A low-code tool can bring revolution to IT landscape of your company. It can boost development and prototyping of business applications if you suffer from lack of experienced programmers. In my personal opinion, it has tremendous value and you should at least consider it. But decision to use low-code is just the first step. There are many platforms available, and they differ from each other. To choose the one that is right for your needs, you need to answer yourself several questions. In the following article I’ll try to ask such questions and suggest possible answers.
What exactly are your business needs?
As many other things in IT, low-code is just a tool. It’s pointless to implement low-code just to “implement cool low-code”. Such approach may solve some of your challenges by accident, but at the same time it may generate many problems. To avoid that, firstly, you need to realize your business needs and determine deeper purpose for the tools you are going to implement.
Here are several examples of potential situations and my (personal) suggestions what to do in particular cases.
“I don’t have IT coverage for my core business”
By “core business” here I understand fundamental activity of the organization. It brings highest added value and no tradeoffs are welcome. For bank it may be internet/mobile app or core system. For e-commerce or fintech system for customers.
I may sound crazy, but that’s the moment you should reconsider whether you should go with low-code in this area. Low-code doesn’t suits everywhere, and it is crucial to evaluate properly if core business should be the area of its application. I described it in another post: “What is the role of low-code in an organization”. In short, you may have matured and profitable business with big budgets and stable processes. In such case, I suggest to check whether there is already appropriate out-of-the box solution with wide customizations possibilities. If not, it’s worth to consider a custom project made by a software house.
Ok, so does it mean that in any case low-code is not worth to be considered as main IT platform for your core business? For sure not. If you are convinced that your processes are really unique (say, you are a startup with really innovative business model) it’s worth to go with low-code. It will allow to model your processes quickly and adjust them flexibly according to your business evolution. If you reach maturity and require custom-tailored software, you may think of investing into bespoke project. But there is a huge chance that you would stay with low-code as sufficient for your needs.
“I have my core business covered by IT solution which lacks flexibility”
An obvious option for such situation may be to seek for another solution which either fits better to your needs or provides wider customization capabilities. But the process of migration is still risky plus time & budget consuming. And here low-code comes really helpful. Provided that your core system allows integration, you can use LCDP as a natural extension allowing to implement all custom functions that you require.
There are two major factors to be considered when choosing a low-code tool in this case:
- The first is integration capability. You need a tool that will be able to integrate with your core systems efficiently using technologies that are already in place.
- The second one is coherence in UI technologies that will allow users to switch smoothly between you core system and custom implemented functions.
“I need coverage for side processes of my organization”
From my observations, there are many organizations that use custom IT systems only for main business processes and out-of-the-box tools in other areas, if only possible. But still, there are “plankton” of simple, specific operations that don’t have IT coverage. Tools like paper and pencil or MS Word or Excel (at best) are in use there. They are quite simple and specific, what makes them economically unreasonable to be automated with a “traditional” IT approach. And here, low-code can spread its wings and allow you to build one, coherent front-end, covering all required processes.
My suggestion in this scenario is to bet on universal low-code platform. It may not necessarily have “fancy user interface” but offers broad portfolio of modules (algorithms, workflows, integration, document generation etc.). Such approach will minimize the risk of being forced to implement additional, specialized IT tools when you find some “surprises” within your processes. It will allow you to create one, coherent “front-end” for employees, with all the processes in one place.
Another crucial factor to consider is whether you need to build just “stand alone” apps or something widely integrated with your IT ecosystem. In case of the latter, you should pay special attention to integration capabilities of the platforms you are considering.
“I have many IT solutions, but they are not integrated with each other”
In this area, a low-code platform may also be useful, if only it has extended integration capabilities. But if your need is just integration capability without any additional needs (GUI, workflow etc.) I recommend considering firstly some no-code solutions that are simpler and strictly integration oriented. And only when you hit their limitations, turn to integration capable LCDP or even ETL suite.
What kind of applications do you need?
To make optimal choice of the tools you should consider, ask yourself what type of processes dominates in your landscape and whether there is LCDP built around such type. As an example, there are platforms specialized in Document Management, Workflows, Mobile apps etc. If you cannot recognize the pattern or there is no corresponding tool, I recommend to choose one of universal LCDPs. I elaborated more on that in previous paragraphs.
Who is going to build your applications?
I have “pure” business people
If you have onboard just people without technical knowledge, I would think twice before going with advanced low-code platform. It may be overwhelming with its possibilities and cause more frustration than help with effective app development. I recommend starting with a no-code tool that suits your needs best. You will have to live with its limitations, but it’s much better than building application that doesn’t work properly or failing to build an app at all.
I have potential “Citizen Developers”
Citizen Developer (CD) has quite a broad definition, I discussed it more deeply in another post: Who is a Citizen Developer? Simply put, a CD is still a business person but with basic technical knowledge or technical background (understanding IT architecture, data structures etc.).
In my opinion they are perfect users and low-code may be amazing tool in their hands. They have right “mindset” o use properly variety of available possibilities, and when stacked, use support of LCDP vendor or his partners.
I have internal IT with development team
If you have IT department in your organization, it most probably means that the organization is large with lots of needs for automation. Having a “full stack” IT team, you can use nearly every tool, regardless of its complexity and technical level. But I would be careful with assumption that development team will use LCDP. Programmers are rather reluctant to do that and tend to claim that there is nothing best besides their own code. My suggestion is to assign them rather for custom development of your core systems, and search for potential Citizen Developers in the organization instead (withing or outside the IT). Dev team may provide overall architecture frames, governance procedures and development of potential extensions if needed.
What deployment model do you prefer?
If you plan to have just one Citizen Developer, there is no need for any special elaboration of this topic, there are two simple options:
- If you are rather a small organization without IT department, you may prefer to use a low-code platform in a cloud.
- If you have your own infrastructure and administration team, on-premises deployment may be interesting for you (e.g., because of your requirements for data security). The only thing to check is whether considered LCDP fits into your specific preferences.
The matter needs more attention if you have a development team with members working simultaneously on the same project. In such case, I suggest checking whether the platform you consider delivers appropriate tools and procedures for collaboration, and best practices for process governance.
What budget can you afford?
Implementation of low-code practice is not just starting to use “another tool”. It significantly changes paradigm of the application development and thus is experiment for the organization. Because of that, I recommend choosing platform that you can use without significant upfront investments. At best, with free testing/development licenses and commercial fee depended on the real usage of the platform. It will allow you to pay just for the real business value you get.
But don’t just get caught into simple “pay as you grow” trap. Estimate your overall, planned usage of the platform (e.g., number of users) and check the Total Cost of Ownership in such scenario. Do that before you invest significant portion of your time into testing and development.
There is also a pricing hint. Leading vendors of low-code platforms may tend to reap the benefits from their market position and brand status. If you are interested in more affordable budgets, it’s worth to examine smaller vendors. They are under greater pressure while entering or growing the market and can propose more attractive pricing. Of course, it’s not the best idea to go with startup which has its platform still under development because you can end-up waiting for crucial upgrades and financing their development.
And this brings us to the last point to be considered.
What is the platform maturity and support capabilities?
For sure you are interested in smooth usage of LCDP, without getting stuck on any problems. It depends on the platform quality and maturity. The simplest way to check that is examining years of the market presence, number of customers and references. And in this category probably the biggest vendors will take the lead. But it is not the only way to measure platform maturity. There is a group of products (including our archITekt) which despite the seemingly short track record on the low-code market, has a long story of development and use within internal projects.
Support is another important factor to be considered. Before serious engagement with the tool, check whether you are happy with the documentation, tutorials or community around it. And again, the biggest vendors can boast the bigger number of materials.
But, frankly speaking, there’s also a catch. Until you are a large organization with big budget, you may be treated as “plankton” without individual service approach. And again, smaller vendors can be worth of interest, as you can get more individual approach to your matters.
There may also be situations, that you need to do a project very fast and have no time for the team to learn the new tool. It’s no problem. Many vendors can develop and implement a project for you (or have partners who can do that). It’s a situation where you can have your cake and eat your cake. On one hand, you have fast implementation, on the other hand, your team has time to learn new tool and take over the project in the future.
Choosing the right LCDP is not a trivial task and there is no universal answer. Most importantly, before you give a specific low-code tool a go, consider what do you want to achieve and what are your actual capabilities.
I hope, I have inspired you to investigate the matter further with some subjective yet practical hints.
If you are interested in going deeper, please let me know. I’ll be happy to meet you and discuss your case.
Head of Business Development for VSoft archITekt
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