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DevOps / Software Development

The Highs and Lows of Low-Code Tools

There are advantages that make low code a valuable tool, but organizations should be realistic about how cost and vendor lock-in may create roadblocks.
Nov 29th, 2023 7:05am by
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As software development requires more efficiency, agility and speed of delivery than ever before, businesses are finding they need a digital transformation to give them a leg up when it comes to code. To drive transformation and results, companies have started to look at low-code solutions as a powerful, streamlined method for developers to get the job done.

Although once seen as a gimmick, low-code tools have undergone an incredible evolution in the span of the last five years. The sector is even expected to earn $44.5 billion by 2026, with 75% of enterprise applications developed by these solutions.

Make no mistake: low-code makes no replacement for traditional Clean Code — coding that is consistent, intentional, adaptable and responsible, and that accounts for top-quality software that’s critical to business results. But that doesn’t make it an unworthy choice in every situation.

So in what scenarios does low code make the best sense? How can we most effectively arm our developers with these solutions to perform their jobs, taking advantage of the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses with the correct application?

Low Code Speeds Up the Development Process

A major perk to low code is the pace at which it allows developers to take advantage of time, a critical asset in the cutthroat business world. With these tools, developers can make significant cuts in the development and delivery process: For example, they can quickly put together applications without writing a single line of code. Elements like pre-built templates, drag-and-drop capabilities and reusable components help these technical experts stay ahead of the competition by putting their time into the more complicated aspects of application-building.

Those same elements make low-code tools an excellent way for companies to bridge the skills gap and allow those without a traditional background in coding to take the lead on certain aspects of projects. Any developer understands the massive amounts of education and training needed for that kind of expertise, but low-code tools make the process more accessible to business professionals. This helps clear the work backlog for developers and increase movement in the application release cycle while expanding the number of stakeholders able to contribute to a project.

These tools not only increase productivity but create widespread collaboration and opportunities for developers to free up their limited amount of time. Low code can add features faster, enable quicker updates and turn ideas into reality at a much greater pace. Simple interfaces and easily shareable work increase the rate at which developers can receive feedback, in addition to necessitating fewer changes later in the process that delay a project’s completion.

But low code isn’t a one-size-fits-all, all-encompassing solution. So where should developers shy away from implementing these tools?

Low Code Has Limitations

A major drawback of these solutions is that they can’t be customized to the same level as more traditional code. What you see is what you get: Your developers can drag and drop icons to create very simple applications easily and quickly, but more complex projects aren’t the right fit for these tools. Using them for that kind of project work only creates extra overhead that gives your developers an unnecessary headache in the end. These tools can’t handle complex business logic; by promoting speed, they compromise the ability to perform around shortcomings within the application.

Despite the fact that modification is limited within low-code platforms, many of these systems enable extendability via standard programming languages such as Java, C# and JavaScript. However, traditional IDEs are used to construct these extensions, which are outside the low-code platform. If the code extensions don’t adhere to Clean Code standards, they can introduce vulnerabilities, errors and inefficiencies into the low-code application. While this extendability allows for some customization of low-code platforms, it introduces additional challenges, such as adding intricacies that only a professional developer is capable of addressing.

Control over code security has its limitations as well. With low code, all source code is generated automatically in the background and isn’t available to the developer. These applications rely on the platform’s security, which means that developers have to have faith in the vendor to make sure they’re protecting all their apps and data.

They’re also expensive. Monthly fees for these kinds of tools can reach tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the number of users. And unlike traditional code, those costs don’t shrink after initial use. Vendor lock-in also becomes an issue if a company relies too heavily on low-code tools, keeping the organization at its mercy. Finally, low-code maintenance overhead grows exponentially over time as the application becomes more complex. These tools can be challenging to troubleshoot and maintain as workaround solutions surrounding traditional coding languages increase.

The Future of Low Code

Like all technology, we know the use and ability of low-code solutions will only continue to increase with wider adoption and accelerating business needs. There are plenty of advantages that make it a valuable tool and a solid option for developers as they work to deliver their projects.

With these benefits in mind, though, organizations should be realistic about how cost and vendor lock-in may create roadblocks for their teams. Using low code to power intradepartmental applications or single-page web applications are the kinds of use cases businesses should investigate.

As companies continue expanding their software development portfolios, they should consider low code a means to generate code quickly and to help developers navigate their significant workload that will continue to grow the more businesses depend on software. At the same time, they should remember that, as with generative AI, the best way to create top-quality, secure, maintainable and reliable software is to use these tools while also following Clean Code best practices, to earn the best business outcomes.

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