What’s Low-Code Anyway?

I haven’t written code since my senior year of high school. Pascal was the language, DOS was the operating system, and I hated every minute. Did creating apps have to be this hard, especially when all they did were simple tasks? I’d had it with app development…until now. Since coming onboard with TrackVia, I’ve discovered low-code, re-opening the door to endless possibilities of applications created by and for business leaders like myself.

So, what’s low-code anyway? In its simplest definition, low-code solutions enable the development of applications through easy-to-use drag and drop tools instead of traditional computer programming. And, why do we need it?

We need low code because we are in short supply of software developers to the tune of 1 million by 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Second, there’s an unquenchable thirst for business applications. Apple’s 2009 commercial “There’s an App for That” brought apps into our personal lives. As a result, we now expect the same robust, easy-to-use applications in our work lives, but we can’t seem to get them. According to a soon-to-be released survey of more than 200 business operations leaders, TrackVia found that more than 50% wait 6 months or more for IT to even consider their request for an application.

Low-code solutions have emerged to bring equilibrium to this classic economics problem of supply and demand. Yet, with more than 80 vendors claiming to be low-code software companies, we’re now faced with buyer confusion. So, let’s break low-code solutions down in a couple of different ways.

All Low-Code is Software But Not All All Software is Low-Code

Some software providers like Outsystems and Mendix are designed to help professional developers develop applications faster. They have code generators, app scripts, and DevOps procedures that only the pros know. With today’s shortage of programmers, it’s no wonder IT departments look to this type of low-code solution. Yet, the reality is there’s still not enough software development talent to meet the demand beyond the top strategic corporate initiatives.

This means that companies who don’t get much support from IT are left in the cold. They can’t realize the benefits of digitization, such as reducing costs and accelerating performance. For these companies, another category of low-code software has emerged — low-code for business developers. This enables business people like me to build applications that digitize my workflows along with necessary data collection and reporting.

As part of my onboarding at TrackVia, I built a workflow application in less than a day. It was a simple app to track and audit the cleaning process at my local yoga studio. Best part? I didn’t have to do anything extra to use it on my mobile device. TrackVia made a mobile app for me. I used no code whatsoever, which was good because I break out in a cold sweat when I think of my Pascal days!

Criticality Is to Low-Code as Grading Is to Students

Within the low-code for business developer category, not all vendors are created equal. At their core, business apps built with low-code aim to enable users to do three core things— acquire data, take action, and analyze information. Some low-code solutions specialize in one key capability; others deliver all three. Yet, the key to determining the best low-code solution is defining the applications’ level of criticality to the business. Let’s break the levels of criticality down and fold in the capabilities associated with each.

Level 1 – Not Critical: Tools like GoCanvas and ProntoForms are simple form-builders used primarily to digitally acquire data in flat file formats (i.e. Google Sheets, Excel). Employees use these tools to collect data for their specific use; they have little to no impact to the broader business.

Level 2 – Somewhat Critical: Tools like QuickBase and Smartsheet have forms to acquire data tied to an online database and basic workflows to help users take action — addressing two of the three key capabilities. Typically, these apps are used by small groups for project management and simple intra-departmental workflows that don’t require security or the ability to distinguish roles and responsibilities. Like my yoga studio cleaning app, cleaners and managers alike might find the app valuable, but studios will still get cleaned without it.

Level 3 – Mission Critical: Solutions like TrackVia and K2 have rules-based forms and robust workflows to acquire data, analytics capabilities to analyze information, and powerful notifications to help users take action. In TrackVia’s case — all three of these capabilities sit on top of a relational database. At this level, all three core capabilities must be included. Furthermore, these apps easily integrate with core systems and are housed on a compliant, secure, and scalable cloud infrastructure. Applications built with these solutions are used across departments, lines of business, and enterprise-wide.

With Level 3 capabilities, these types of low-code solutions start looking a lot like business process management (BPM) or digital process automation (DPA) solutions. There are many synergies, but that’s a discussion for next time.

It’s a really exciting time for low-code software. Like a senior in high school, it is quickly coming into its own as a viable solution for both software developers and business developers alike to satisfy the need for business applications. So, yeah, “there is an app for that” manual business process you’re dying to automate. You just haven’t built it yet.

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