Forrester: Low-code is the key to the digital journey

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Senior Forrester analyst John Bratincevic spoke with us about why companies should use low-code platforms.

Low Code for SMEs

John, what do you see as the main benefits of low-code - especially for small and medium-sized enterprises? Are there business processes that are particularly suitable for getting familiar with low-code?

I generally recommend adopting a low-code platform. In my opinion, virtually every company, regardless of size, needs to have digital capabilities: the ability to create custom software and to constantly change that software is important for company and also for individual entrepreneurs.

The ability to create applications that allow you to engage your customers, keep customized records (without the gradual clutter that comes with paper or spreadsheet-based systems), automate processes or administrative tasks, make your business visible and dynamic in software, etc. is both a tactical and strategic advantage.  You can't just buy a set of SaaS applications and call yourself "digital" - that doesn't work.

As for getting started: it's obvious to start with processes that are currently managed via paper forms, spreadsheets, or manual workflows with email. These are often underserved processes, such as warranty claims.

How should SMEs evaluate low-code vendors like Ninox?

When evaluating a low-code platform, the following 3 aspects should be considered:

- Licensing costs for your use cases:

Licensing per end user is typical for low-code. But if you plan to use the platform for customer-facing use cases, this structure may be impractical. In that case, you should choose a platform that offers a different licensing scheme.

- Are enough development services offered to be considered a "general purpose" solution?

Many single-purpose solutions refer to themselves as "low-code" solutions because they have an area of the product that allows for custom configuration. However, for low-code to be an effective alternative to traditional programming, you need tools that cover several basic development concepts in your chosen product(s):

  • Relational data modeling and data storage
  • Business logic/workflow/automation
  • User experience/front-end development
  • Integrations

- Will industry-specific features be available?

It is important to know if the platform has industry-specific features. For example, if you're a service company that sends field service representatives and technicians to customers (and needs to digitalize those field service management processes), you'll want to choose a platform with good mobile capabilities and built-in options for, say, tour scheduling, e-signatures or payments.

Who is the driver of digitalization: the IT department or management?

Who should drive such a digital transformation process and initiative in companies, top management, IT or the business departments? 

The company's executives need to realize that they need to be digital - that is, software-driven and highly automated. And that low-code is the key to the digital journey. They should also have a clear vision of how the company's business model and value chain will benefit from a more digital approach: e.g., digital channels for customer engagement, more automation, the ability to respond to market changes, etc.

The IT department should typically be involved in the selection of the low-code product, ensuring that the feature set meets basic requirements and that all technical and security requirements are met. Whether the IT department or the business department leads and supports the new platform simply depends on the organization.

Application development on the low-code platform should be done either by an ultra-agile digital team or by the SMEs concerned, depending on the company and the use case. A very practical way to start is to train process improvement experts, project managers or operations managers in low-code development. These individuals are experts in solving business problems.

What NOT to do is buy low-code just because it's a hype topic, and then deploy the technology in a siloed IT team with traditional development cultures and methodologies (e.g., waterfall). Low-code is a very practical path to an agile, iterative mindset where you experiment with technologies. Low-code plus involvement of digital-savvy business departments is even better.

What role does or should low-code play in IT deployment in SMEs?

In the short term, low-code technology will be a pragmatic choice for IT departments of small and medium-sized enterprises to deliver needed software solutions in an extremely agile way.

Not only is low-code faster and easier than coding (and typically delivered as a cloud service), but our data shows that low-code developers are ahead of high-code developers when it comes to adopting "modern" and "advanced" cloud-native technology. This is a real advantage, especially for smaller companies that do not have the same development resources as a large enterprise.

In the long term, many enterprise players will become low-code developers - both SMEs and larger enterprises. That is, in addition to their business tasks, they will develop solutions using low-code. There is no reason to have an IT expert create or modify the application you need when you can do it yourself.

I've already seen very effective SME models, where the IT department only takes care of technological tasks without any business related, such as providing and supporting IT infrastructure, hardware, Internet, etc. Meanwhile, all application development is done by business departments on low-code platforms. Eventually, the artificial separation between business people and technologists will disappear. Development knowledge (i.e., the ability to build or modify an application) will no longer be secret, but will be a common business skill. Business people will have a broad range of technical expertise, and some basic knowledge of common low-code platforms will be expected for many business functions - just as Excel spreadsheets and email are today.

And finally, why the focus on the term "low-code"? Why not "no-code" or otherwise? Why do you think coding will always be key?

Forrester chose the term "low-code" (rather than "no-code") for two reasons:

Practically all low-code products on the market allow the developer to write some code in certain situations or areas of the product - even the so-called. "no-code" products.

In enterprises, some level of coding is required for most large projects - at the time the term was coined, there was rarely a true "code-free" implementation.

In my opinion, it is not yet a foregone conclusion whether "coding will always be the key" for most classes of business applications. I've seen several examples of large-scale enterprise applications written entirely without code, and I know some large companies that even consider this an architectural ideal.  

But in reality, low-code teams still often write some code to get applications done, especially large applications.

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