November 6, 2021/by Mia Arh
How to counter the challenges of customizability, data standardization, vendor lock-in and shadow IT.
By now, most technology leaders have come to recognize the value of low-code development in the rapid deployment of business-critical applications and the alleviation of technical debt. In fact, Gartner predicts that two-thirds of software development will be low-code by 2024. The market is also expected to grow by 23% by the end of the year.
Yet despite this rapid growth, several significant challenges remain. These difficulties continue to discourage some businesses from fully realizing the benefits of using low code development platforms (LCDP). Some of the most oft-cited challenges include a lack of customizability, the risk of vendor lock-in, and the rise of shadow IT.
While it is easy to think of these challenges as inherent limitations of the low-code approach, it is important to remember that, just like any platform, not all LCDPs are made equal. Hybrid low-code development environments and fully open-source platforms are just a couple of the alternatives to the relatively inflexible closed-source industry standards.
In this article, we will look at how these alternatives can help businesses overcome the common limitations of low-code.
Empowering creative freedom
One of the most common criticisms of low-code platforms is their lack of flexibility to address the logic of highly sophisticated business processes, such as those common in finance. The argument holds that developing turnkey software solutions in less time and with reduced technical debt means sacrificing customizability. In the end, every organization ends up with much the same product as everyone else unless costly developers are called in to create custom applications.
As a result, low code has often been viewed solely as a way to quickly develop apps to handle simple everyday business workflows. It has rarely been the first choice for developing solutions to handle complex business processes due to the inherent limitations of the underlying framework as to what developers can actually create. This is particularly true in light of the fact that every business is unique — whether it be a particular business process or a quality standard or anything else that adds value — and requires a unique solution.
While many low-code platforms fall short in terms of customizability, not all are dependent on vendor-supplied customization. To build the types of specialized applications that serve the unique needs of your business, look for a platform that, firstly, allows you to connect to whatever data source you need to connect to, regardless of format, and, secondly, allows for the full range of app building complexity, from the simplest chart to the most complex workflow. This alone should give you all the tools you need to build whatever application you want, no matter how sophisticated.
The fact is that a lot of routine business operations are easily addressed by software created in a low-code or no-code development environment and the better platforms will even make it possible to apply unique business logic for operations of practically any complexity. There will still be some coding required, but a powerful low-code platform can save you up to 90% on software development costs.
Alignment with industry standards
The increasing complexity of software development has led to the creation of domain-driven design (DDD), which serves as a reference and set of standards for building complex business applications according to specific subject areas.
Choosing a standards-orientated LCDP helps developers create optimal abstractions and object systems that align with real-world subject areas. This methodology also involves having a common language between developers and domain experts. For example, developers may manipulate objects specific to finance, such as ledgers and charts of accounts. This so-called ubiquitous language is meant to enable closer alignment between business leadership and software development.
Alignment with standards like business process model and notation (BPMN) is a huge benefit when working with business process diagrams in an LCDP. It allows for the creation of unique and complex workflows through a simple drag-and-drop interface.
For further control and flexibility, you might choose an open-source LCDP, which allows developers to alter the underlying object classes or create new ones as needed. This allows them to overcome the customizability limitations in cases where they might not be able to predict business logic. For example, business logic might determine how a tax total is calculated, but calculating said taxes after a legislative change may require some modifications to the code itself.
Thanks to the availability of powerful low-code platforms and domain-driven design, it has never been easier to create software to tackle complex business platforms.
Avoiding vendor lock-in
Many technology leaders cite concern about vendor lock-in as a reason for holding back on adopting low-code software development. Vendor lock-in typically arises from one or more of the following reasons:
- Dependence on vendor-supplied customization
- Dependence on vendor-supplied professional services
- Dependence on proprietary or licensed vendor technology
All the above concerns can be alleviated, at least partially, by opting for an open-source platform. More importantly, though, organizations should be wary of choosing an LCDP that comes with any sort of data lock-in. Given the rapid pace of change in today’s digital transformation environments, it is vital that you avoid a situation where migrating business-critical data from one application to another comes with substantial egress fees or integration issues.
Decision-makers should be mindful to ask the right questions when engaging with any LCDP vendor. The most appropriate answer to these questions will depend on the level of freedom you need to develop your own software solutions and the level of service and support needed. For example, enterprises with particularly complex projects in mind may want to work with an LCDP vendor who can either provide or help them develop a customized ERP or CRM solution while giving them the freedom to develop apps on top of the same infrastructure.
Since low-code is a relatively young market, dependence on vendor-supplied professional services is another common concern. Ultimately, most businesses will want to work with a vendor who can provide contracted consultancy and support services, albeit without risking vendor lock-in.
Finally, be sure to choose a platform that standardizes your data formats, as this will ensure your exit options are not going to be limited to raw data exports.
Limiting the rise of shadow IT
While shadow IT can solve short-term problems, it poses some serious risks. It is also far more common than many business leaders know. A survey by CISCO asked CIOs to estimate the number of cloud services and applications they had in their organizations. They answered 51 when, in fact, the actual number was 730.
As the overarching goal of the low-code approach is to make enterprise software development accessible to a broader range of end users, another common concern about adopting such platforms is the rise of shadow IT. Shadow IT arises when IT leaders are unaware of particular applications being added to their software environments. The fear is that low-code potentially raises the risk of that happening, simply because people outside the IT department can also develop software.
Fortunately, there is a surprisingly easy way to prevent low-code development from leading to a rise in shadow IT through an optimal blend of technical controls and policies. That way, only those with the necessary role-based permissions will be able to customize or build apps.
Low-code platforms do not have to contribute to shadow IT. In fact, they can do precisely the opposite, provided that the LCDP is governed and supported by the IT department or, if not, the vendor itself. The reality is that a fully supported and maintained LCDP can offer improved security and compliance simply through alignment with industry standards.
Many LCDPs, including open-source solutions, offer sophisticated security and authentication measures out of the box. This way, any applications built on the platform should have security measures hard-baked into the software itself. From a risk-management perspective, this is far safer than the traditional approach, where security and compliance measures were frequently tacked on later on in the software development lifecycle.
Although low-code development is not likely to completely replace traditional development, it will only become more important as organizations in every industry face growing pressure to become more agile.
More than ever, digital transformation depends on continuous improvement and agile software development. As such, even in cases where generalist low-code development cannot deliver the more complex applications that some use cases demand, it will augment the capabilities of skilled developers while migrating everyday development to a wider group of people.
Planet Crust is the creator and driving force behind Corteza, a 100% open-source low-code software development platform that lets you import data from any source and use intuitive drag-and-drop tools to create custom applications for your unique business needs. Get started for free today.