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What is Low-Code?

Get to know this popular development approach and how low-code technology gives organizations a powerful tool for agility.

In today’s world, to compete and win means connecting data, systems, AI, automation, and people into end-to-end processes that work smoothly—and run at high speed. This can be a quandary for IT teams trying to meet heavy demands with traditional development and the business users who then try to satisfy employees and customers with workarounds. But organizations are finding a way forward in low-code.

Low-code definition.

Low-code is a software development methodology that allows organizations to build applications with a visual interface. 

Low-code is much faster than traditional development because it reduces the need to write code. Developers can draw from a library of reusable components that address the business requirements, which can then be used as building blocks to customize and develop new applications. 

We’ll cover the benefits of low-code over traditional development, but what makes them so different? And then, what about the term “no-code” or “zero-code”—are those the same as low-code? Understand the differences between low-code vs no-code vs high code here.

Learn how low-code enables IT agility in our comprehensive low-code guide.

What are the benefits of low-code?

Low-code has four distinct benefits for organizations: speed, collaboration, ease of use, and agility.

  • Speed. Low-code allows developers to work rapidly by using reusable components. They don’t have to hard-code elements from scratch, and even security standards are built in. Components can be standardized to the requirements of the business. In this way, low-code enables IT teams to innovate faster, build more in less time, and lead organizations through digital transformation. 

  • Collaboration. Low-code enables business users and IT to collaborate much more easily than with traditional development practices. The visual environment of low-code helps non-technical users see what’s going on. And because low-code application platforms don’t require writing lines of code, IT can respond quickly when the business team requests changes to an application. 

  • Ease of use. Low-code removes the biggest barrier to entry for software development: deep expertise in traditional coding languages. This allows IT teams to lead software development while getting help from business users without coding knowledge. These citizen developers can contribute meaningfully to low-code development, enabling companies to develop talent from within the organization.

  • Agility. All of the low-code benefits above combine to create the biggest benefit: agility. Because low-code helps organizations work quickly to create strong software applications that meet the business need, they’re positioned perfectly to respond to a changing business environment. They can innovate at digital speed, stay ahead of what may come next, and thrive now and into the future.
Get 5 models for low-code success in this guide: Rethinking What’s Possible with Low-Code.

What is low-code application development (and how does it work?)

The demand for new applications and capabilities is higher than ever, while timelines get shorter and resources get more constrained. These constraints can force your developers to cut corners to meet priorities. 

But what if your business applications were easy-to-build and quick-to-deploy? Sounds simple enough, right? With low-code application development, it is. 

Low-code application development uses visual development tools—such as drag-and-drop functionality and point-and-click interface creation—to enable the rapid creation, deployment, and maintenance of powerful custom apps.

Speedy app development helps IT meet deadlines without sacrificing quality. And with the speed and scalability of low-code, you can scale your applications to improve increasingly complex processes that span your entire organization.

Frequently asked questions about low-code.

Who can use low-code?

Low-code empowers both professional and citizen developers to design and build much faster than they would in a high-code environment. 

Because low-code assumes no coding experience, it’s easy for technical business users to learn how to use a low-code platform. Capabilities like component drag-and-drop, guided process modeling, and user interface templates help users visualize and build business apps. Many of the most successful low-code developers don’t have formal training in software development. They take up low-code armed with an aptitude for technology and a strong sense of the business’s challenges. And if these people are already working at the company, so much the better—being personally acquainted with the organization’s impediments, they’ll have a head start on addressing them. 

Professional developers benefit from low-code, too. 87% of developers with low-code skills enjoy the work they do with low-code, likely because it is easier, faster, and simpler—and 82% of all developers believe using low-code will increase their earning power. (See more stats in The State of Low-Code for Developers Report.)

What are some common low-code features?

These are some typical features you might expect to find in a low-code development platform. 

  • Visual, drag-and-drop interface for workflow design. Low-code’s drag-and-drop process modeling lets you visually represent a process. You can integrate complex business rules, data, integrations to systems, AI, automation tools like robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent document processing (IDP), and human workers. 

  • Prebuilt, reusable components. Low-code’s ready-to-use components form the basis of your custom application, and they can be reused across the business.

  • AI-aided development. Low-code solutions get even faster when paired with AI, helping developers work even faster.  

  • Automation capabilities. Low-code should offer a wide variety of automations to power your workflows, like RPA and IDP, as well as ways to automate with AI.

  • Enterprise data. A low-code application development platform should provide a way to manage enterprise data so that data can be used and incorporated without expensive data projects or extensive programming. 

  • Productivity and collaboration tools. Collaboration features including document comparison, shared packages linking, and group security help development teams work better together.

  • Mobile deployment. Expect a low-code platform to have cross-platform functionality standard in its design. No separate development, maintenance, or upgrades should be required to deploy your custom apps on mobile. 

  • Security. Enterprise-grade low-code platforms come with built-in security, which means the applications running on them inherit that same level of security. Even the individual components of a low-code application, which can be reused in any number of other apps, are governed by the same security features.

What are some examples of low-code?

It can be hard to picture how exactly you’d use low-code in your unique business environment. The low-code examples below should make the benefits of low-code tools more concrete.

1. Improve customer experience.

A huge insurance provider had disconnected customer data and processes walled off between several departments and systems. Before low-code, their front-line customer care employees had to access as many as 22 different systems to resolve a single customer service request. But with the help of a low-code application development platform, they were able to rapidly create an application that brought the data, systems, and process together into one single screen for customer care employees, improving customer response time by 9x.

2. Track a marketing budget.

Here’s another way to use low-code: building a budgeting application. A large marketing team needed a way to manage the budget for all its programs for the year. Low-code allowed them to create their own unique budgeting application from scratch in no time, and since it’s built to their specifications and wishes, they get exactly what they want, every time. 

The team even had the application developer build in automation. They use IDP to submit a bill and extract its information. They have RPA scrape their transactions and return data on what they’re spending. The developer created powerful and interactive reporting dashboards to help the team leadership see how their budget is performing. They can see if they are over or under budget, determine the most expensive spending category, and track how spending changes over time.

3. Automate the payroll process.

This example shows low-code freeing up employees from repetitive tasks: a company’s payroll process. This business used a legacy system to handle the payroll process, which required a lot of employee time and effort to track and review. 

With low-code, they created a state-of-the-art system that is much more efficient and effective. Employees now clock in and out of their job using the low-code custom application. The app keeps track of hours worked for that pay period, then calculates each employee’s total paycheck based on their hourly rate. When a pay period is complete, the low-code application automatically sends all employee pay information for that pay period to the financial department for review, then, once approved, the app triggers paychecks to go out to employees.

Trying to figure out the best way to purchase low-code software? Our Low-Code Buyer’s Guide can help.

4 app development challenges that a low-code approach can solve.

Getting new enterprise applications set up quickly can be a difficult puzzle for enterprises to  solve due to these common app development challenges. Learn what they are and how you can combat them with a modern low-code approach.

1. The development team is too big and too specialized.

Traditional application development teams are large, specialized, and full of intricate inter- and intra-dependencies. Low-code teams, on the other hand, are designed to be nimble, collaborative, and egalitarian. Everyone on the team develops features. And every developer should have at least one additional specialty area—UX design, testing, architecture, etc.

2. You’re not digging deep enough into the problem.

Traditional development approaches rely on business analysts who act as translators between business users and technology teams. The two domains are siloed from each other, which means the people experiencing the problem are separated from the professional developers who are most equipped to solve it. Instead of programmers with a decade of Java experience, low-code teams look for developers who are more interested in solving problems with rapid application development than writing lines of code.

3. Feedback is slow, scarce, and distorted.

With traditional development practices, feedback loops are like a ferry traveling between two shores. Business users are on one side, and the developers building the application are on the other. Low-code builds a bridge between developers and business users. It makes collaboration easy and encourages clear and frequent input. This helps the end users test assumptions along the way, validating and influencing the application as it takes shape before their eyes.

4. You’re only measuring success at go-live.

Deployment is a meaningful milestone. But if your application isn’t used or if the user experience is poor, it will never deliver value. To ensure success, continue focusing on your end users throughout the development life cycle. Identify a few key stakeholders who are well respected among the user group and involve them as often and as early as possible to continue to build goodwill. 

What's the solution?

Low-code helps you build applications fast and right the first time. Adopting a few agile best practices can transform long timelines and “just okay” applications into rapid development that delivers outsized results.

Low-code enables organizations to compete and win.

In the end, what is low-code? It’s a rapid development style that can be a game-changer for process improvement. Using low-code development, businesses can quickly build—sometimes in just a few weeks—enterprise-grade applications that would once have taken months. By speeding development time and decreasing technical debt, low-code reduces IT backlog and gives developers more time to innovate. With the right low-code platform, it’s easier to integrate, update, and modify enterprise applications, so organizations can adapt and evolve faster in a world of immediacy.

Evaluate low-code vendors in the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™
for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms (LCAP).