Can Low-Code Tools Really Deliver Business Value?

Low code is an alternative to traditional development processes, but it continues to attract critics. Here’s what decision-makers need to consider.

Mike Mason, Global Head of Technology, Thoughtworks

September 29, 2022

4 Min Read
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1STunningArt via Adobe Stock

Low-code tools and platforms have created useful software systems without the need to write and maintain large custom codebases, attracting both advocates and critics.

But, with some forecasts predicting that by 2025, as much as 70% of new applications could be created using low-code tools and platforms, and ongoing developer shortages driving businesses to explore new ways of accelerating software delivery and reducing workloads, more organizations are exploring what it can offer.

Low-code capabilities have matured significantly in recent years, but skepticism persists -- and for good reason. While low-code tools have the potential to empower a new generation of so-called ‘citizen developers’ and take pressure off dev teams by streamlining the creation of simple capabilities, they aren’t suitable for every development scenario.

The first step toward determining if low code is right for you -- and ultimately gaining the value it could potentially deliver for your business -- is understanding what it’s best suited to support.

When (and When Not) to Use Low Code

There is a wide range of drivers that lead organizations to adopt low-code platforms. Here are four of the most common:

Scenario #1: Responding to developer shortages

With global demand for development talent still significantly outstripping supply, tools that enable any user to build powerful software are compelling. But choosing to adopt low code because of a shortage of development and coding skills can lead to trouble.

Without skilled developers and IT experts overseeing low code usage, you get “software without strategy”: lines of business continuously solving problems with bespoke point solutions, with little-to-no cohesion or interoperability between them.

Scenario #2: Supporting rapid business growth

For early phase scale-ups, low code can help create new capabilities and services quickly without significant resource demands. However, those organizations must recognize that many of the solutions they create with low code platforms may eventually need replacement. If not, they may find that core parts of their infrastructure are built on inflexible foundations.

Scenario #3: Building new, business-critical software

The more central a piece of software is to your business, the less likely it is that low code is the right option. Business-critical apps need to be able to scale, grow and transform easily; this becomes harder if not planned between business and IT.

Scenario #4: Empowering lines of business

If your goal is to give lines of business greater technological autonomy and empower your team to become citizen developers, adopting low-code tools is a great way. Low code is easy for new users, and teams can quickly start managing and enhancing capabilities to meet their own needs.

The Importance of Balance

When low code first emerged, it was branded as an alternative to traditional development — one that would reduce or even remove organizations’ dependence on skilled developers.

That narrative has proven very unhelpful, both in terms of the unrealistic expectations it has set for low code, and how it has positioned low code and traditional development processes as opposites.

The question shouldn’t be “low code or traditional code?’’ It should be “where can low code best support and complement our expert developers?’’

By enabling and encouraging low code across the right use cases, you can accelerate delivery, cut cycle times, and meet business rapidly without eliminating current development practices.

Questions Leaders Need to Answer Before Choosing a Low-Code Platform

Before you choose a low-code platform or set of tools, it’s important to establish if low code is well suited to your business.

You’ll likely want to conduct your own in-depth evaluation but answering these questions is a good start:

1. How many people are going to use the software you’re building?

More users mean more needs to adapt to, and a greater chance of the software becoming business-critical and expanding beyond the sweet spot for low code.

2. Do you want to build core or supporting (edge) software?

The closer your software sits to the core, the more important it is that it remains as flexible, scalable, and interoperable as possible — which should lead you away from using low code to build and maintain it.

3. Could the supporting software you’re building today become critical as it grows in adoption?

If you already know the systems that need to be built or modernized are business-critical, it’s very unlikely to present a strong use case for low code, unless you are willing to accept the limitations of the low-code platform.

4. Are your team ready to become citizen developers?

For low code to deliver its full potential, teams need some level of software proficiency to adopt it and start creating their own capabilities.

Low Code: One Size Doesn't Fit All

Low code isn’t a replacement for code, but for a specific set of use cases, it is still a very powerful technology. If an organization were to retire its development team and use low-code platforms to give complete development control to business teams, they’d be extremely limited in what they could achieve.

That low-code sweet spot exists where it’s applied at the edge, reviewed by IT experts, and applied alongside traditional development practices and resources.

About the Author(s)

Mike Mason

Global Head of Technology, Thoughtworks

Mike Mason is Global Head of Technology at Thoughtworks. He joined Thoughtworks in 2003, and worked with clients in the UK, North America, and now globally. Mike became Global Head of Technology in 2017, where he is responsible for building Thoughtworks’s internal capabilities through global technology initiatives. He contributed to publications including Technology Radar and Looking Glass, and co-authored The Digital Transformation Game Plan with Thoughtworks’s CEO Guo Xiao.

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