June 17, 2022

No-code and low-code platforms have generated a lot of buzz in the market over the last decade. Businesses across a variety of industries see the clear benefits: a rapidly built, tailor-fit solution for your specific requirements without straining IT resources. This is especially critical at a time when technical talent is near the top for most difficult to attract and retain.

In traditional software application platforms, code represents instructions that tell platforms how to implement the desired functionality. Low/no-code platforms, however, use declarative programming, where application developers define what the app does rather than how it does it. This enables a much more rapid development cycle where new functionality can be implemented in a matter of days, unlocking a whole new standard of business agility – without introducing security risks to the technical environment.

Whether you’re new to the no-code/low-code market or are looking to trade up, this list of questions and considerations can help you make a thoughtful selection.

1. Is the platform no-code or low-code? Which is right for me?

Oftentimes, we see companies choose low-code platforms for the extra flexibility. All too quickly, though, the platform goes from low code to high code and becomes a nightmare to manage. The perception of the low/no-code market today is that low-code platforms are for technical developers, while no-code platforms are for business users. This has to do with the myth that no-code platforms are only useful for simple, light applications.

However, there are no-code platforms on the market today that are capable of building comprehensive and sophisticated business processes – without reliance on low-level programming languages.

The benefit of going with a purely no-code platform is not only that you gain a greater velocity of development, but also that the applications you create are future-proof and agnostic to any coding language or behind-the-scenes technology of the day.

What does that really mean? No-code apps are sustainable and can take advantage of new technologies delivered through the platform – without having to rewrite the applications to do so. This is because declarative (no-code) development processes involve creating a blueprint for a business solution rather than capturing your business rules in a low-level programming language. That blueprint is insulated and can be regenerated to incorporate new technologies delivered by the platform, continuously improving and compounding on your application investment.

2. Can ‘citizen developers’ really use it?

Gartner defines a citizen developer as,

"an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT…. they report to a business unit outside of IT."

In other words, a citizen developer is your business subject matter expert, likely an Excel guru, but not well versed in any formal programming language.

And while many IT departments use no-code platforms themselves to expediently tackle backlog requests, it’s important to consider line-of-business users of your platform.

How citizen developer-friendly is the platform? Certainly, more and more of today’s non-IT workforce brings unprecedented technical savvy to traditionally non-technical roles. Your platform should help to ensure that your citizen developers are building the right applications the right way.

The last thing IT departments want to deal with are applications that don’t look or work like others in the ecosystem and are not deployed or managed consistently. Finding a platform that enforces consistency through patterns can serve as guardrails to the overall solution footprint. And of course, your platform should support users with a robust security model to prevent exposure of sensitive information.

3. What can I build with the platform?

Consider the types of applications you expect to build with this no/low-code tool. For many, systematically converting the business’ farm of spreadsheets into applications is a great place to start as spreadsheets are the most frequent offenders of data fragmentation.

We also see IT departments taking stock of the tech purchases that occur outside the IT department (also known as “Shadow IT”) to uncover other application candidates for a no/low-code platform. These software solutions tend to be more complex in nature, requiring more sophisticated business logic. And not all no/low-code platforms can deliver this sophistication.

It’s important to get an understanding of the level of complexity the platform is capable of before making a selection. For instance, can the platform connect to your back-end systems? Does it support complex calculations and business logic? What kind of transaction state management is supported? More to come on these in the next sections.

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4. Does it come with workflow that actually works for me?

Workflow can mean many things in today’s market. It’s important that your no/low-code platform can pass transactions through various states, from ‘open’ to ‘in review’ to ‘closed’. Even better, can the platform support more sophisticated process automation to include custom approvals and orchestrations across the various applications in your enterprise?

We recommend putting workflow to the test when evaluating a no/low-code platform. Take one of your more complex business processes that requires a variety of notifications, custom approvals, or automated email notifications. See how well the workflow will support it.

5. What kind of security model is supporting the data?

If you’re planning to trust your low/no-code platform with sensitive data, it’s important to understand the platform’s security model. Broadly speaking, you must understand how complete the authentication and authorization features are. Authentication is the process of recognizing a user’s identity. Are they who they say they are? Authorization then grants that user permission to access your system’s resources.

Another important component to look for in a platform is, how does it audit your data? No matter your industry, it is important to ensure that your business processes operate within the necessary regulations and procedural safeguards to remain compliant. This is just as critical in a no/low-code platform as it is with your systems of record. Your platform should support full and granular traceability of system data. And it should be simple to review to identify any possible issues.

Authentication. The platform should support password complexity rules, automatic password expiration, multi-factor authentication, password reset, and IP whitelisting. It should come out of the box with support for single-sign-on as well so that it can play inside your larger IT infrastructure. Can it help detect intentional attempts to gain entry to the system through machine learning-based intrusion detection?

Authorization. A comprehensive security model should support security groups, permissions, and roles. Security access should be explicitly granted, not revoked. All resources – such as applications, records, reports, tables, application settings, menus, actions, fields, workflow, organizations, system actions, and environments – are secure by default.

6. Are my no/low-code applications mobile-ready?

For businesses today, implementing mobile strategies has become a clear way to increase efficiency and accuracy across operations. The applications you build with a no/low-code platform should be mobile-ready, automatically.

The best cloud, no/low-code platforms today are designed to support mobility. End users build an application one time, and it becomes accessible on any browser-based device. Broad-based access to all your applications on your device of choice is an important consideration. Can you do your job at your desk and in the field?

7. How does it fit into my IT ecosystem?

One of the big selling points for no/low-code platforms is that they can alleviate the data fragmentation that occurs when line business units turn to spreadsheets and ‘Shadow IT’ purchases for needs that remain unmet by the existing tech stack.

Consider where most of your company’s data lives. Likely, in several core systems including ERP, CRM, and HRM systems. This data is oftentimes needed for even the most ancillary of departmental IT solutions.

The best cloud platforms today are designed with an awareness that no single software solution can do everything. Rather, they are built to work with multiple programs and enforce a single, up-to-date version of critical data. Any platform you choose should be able to integrate to your core systems, making it simple to get data in and out without threatening data integrity.

What’s more, imagine if the no-code platform you choose to build your departmental solutions was the very same platform that was used to build the ERP applications that power your business. Your system of record (that coveted single version of truth) would be at your fingertips. There would be no integration effort required to tap into all your critical data because it exists in the same, immediate technical environment. No more data fragmentation.

This really begs the question. Is your no-code platform powerful enough to build an entire ERP system?

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