What Is a "Low Code Development Platform?"
By Mike Raia Posted June 1, 2017
Low Code Development for Workflows
"Low Code Development" refers to visual, simplified methods for creating applications that, unlike in the past, don't require highly-trained developers manually writing code to build and deploy. The idea is to speed development of business-level applications via "citizen builders" who are familiar with the business processes but don't necessarily have the training to code applications. By shortening the development cycle of applications, business goals can be achieved more quickly, generating a faster return and meeting internal and customer needs more quickly.
An Evolving Market
The low-code development platform market is still evolving and current solutions allow business users with some level of technical aptitude to develop fairly straightforward applications like approvals and data collection, many platforms still require some level of true development skill. There also remains skepticism from IT leaders regarding the viability of low code applications for critical, customer-facing business applications produced by business users, feeling they may lack the UX, UI and security understanding to be successful.
While there remain obstacles for true enterprise application development by business users, there is an area that low-code platforms have been successful—workflow management. Tools that focus heavily on building internal workflow applications, like employee requests, have been successfully used for several years. Rather than attempting to be a panacea for all possible application needs, low code workflow platforms provide an easy-to-use visual environment for building request-focused applications that include four major components:
Most processes begin with a user taking an action, usually completing a form. Low code workflow platforms include a form designer that allows administrators to quickly create forms that are simple (e.g., an IT support request) or complex (e.g., a capital expenditure request). Form designers are drag and drop, allowing for custom layouts to simulate existing forms that could currently be on paper or in Excel documents. Rendered forms are mobile-friendly for use in the field if needed. Form logic allows for hiding fields, pre-populating fields, dynamically displaying objects, etc. All of this is available with low code development out of the box.
Once a form is completed, it kicks off a process. Again, the process could be simple or complex, but thanks to a visual display of all process tasks, building out the steps is much easier. "Tasks" are both human and automated and can include anything from someone giving an approval to a database push. Tasks are connected together in the order dictated by the business process, either sequentially or in parallel. Because business users are familiar with the overall process, the workflow can be built quickly and iterated over time as needs change or improvements are made. Some training is required for business users, but it primarily involves getting comfortable with the various features and options, rather than learning a new language.
End users need a central place to launch and track processes so a customizable portal is a key part of the platform. The portal is customized for the organization (branding, naming, etc.) and contains all the processes that an end-user has access to. For instance, all employees might be able to launch HR requests, but only managers have access to finance requests. In other cases, an outside vendor might have access only to specific processes. Once processes start, end users can track progress from the portal so they have full visibility.
Once processes start, end users can track progress from the portal so they have full visibility. That is if administrators decide to provide it. In some situations (for instance with vendors) administrators may want to limit the visibility of where something is in the process.
It's one thing to have a process automated, it's another thing to ensure it's optimized. Reporting tools and dashboards allow administrators and executives to view performance metrics and identify any issues with a process, for instance, bottlenecks. Being able to create Key Performance Indicators for any part of any process allows complete visibility at a glance.
In addition, complete audit trail history helps meet any compliance requirements and aids in any future investigations of who did what and when.
But is This a Truly a Low Code Development Platform?