What is Low Code? Everything You Need To Know
What is low code? And why are we, a software agency, writing a blog which theoretically contains everything you need to bypass us and go it alone?
Short answer: we think low code is great, in the right circumstances! As coders, tech aficionados, startup fans and general nerds, more people being able to solve problems with technology is only a positive thing in our books.
That said, we think there’s a balance to be struck. Whilst low code solutions are fantastic for productivity, idea modeling and quick internal fixes, many lack the functionality, scalability and security to create anything hugely disruptive – particularly for consumer-facing apps.
In some situations, you just can’t beat putting in the elbow grease and building your app from the ground up. You’ll end up with a more customized, expert-created solution that scales well and can tap into up-to-the-minute features and functionality – even if this does cost a little more and take a little longer.
But then, we would say that, wouldn’t we?
That’s why we’ve laid out everything you need to know about low code solutions in this article – what they are, what’s out there, how popular they are and the pros and cons. Use it to make your own mind up.
What Is Low Code?
Put simply, low code development platforms allow people with limited to no development knowledge to create software applications.
This is usually done via a Graphical User Interface (GUI) which allows the user to build their application visually, often via forms and templates with an easy-to-use drag and drop approach. This either reduces or removes the need for hand coding, so that you can develop quicker, more people can be involved and development costs are reduced.
You might be familiar with some low code solutions already. If you’ve ever created a website on Wix, Squarespace or any other website building tool that doesn’t need you to write HTML/CSS, you’ve dabbled with low code solutions.
Low code has been around in some form or other since the mid 80s, with the birth of computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools, and early rapid application development (RAD) tools.
So why have they taken off so much over the past few years?
Partly, it’s a case of demand. A web presence is no longer optional for any company that wants to expand. Increasing numbers of organizations use apps to reach their customer base and are also looking for fast and efficient ways to digitalize internally.
With a shortage of developers, these things don’t come cheap. Low code keeps costs down.
The other side of the coin is that the technology itself is much better than it was even a decade ago. It’s not always completely optimal (more on that below), but it’s come on almost infinitely since those early solutions, which had great ideas, but lacked the technology to back them up.
Low code vs no code: what’s the difference?
‘Low code platform’ is often used as a catch-all term for any application that removes the need to code from scratch. There are distinct categories within this, however; these are worth outlining:
- ‘No code’ platforms require zero coding knowledge at all to operate – anyone can use them to create a website or software product, regardless of how much coding knowledge they have. This category also includes systems-based tools like Zapier and Airtable, which you can power up using code, though none is strictly necessary.
- ‘Low code’ platforms offer designers and engineers a faster way to build their product whilst retaining the customization code offers. These still need some degree of development experience and knowledge (though how much will depend on the solution you’re using), but help product and development teams save time and boost productivity.
To avoid confusion (and because both of these types of solution offer similar benefits to users), we’ve used ‘low code’ as a catch all for both platform types. We’ll specify where we mean one or the other.
How popular are low code solutions?
Whilst there’s growing usage among startup companies, it’s the enterprise market that has really taken to low code solutions.
- By 2024, low code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity.
- By 2024, 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low code development tools for IT application development and citizen development initiatives.
Currently, tools built on low code platforms are mostly deployed internally. Larger companies are looking to digitalize fast whilst keeping costs down and quickly-created low code solutions are a good way of doing that.
Right now, however, many low code solutions lack the functionality to build a standout consumer-facing product. If you’re a startup that wants to create something truly disruptive, that’s going to be a turn off.
It’ll be interesting to keep tabs on this as tools evolve. Right now, there tends to be two main use cases for low code solutions in startups: demonstrating to investors that an idea has traction to investors (particularly if there are no technical founders), and being able to pivot quickly to shift product-market fit.
What types of low code solutions are there?
Thanks to a recent explosion of low code startups, you have an ever-expanding number of options if you’re looking to build with limited developer input. This can make it difficult to keep on top of what’s out there.
Recently, first cheque investor Pietro Invernizzi (Stride.VC) and Makerpad founder Ben Tossell carried out an in-depth study of the low code startup market. They surveyed 145 companies working in the sector to identify 12 industry verticals. These may be useful in understanding the current landscape:
- Website builders and enhancers (e.g Squarespace, Strikingly, Unstack): create websites in hours with no need for CSS/HTML knowledge
- Mobile-first app builders (e.g Dropsource, Glide, Universe): create working mobile apps without having to write code
- Web app builders and enhancers (e.g Landbot, WorkOS, 8base): create working web apps without having to write code
- Internal app builders (e.g Zaptic, Flowdash, Creatio): no code or low code tools that are specifically designed for building apps for internal use
- Workflow automation tools (e.g Zapier, Internal, Fibery): automate business processes and tasks through integration
- Data and developer productivity (e.g Chartio, Levity, Canonic): increase developer productivity via a range of avenues, for example by automating repetitive cloud workflow
- “Spreadsheets on steroids” (e.g Airtable, GRID, Actiondesk): tools with a spreadsheet-based interface that allow users to build automations or supercharge existing Excel/Google Sheets documents with collaborations and workflow features
- Financing and modeling tools (e.g deci, Pry, Pigment): for complex calculations and building advanced financial models
- Payment and transaction tools (e.g Mambu, Swan, Passbase): embed B2B financial services, transactions and bank-level ID verification into your product offering
- Subscriptions and checkouts (e.g Acquire, Purchasely, MemberSpace): automate the creation of subscription lists, checkout pages and payments
- Low code analytics (e.g Index, Graphy, Grow): business intelligence tools that allow you to measure and improve without extensive code knowledge
- Form builders (e.g Typeform, Tally, Niro): build well-designed, easy-to-use online forms for data capture
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Low Code Platforms
Like all applications, low code platforms work really well in some situations but are less suited to others.
The key to getting the most out of low code tools is understanding these strengths and weaknesses, and leveraging them to their maximum potential in areas where they excel. If you over-rely on them, or rely on them to do the wrong things, you’re putting the long-term viability of your app at risk.
What Are The Advantages of Low Code Platforms?
Being able to code with less developer input (and in some cases none at all) offers businesses several benefits:
A Squarespace subscription costs less than hiring a web developer to create an entirely customized website from the ground up. This is a pattern that repeats itself across the industry verticals above. Developers aren’t cheap, so if you want to create a quick internal integration or workflow that saves time, low code options are a great money saver.
Because so many low code solutions offer a range of pre-built templates and remove the need for coding from scratch, you can get your app up and running much quicker using a low code option. This makes them ideal for road-testing new ideas without having to invest time and money in an extended development process – or pivoting your app, if it’s not quite right.
There are also a number of developer-oriented low code solutions that automate repetitive tasks – so low code can save you time even if you have a development team in place.
The most exciting thing about no code solutions in particular is that they allow anyone to become a ‘citizen developer’. Fundamentally, they democratize access to building tech products so that anyone with an idea . This is great news for non-technical startup founders, or any organization who wants to diversify input into their application development processes.
What Are The Disadvantages of Low Code?
Low code platforms aren’t a good fit for all software builds. In particular, look out for issues around:
Experienced developers know where your app could be liable to cyber attack and work in solutions to mitigate that risk. If your team is inexperienced with data concerns it’s easy to create an insecure app using low code solutions, which could jeopardize user data, your regulatory standing and more.
Functionality and scalability
Apps built on low code platforms are difficult to scale and limited in what they can achieve functionality-wise. This is perhaps why they tend to be used to create internal solutions, rather than consumer-facing apps. If you want an app that can scale to a thousands-strong user base or push the limits of what tech can do right now, low code isn’t the way.
…in other words, the long-term cost of choosing an easier solution in the present versus a better overall solution that would take longer to build. If you want to scale up your initial app but encounter issues with exporting data or training employees to the right level, rework can add cost and slow you down at a crucial stage in your app’s development.
What Are The Alternatives to Low Code?
If you want to build an app – whether for internal or external use – the main alternative to low code solutions is to develop your software from scratch. Ultimately, this is the road you probably want to go down if you want standout functionality and scalability, especially if your app needs to be customer-facing.
There are two approaches you can take here.
The first is building your product in house. This is a strong option if you are a startup with a technical founder, or a larger company with this capability already. You’ll retain control over what you’re building and be able to maximize on the customizability hand-coded solutions offer.
On the other hand, hiring and maintaining a full, in-house development team is expensive and time-consuming. Developers are in short supply, so you’ll have to fight pretty hard to attract the best of the best – this is often a big ask for companies who have no existing technical team.
Your second option is to outsource to a software development agency. Software development agencies use their networks of developers to create a product built to your unique specifications, so you get access to the experts without the cost of hiring and maintaining a full-time team.
At Tivix, we have over a decade of experience in creating high-spec, customized solutions for a range of clients, including the United Nations, Zoetis, Boston Dynamics and Tesla.