The low-code market is seeing meteoric rise across the world, as companies try to keep up with digitization demands and shrinking IT budgets. Even as we witness increasing low-code adoption among professional as well as citizen developers, an intriguing question comes to mind – What lies ahead for low-code, and could it ever become a mainstream approach for modern development teams?
The answer may well be an open source, low-code platform that offers high productivity, while supporting seamless integration with the overall fabric of modern software development practices within an enterprise.
It’s feasible to assume that low-code will evolve to become open low-code, resulting in greater innovation and agility.
To further understand what this means, let’s dive deeper. What are open systems?
According to Wikipedia, open systems are computer systems that provide some combination of interoperability, portability and open software standards.
Over the years, the software industry has seen great benefits from designing, implementing and consuming open systems. TCP/IP protocol standards, UNIX systems, Web browsers, REST APIs – all of these are shining examples of open standards that went on to become highly successful and widely adopted. By remaining open, they enabled higher interoperability, streamlined development and fostered rapid innovation.
Low-code is now at a critical stage in its adoption curve. For the last few years, we have seen citizen developers successfully execute shadow IT with low-code and churn out applications at a breathtaking pace. Today, low-code platforms are hardened for enterprise use, are programmed to understand the scalability and security needs of a complex application and have integration capabilities mature enough to seamlessly fit in with existing tools and technologies. As a result, we are now seeing greater adoption of low-code within the professional development community, covering a diverse set of use cases from simple dashboards to complex applications. The natural next evolution of low-code is that it becomes mainstream within enterprise IT, and is used to build mission-critical applications and systems. So, how does this next phase play out for application development?
The Case For an Open Low-Code Platform
The approaches and techniques of modern software development teams has changed dramatically to meet the demands of modern, software-enabled business. Developer velocity and organizational agility have become key benchmarks for high performing software development teams, as those metrics have a direct correlation with software excellence and superior business performance. According to a research report by McKinsey, teams that belong to the top quartile with regards to developer velocity score have 60% higher total shareholder returns and 20% higher operating margins. Such teams can experiment faster and release code to production without delays.
As application teams continue to embrace low-code for mainstream development, it is vital that low-code platforms support developers so they are encouraged to employ modern application development and delivery best practices. Low-code should introduce minimal disruptions to a developer’s working practices and workflow. Also, it is important that low-code can integrate seamlessly with the fabric of the overall enterprise application architecture. This can happen if a low-code-platform is open standards-based and flexible so that the rest of the enterprise application infrastructure can coexist with it.
What Makes a Low-Code Platform Open?
Developers like control, flexibility and a unified experience. They find comfort in sticking to their preferred languages, tools and application development and delivery workflows. A low-code platform that offers productivity with equal flexibility, with a focus on building robust enterprise architecture, is bound to be the future of application development. Platforms should focus on providing a unified developer experience across concept, design, integration, development and deployment stages of the app life cycle, employing a technology stack that is modern, best-of-breed and cloud-native. It’s equally important to provide a way for developers to easily bring any external innovations into the low-code platform.
Visualization, Customization and Ownership
Many low-code platforms do not generate 100% of an application’s code. Also, most of the code generated by proprietary platforms is also proprietary, and quite often remains hidden and not easily accessible or extensible. A platform that generates open standards-based, real code is a great asset, especially for professional developers building complex applications that require extensive customization and deep integration with enterprise tooling (security, testing, debugging, integration etc.). The code generated should be based on developer-friendly, best-of-breed application stacks and standard design patterns. This way, application teams will have complete familiarity with and understanding of the code. Enabling full export of the code allows teams to own the code created by the platform.
Flexible Application Architecture
The application architecture should be loosely coupled, supporting microservices and micro front ends that can be independently built, deployed and scaled. This way, architecture can support cloud-native application development easily. Also, all other aspects of the application life cycle should allow for plug-and-play capability. This includes, but is not limited to, plugging in custom UI components (widgets, templates), custom security providers, custom back end code, logging frameworks, event driven systems, etc. A plug-and-play model ensures that development teams can integrate custom providers that are fine-tuned for the enterprise.
Modern Development Best Practices
Modern application development practices have evolved to allow teams to experiment faster and release code to production at a never-seen-before pace. Optimizations in performance and scalability have resulted in applications that can support millions of end users. As developers warm up to low-code, the platforms should align with and implement all modern development practices while building applications. The idea is to minimize friction in a developer’s journey towards low-code, so that they continue to leverage the same design principles, application tooling and enterprise integrations as they do in the complex programming world.
Developers need a way to continuously deploy software so there is always a version of the application ready for production. Low-code platforms should support an IaC option, so code generated is always deployable seamlessly on the developer’s infrastructure of choice. Platform should integrate to build, test and release systems (version control systems, CI/CD, artifact repos, container image repos, Kubernetes clusters and public or private cloud instances, for example). This way, artifacts built by low-code are continuously integrated and deployed to the enterprise’s operational systems.
Low-code is at an inflection point within enterprises, as it becomes the platform of choice for digital transformation and application modernization. This is the opportunity for low-code platforms to become a key ingredient of an enterprise application architecture. An open low-code approach will allow application development teams to benefit from the underlying best practices prevalent within the organization.
Low-code is not merely a productivity tool; it has the potential to be a technological and cultural catalyst that drives enterprise innovation and business agility.