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Guidelines before you choose your low-code platform

Forrester defined low-code development as, “Platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”

To achieve this, a  low-code platform allows collaboration between developers, business analysts, and subject matter experts which enables an alignment between business and IT. it helps reduce IT backlog, speeds up development and delivery times. Lastly, modern frameworks used in low-code platforms provide consumer-grade applications using enterprise-grade technology at a fraction of the cost.

For a company or a business to choose the right low-code platform development tool, they need to weigh out what benefits/priorities are a good fit for their requirements. We have put together seven key questions that will help you make an informed decision while choosing the right low-code platform for you.  

  1. Is the platform built on open standards?
    While most low-code platforms claim “No Vendor Lock-in”, the reality is that most of them use proprietary technologies and application stack. Choose a low-code Platform that is based on proven open-source technologies in order to ensure an open and extensible approach to application delivery. Also, the platform should use the best-of-breed application stack for developing full-stack applications.
  2. Does the platform simplify external integration with inbuilt integrations?
    While most vendors offer decent visual development capabilities, it is extremely important to look for features that ease external integration of data and services as most business data is stored in disparate, proprietary systems. Look for out-of-the-box integrations and verify whether custom integrations can be built and reused across apps.
  3. Does the platform offer cross-platform development?
    The ability to create applications using a single code base that can adapt to any native platform or operating system (which could be iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/RIM, etc) using a hybrid adaptive design enables applications to be run seamlessly on any device giving it cross-platform capabilities.
  4. Does the platform handle scale-ability and cloud needs?
    Ensure that low-code platform vendors don’t get away with merely providing a hosting and release management solution. Check for the ability to scale applications and handle private cloud needs. Look for solutions that allow for rapid and continuous provisioning, deployment, instant scale-ability, and maximum utilization of resources. Verify whether the platform supports building custom software stacks and deploying micro-services-based apps, and orchestrates IT infrastructure effectively.
  5. Does the platform make it easier to create, share & consume APIs?
    Today, APIs are at the front and center of business applications and architecture. Most low-code platforms support APIs at best. However, one must choose a platform that takes an API-first approach to application delivery. It should be easy to import data from any service and bind it to UI components. Moreover, the platform should allow developers to create, publish and discover APIs with ease.
  6. Is it easy to maintain the code generated?
    With most low-code platforms, even the most experienced developer would not understand the code generated by the platform. Maintainability is a critical aspect of application delivery and is overlooked by many of these platforms. Verify that the code generated follows design patterns, is well-organized, uses standard naming conventions, and generates documentation that developers can understand and maintain.
  7. How well does the application handle security?
    Enterprise applications need both coarse-grained and fine-grained security control mechanisms. The low-code platform must support flexible authentication and authorization mechanisms to secure users and various tasks within the application. Check for integration support for popular identity management systems like AD, LDAP, SSO, and OAuth.

To Summarize, we at WaveMaker,  have taken into account the above questions keeping the end-user and business stakeholders in mind while creating our low-code platform. The WaveMaker low-code platform reduces the coding effort by an estimated 75% with its ready to use templates, themes, and easy drag & drop features. It facilitates easy integrations of APIs, import databases including web services as well as allow you to secure your application with authentication and roles. Developers are allowed to customize, extend markup, script, styles and they are provided with the option of 1-click test and deployment.

Get Started to experience what you can do with WaveMaker.

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Long tail apps and the shadow IT problem

In today’s world, applications and software are at the crux of any enterprise. Whether it is a humble spreadsheet dashboard or a mission-critical transaction processing platform, each application has a role to play despite the varying degree of IT focus accorded to them.

One way to look at the enterprise application portfolio is from the lens of their rate of change, as explained by Gartner in their Pace-Layered Application Strategy. This strategy divides applications into three application categories, or “layers,” to distinguish application types based on their rate of change.

A closer examination reveals that these layers also denote the proportion of focus and budget traditionally accorded by enterprises. And if one were to analyze the number of applications with respect to their popularity (with respect to IT focus and budget), the distribution would be a long tail one as shown below.

 

It is apparent that Systems of Innovation and to some extent Systems of Differentiation fall under the long tail apps category.

Long-tail apps: Definition and characteristics

The diverse set of heterogeneous applications that are used by small sets of employees or teams for a specific purpose and are typically beyond the scope of IT governance can be classified as long-tail apps.

Long-tail applications generally have the following characteristics:

  • situational or need-based
  • driven by urgent business needs and hence, cannot wait in the IT queue
  • require a quick turnaround time
  • multiple apps for the same need
  • created using ad-hoc technologies
  • very large in number but used by small sets of employees or teams
  • created by non-technical or business users
  • beyond the scope of IT governance

Long tail apps and shadow IT

Businesses want innovation and change. IT wants stability and control. With tight budgets, IT can rarely get to all of the custom apps the business needs. Hence, business teams or groups end up creating long-tail applications which are not approved by IT and are generally rely on non-standard and proprietary technologies. The result is a smorgasbord of systems and applications generally called as “shadow IT” or “stealth IT”.

Issues migrating long-tail apps

When IT does try to migrate long-tail applications, they face the following problems:

  • unavailability of platforms that can consolidate all the long tail apps and be used by both non-technical users and developers
  • skill gap due to underlying heterogeneous and, often, proprietary technologies
  • high cost of migration due to proprietary technologies and platforms
  • resistance from business users as they may not be able to modify the apps on their own after migration

How to fix the problem of shadow IT created by long-tail apps?

When 81% of line-of-business workers and 83% of IT staff admit to using non-approved SaaS apps (Source: CIO Insight), it is a daunting task to banish shadow IT especially when traditional ways of delivering applications work against innovation – which is usually found in the long tail as we have discussed earlier.

In order for organizations to quickly deliver apps that users want without compromising on IT security and governance, enterprises need to follow a two-fold approach:

  1. Innovate: Enable business units to build their own apps but on technologies sanctioned by IT by making sure that the tools to create new applications are widely available and easy to consume.
  2. Renovate: Migrate existing long tail applications by liberating them from proprietary technologies using proven modernization techniques and platforms.

We have been able to successfully help enterprises across the globe navigate the shadow IT problems due to long-tail apps. WaveMaker Rapid Application Development Platform is a proven choice for both innovation and renovation because of the following reasons:

  • Visual development that delivers web and mobile apps at the speed of business
  • Instant migration of legacy applications based on proprietary technologies such as Lotus Notes, MS Access, Oracle Forms, etc.
  • Centralized IT for all the applications with hassle-free continuous integration and release management
  • A single platform that works for business users as well as professional developers
  • The future-proof platform that is based on open standards and technologies trusted by millions of developers
  • No vendor lock-in with flexible deployment and export options
  • Offers the lowest total cost of ownership and transparent pricing
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How to eliminate silos in a large organization

As an Architect for WaveMaker, I have come across multiple IT environments.  They are getting more and more complex by the day, in spite of all advances with cloud computing and deployment options. IT Environments in large complex organizations are typically dispersed and have multiple silos as shown in the graphic below.

In addition, sub-groups typically have their own processes and technologies. This makes integration across organizations and the centralization of IT applications a big challenge.

This problem gets aggravated with each M&A activity. Acquisitions provide a great opportunity for innovation with the possibility of integrating assets of different organizations. But different technologies, systems, and processes hinder the realization of these opportunities.

Consolidation of IT for these organizations is a good position to be in as shown in the graphic below. But it is not trivial to achieve. More than the technology, managing resources, skills, and practices across organizations become bigger challenges.

Now, what if we can achieve integration of these different systems without actually consolidating IT systems?  What if different existing systems can co-exist while realizing the benefits of consolidation? How would you go about doing it?

Step 1: Ensure all systems are API-enabled

If you want to make your application future-proof, there is no other alternative other than to build APIs. How to make different types of applications API enabled, is a topic for another blog.

Let’s look at the organization now in the graphic below.

So what has changed?

Now, every system is open for communication. There may be different systems using different technologies, but they can all talk to each other with a common simple language. APIs.

As we have all the systems accessible, what next? How do we consolidate the information from here?

Step 2: Consolidate endpoints with API management

You must have looked at API management from the point of view of identity, authentication, rate limiting, throttling, metering, etc. But to make the best use of internal APIs, we need to transform them,  aggregate them, and cache them where needed.

Take an example of an application like Kayak. They aggregate APIs from multiple airlines.

  • APIs have different formats, so it needs to be first transformed to Kayak format.
  • Some APIs may not be available reliably, so it needs to be cached
  • Other airlines may not even have APIs. In which case, Protocol/API wrappers need to be created over them.
  • And these APIs must be aggregated to Kayak APIs. UI and other consumers should not call these APIs separately.

Similar is the requirement of a complex organization. Think of your large organization as vendors across multiple silos. Would you not like to manage all your vendors from a single place?

Current API Management products need to evolve to meet these challenges. API Management technologies, for most of their life, we’re geared to public APIs that you wanted to monetize. They have also been priced by traffic usage. Recently many of these API Management vendors have started focusing on these internal enterprise APIs.

The graphic below shows how an API management platform is consolidated.

After the end of the second step, you are in a state where you have consolidated endpoints. A happy, future-proof state to be in. But this also means they need for applications using these APIs. Not only the IT systems but multiple potential applications waiting to integrate these APIs to speed innovation to a different level.

Step 3: Enable rapid application delivery

With so much information available, you clearly can think of many more applications, than your IT can develop. Coding is time-consuming. The current trend is to go for ready-to-use components than to write them from scratch.

Going a step further, you don’t want to fall into figuring out the integration of these ready-to-use components either (boilerplate code). Developers with minimum technical/UI skills should also be able to deliver applications. But that simply increases the risk of poor quality applications.

This is where a low-code rapid application delivery platform can help you generate consistent beautiful-looking applications. Reusable widgets, styles, and templates are provided by the UI experts and other developers can simply use them with drag-drop features.

In summary, I have shown you a path to consolidate all your silos via APIs, manage them using an API management tool, and finally build innovative apps much more rapidly.