Low-code: more an enterprise strategy than simple apps & citizen development
Published on Mar 10, 2021

An already quite mature technology, low-code has found its place in many companies as a fast and relatively inexpensive way to create business applications. Low-code also means low barriers (no need for advanced programming skills) to enter the area of application development. In fact, it opens up software development to the influx of people with skills that will probably never be a match for those of IT professionals.

Is citizen development the future of IT? Will this be the main way for organizations to acquire new IT applications and solutions?

Hell no!

I’ll explain why. But first, just as an introduction, a few words about low-code technology and its impressive growth.

Low-code platforms enable the development of business applications through visual user interfaces. You can combine ready-to-use components to create applications that meet the needs of your company. The code is not written “from scratch”, so you save time and resources. These platforms are intended for both business professionals with basic programming knowledge and professional programmers.

Yes, it’s quite a thing now…

The trend of ever-growing demand for businesses to get new IT solutions and apps in the shortest time possible is very strong. I have already written about the need for flexible and quick application development in the context of changes caused by the pandemic in customer service, but it is a much broader phenomenon that horizontally covers many industries.

…and it soon will be even more so

Demand is strong in most sectors, hence the forecasts about the popularization of low-code that are certainly not exaggerated. Forrester states that 2021 will be the year of low code. Gartner, in turn, predicts that by 2024, 66 percent of large companies will use low-code platforms.

Citizen developers

A citizen developer creates new business applications that are then used by other users in his/her organization. Citizen application developers operate within the limits and environments set by the company’s IT (before low-code platforms came to be sufficiently developed, single-user or workgroup solutions were built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. Nowadays, departmental, enterprise and even public applications can be created this way.)

Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But a lot can go wrong!

Technical debt

Because low code is often delivered as SaaS, integration was stressed as its big open question. Just having APIs or support, say CIOs, doesn’t fully address the integration challenges.
CIO Magazine’s Myles F. Suer, #CIOChat Twitter chat session

Companies address these challenges, of course, by asking their developers to code connectivity. Professional developers will of course do it, as well as add further functions to any application, and make it grow, if necessary, beyond the limits of drag-and-drop customization.

But there is one thing worth realizing:
The process of developing and integrating applications built in low-code by IT professionals will look completely different than in the case of solutions created in the citizen development environment.

Low-code platforms excel at application development but not integration, usually offering only a brittle integration interface. The more integrations required by a business process — for example, onboarding of new staff or customers — the more problems this will cause as IT systems grow in complexity.
Mike Kiersey (Boomi)

The risk is that you will lose the advantage gained by speedy application development. I’ve met opinions that if given too much space, citizen developers can accrue technical debt that IT specialists will have to pay off later.
My own take on this is that citizen developers should not be blamed for technical debt, as they work within the framework of a technology that was given to them. But the mass of individual/workgroup level applications created by non-professionals can become unmanageable without time-consuming, point-to-point integration necessary to incorporate this diaspora.

Security

The dispersion of citizen-developed applications and — let’s face it — the inability to fully control the process of their development and maintenance, pose a threat to the company’s IT security. These apps are easier to hack and thus may give unauthorised access to sensitive corporate data and systems.
This is crucial especially for companies in regulated industries, like pharma, where corporate and legal standards for data security, privacy, and handling may not be met because of the lack of tight control over low-code applications.

Low-code platforms will definitely support citizen developers, as they are closest to the business side of things, and focus on certain aspects, like tasks management, workflow automation, and UI, to make application delivery fast and collaborative. But these developments should be IT governed. IT ought to manage the entire application lifecycle and deployment. This guarantees smoother and faster transition from development to deployment, keeping the integrity and security of Enterprise applications tighter.

IT pros should learn low-code

Low-code application development is a business opportunity, and citizen development is one of the natural directions of using this technology. This idea has its limits, though. Low-code has to be applied in the right places, so as not to become a “tech debt extender”. The heart and brain of the digitization of companies — regardless of the level in the organization — should still be IT.
My experience is that low-code is primarily a new tool for IT professionals and it is they who should develop competences in this area to increase IT reaction speed and its responsiveness to new business challenges.

If you are an IT professional, you should know that there’s a great opportunity right now to learn firsthand how easily and fast you can build new applications for your business using one of the low-code platforms (here, OutSystems): from legacy modernization and workplace innovation to customer experience transformation.
Give it a try here

Written by

Manoj Nair

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Low-code platforms enable the development of business applications through visual user interfaces. The code is not written “from scratch”, so you save time and resources.
Low-code application development is a business opportunity, and citizen development is one of the natural directions of using this technology. This idea has its limits, though. Low-code has to be applied in the right places, so as not to become a “tech debt extender”.

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