the IT experts and organizations sometimes have a hard time differentiating them and are often considered the same.
As the name suggests, low-code platforms require some level of coding for the application or software development. Organizations and individuals with professional software developers or development experience opt for low-code development platforms to rapidly build and deliver applications. With the evolving low-code development platforms, even a non-IT professional with very minimal programming experience can also develop IT solutions using the low-code development platforms. Some of the renowned low-code platforms and vendors include Appian, DWkit, Sisense, Google AppSheet, and Claris FileMaker.
A no-code development platform, on the other hand, can deliver applications and software systems with minimal knowledge of programming — and often no knowledge of programming. The no-code development paradigm is meant to build simpler applications to handle simple operations. However, few no-code development platforms allow users to build much more sophisticated and complex apps. Many low-code vendors and platforms also offer no-code functionality. Major no-code vendors in the market include Airtable, AppGyver, AWS Honeycode, and Glide.
The differentiating line between the low-code and no-code is not always clear and has always been adapted as per the need and the target audience.
In traditional software development, developers write lines of code to create visual elements, functions, and features that get baked together to form an application. While this process allows complete customization and custom-developmental abilities, it necessitates developers to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the computer programming language in use along with the build and deployment process. Moreover, this traditional approach involves a lot of time, money, effort, and maintenance to build stable software systems.
On the other hand, the low-code/no-code approach provides an easy encapsulated approach to developing fully functional software systems and applications through connecting components using little or no coding. While there are several LC/NC application development platforms, most consist of common components. This includes an interface designer, which is typically used to develop the UI of the applications, a workflow designer used to implement the business logic, a common database, and connectors or webhooks to connect components and external applications.
On a very high level, users typically select the UI components, drag-and-drop them on the screen layout, and link them together with the required conditional logic using the workflow designer. LC/NC platforms also allow easy deployments and usually output a robust application due to their development paradigm.
Both low-code and no-code applications offer several advantages to individuals as well as organizations in building applications with greater efficiency and speed. Moreover, LC/NC platforms can be leveraged to build fully functional applications much faster than using traditional software development methodologies.
Thanks to its ease of use, organizations do not face a shortage of resources to develop and deploy apps using LC/NC. They offer easy yet robust integration options while avoiding the complex configurational overheads associated with app development. They provide one-click deployments and require very minimal training even to build mission-critical applications.
However, low-code/no-code also has its own downsides and management challenges for the organizations. The major challenge with LC/NC development paradigm is the limited customization and lack of ability to build tailor-made applications. Excessive use of the LC/NC paradigm can institutionalize the shadow IT phenomenon. For the uninitiated, shadow IT refers to IT resources such as devices, software, or services used by the employees without the explicit permission of the organization they work for. Moreover, organizations or individuals might also lose track or visibility on the data being generated, used, or even inappropriately exposed. While developing apps using LC/NC is easy and hassle-free, organizations often face scalability and maintainability challenges when accommodating changes or implementing new features in the existing applications.
The IT world has witnessed exponential growth over the last few decades. Several new organizations and software solutions are budding every day to meet the growing demands of individuals and businesses. While LC/NC environments offer rapid development capabilities to meet the ever-changing and growing demand for software systems, this new paradigm as we know it might not completely replace traditional software development. However, we are witnessing a steady growth in the adoption of low-code and no-code development platforms. Analysts at Gartner predicted that low-code application development will account for 65% of all the app development by 2024.
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