2021 TRENDS IN LOW CODE

Matching development supply to growing demand

We all know that software has been seeping into every activity and process for a long time, boosting demand for software of all kinds. Advanced organisations are already automating their collaborative business processes via the internet while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced even the most recalcitrant organisation into adopting digital processes. Digital is no longer the preserve of the internet giants; it is mandatory for all businesses.

The low-code conundrum

Agile has done much to streamline how software is specified, encouraging continuous collaboration between stakeholders and developers, however there is still a base assumption that less technical people must tell the experts
what they need and let them get on with it. This way of thinking has restricted the use of low- and no-code tools such as Betty Blocks to simpler, single-user applications or restricted the tools to accelerating developers, as with
OutSystems.

The importance of intent

Programming languages capture how to implement a process, not what that process does. This is because they largely evolved from build operating systems. Low- and nocode tools address this by providing visual interfaces that capture the intent of the app, for example Microsoft’s simple PowerApp tools, but most miss the point that you need multiple visual styles to fully define the intent of all but the simplest processes. This has caused many tools to be self-limiting to the same absolutely simplicity to which the professional developers consign them. For example, Alpha Software Transform is great for converting PDF forms into mobile apps, but doesn’t support significantly more complex situations.

Focus on what you do best

Another huge advantage of capturing intent directly is that it eliminated the need to manually build all the scaffolding code that is necessary but adds no value and is repetitive. A vast amount of software development is building stuff that users never see. Low-code tools help developers deliver more code, more quickly by automating the repetitive grunt work.

Moving to the new world of computing

Moving the focus away from how software is built to what it does has another, perhaps surprising advantage: it makes it easier to benefit from all the advantages of modern architectures. While cloud hosting has removed the need to manage physical servers and networks, these new architectures have enabled many software architectural innovations.

Connecting the real-time world

The internet and its protocols have been instrumental in connecting the world, but it is the next generation of connectivity that is connecting the world. Business protocols, defined by businesspeople who understand the
protocols, contracts and uncertainties of business collaboration. That the underlying mechanisms are TCP, REST APIs or blockchain does not matter when the person with the knowledge of how to work with a partner can capture that directly. Enabling the specification of digital supply chains by intent can transform not just information flow, but how businesses operate, financial mechanisms and above all, how quickly goods and value travel around our planet.

Time to give governance a makeover

While governance is an essential part of delivering solid corporate IT systems, it often slows innovation, restricts access to development, and hampers the adoption of new techniques. It is time for governance to be given a makeover.

Islands of automation

Automation is not new in software development and has been widely adopted in areas such as test. Numerous tools and frameworks, including open-source framework Selenium, have largely replaced the tedious use of repetitive manual scripts. Build tools and scripts have been eliminating manual steps for decades.

Towards sustainable, collaborative development

Bringing all these elements of modern tooling together enables us to make a sustainable approach to development. Current approaches and tools are at the limits of what they can deliver, as is the software development community. Enabling all stakeholders to work together to deliver correct software, reliably, built on modern technologies has to be our goal as an industry.

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Richard M Marshall

Richard M Marshall

Principal of Concept Gap in Scotland with over 30 years of experience software business including as a Gartner Analyst and Expert Witness.