4 essential features of modern low-code development platforms

How today’s low-code platforms go beyond rapid app dev to streamline the entire software development lifecycle

4 essential features of modern low-code development platforms
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Today’s low-code app development platforms can play an essential role in any business undergoing digital transformation. As needs ebb and flow and new market opportunities present themselves, agile organizations require a way to innovate faster and speed time to market. While traditional development cycles are complex and can take months, modern low-code development platforms simplify the complexity of enterprise software development and enable deployment in weeks or days.

Low-code development platforms are not new. Rapid app development tools, like Visual Basic, PowerBuilder, and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft Access, have been around for decades, giving developers simple, easy-to-use platforms for creating applications quickly and efficiently with minimal or no coding required.

However, the problem with yesterday’s low-code solutions, which focused on composition, is that they didn’t streamline other steps in the software development lifecycle, like planning, debugging, testing, implementation, and deployment. As a result, publishing low-code software (that wasn’t tested properly) could actually add complexity and time to the development process. For non-developers who were drawn to low-code for its ease of use, the need to fix buggy projects presented an unwelcome challenge.

Fortunately, that’s all changed. Modern low-code development platforms streamline development throughout the entire software development lifecycle, from version control to performance testing to change management. Today, any low-code platform worth its salt must not only make it easy for users to build software, but also must allow them to build tests, identify issues, scale easily, and always deliver a highly secure application.

That isn’t to say that low-code development platforms should be used to solve all software development needs. Low-code platforms deliver much of their productivity gains by specializing in certain solutions, such as business process management, case management, and enterprise business operations. In addition, modern low-code platforms are designed to work seamlessly with traditional programming languages and development environments, allowing professional developers to extend the capabilities of low-code design tools.

For companies considering low-code development platforms, I’ve compiled below four key features to look for before investing monetary and human capital.

Modern low-code platforms include pre-built components

Low-code development platforms should include out-of-the-box functionality that a developer can drop in easily and seamlessly. Think of these pre-built components as a box of Legos. Each block has a specific purpose and can be used in a variety of applications as a piece of a larger puzzle. For example, developers shouldn’t need to code UI objects from scratch when they can simply choose from pre-built UI components. Plus, these pre-built components can be easily reconfigured and updated as needs change.

Evaluators of low-code platforms should look carefully at the library of pre-built components and capabilities the platform delivers. For example, if the goal is to build an enterprise contract management system, then you’ll want to look for features like document management, business process management, business rules, and the ability to dynamically generate PDF contract documents.

Modern low-code platforms go beyond composition

As noted above, writing code isn’t the only complex, resource-intensive part of software development. Planning, testing, and implementation can be just as time-consuming. Unlike the rapid app development tools of the past, modern low-code development platforms need to simplify the entire software development lifecycle. This should include debugging, integration testing, performance analysis, and deployment. And just like more advanced development tools, low-code development platforms should give developers the ability to revert to previous versions as the software flows through development and testing and into production.

Modern low-code platforms support fluid business and IT collaboration

Today’s rapidly changing digital enterprises require IT and business experts to work together to develop new digital customer experiences, while simultaneously automating business operations. Traditional software development involves months of back and forth to plan a new application, mock up a user interface, determine product specs, write the code, test all components, validate features, implement, and ultimately scale, not to mention train users. Long development cycles not only consume more time and resources, but also increase the risks associated with your new digital initiative.

Through a visual development medium that is easy for non-technical users to understand, modern low-code development platforms facilitate fluid communication between business and IT. This way, process logic and associated business rules can be laid out in standard formats, such as business process management and decision model notation that the whole business will understand. Low-code tools then take those designs and make them executable, skipping the long translation steps from requirements documents to the code of traditional development tools. This ultimately allows low-code IT developers to meet aggressive delivery timelines as well as ensure that their designs meet business requirements.

Modern low-code platforms embrace the cloud

Visual Basic, PowerBuilder, and Microsoft Access had a reputation for not being scalable, but modern low-code platforms are rooted in cloud-native architectures. In fact, modern low-code platforms have already been used to deliver large-scale, mission-critical solutions for major government projects and financial institutions. Further, low-code platforms often come with pre-certified cloud security credentials, such as PCI and FedRAMP compliance.

Low-code application development platforms have been around a long time. Previous generations of these tools earned a bad reputation for their sole focus on composition, inability to support the entire software development lifecycle, and limited scalability. It’s important to look for a modern platform that provides a rich stock of pre-built components, takes the complexity out of the entire development cycle, enables business and IT collaboration, and embraces dynamic cloud architectures.

With today’s modern low-code development platforms, you can accelerate software development, streamline business processes, and scale exponentially to meet the needs of the business. Isn’t that what digital transformation is all about?

Malcolm Ross is vice president of product at Appian, the provider of a low-code software development platform that enables organizations to rapidly develop powerful and unique applications for digital transformation and competitive differentiation.

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