Gartner predicts the market for low-code development technologies will rise to $26.9 billion in 2023, with more medium-sized companies and large enterprises using low-code platforms as the primary tool for their regular operations. Using low-code, any business can launch the first version of its software product quickly and at minimal cost. A lot of low-code platforms for mobile and web development on the market are quite affordable.
So here comes the question: Does custom software development still offer value for money? Or it can be replaced by low-code app builders? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this issue.
What is Low-code, or No-code?
In general, low-code platforms assist in creating websites, web applications and mobile applications. However, there are also a bunch of tools for IoT, AI development and specific activities such as chatbots, analytics, testing, workflow automation and so on. Some examples are Webflow, WordPress, Thunkable, BuildFire, OutSystems, Bubble and Glide.
Without a deep knowledge of programming, you can implement your idea with the help of a “drag-and-drop” interface and templates. You just need to determine the business requirements and make decisions about the design. Meanwhile, choosing the platform that fits your case is a rather challenging task. You have to take into account a lot of important factors:
- number of users and collaborative IDEs
- cost of software maintenance,
- multilingual capability for the application,
- browsers and operating systems,
- cloud support,
- integration with existing systems,
- ability to scale,
- compliance with security standards (GDPR, HIPAA and CPA),
- visual modeling, and
- multichannel deployment.
This list can be extended. There are some other factors you should be aware of. For example, does your domain have specific privacy and security requirements? And it’s extremely important to initially determine the required features of your app, because low-code platforms have limited functionality that you cannot go beyond. You won’t be able to get a custom solution, either.
So, What About Custom Development?
Now, probably you’re having doubts about which approach to choose. Remembering that a miser pays twice, it’s better to investigate all options before you start and be prepared to be flexible, because if you miss an important point, it will appear as a future issue and lead to more costs.
Let’s take a look at the software development lifecycle, which applies to both custom and low-code development:
1. Analysis and Design
The bottom line here is quite simple. You will need to collect all the requirements for your software product and create a UI design. If we’re talking about a startup, obviously nobody else knows your strategy in such detail. But with an SMB or enterprise, things are a bit different. The owner will be more focused on general business development than software development. This is when business analysts can help with knowledge about the market and the domain. They can describe in detail all the requirements, suggest improvements and uncover ways to optimize business processes.
When it comes to UI/UX design, low-code tools can include visual modeling and pre-designed templates. But if you want to create something really unique and engaging, it’s better to pull in a specialist who knows the best modern practices and approaches.
2. Software Architecture Design
This phase is closely related and directly overlaps with the previous one. Once you have determined the basic requirements, you’ll need the advice of a software architect on the most suitable tech stack for your project. The crucial point here is to design for all required integrations. You need to be sure the proposed solution complies with the necessary level of performance, security and privacy. If you choose a low-code platform, it’s necessary to take special steps to validate it on these issues. And you will need to rely completely on the vendor to take responsibility for these factors.
Now that you’re ready to start development, an essential question arises: do we need a software developer? Low-code platforms are designed so any user can deal with it. So, in general, no. However, keep in mind the factors discussed earlier, such as potential scalability and maintenance of your software. The problem with making modifications using low-code is that the platform imposes technical limitations. These limitations can be surmounted using a variety of custom plugins and extensions, so hiring a specialist may well be of benefit.
A low-code platform allows you to launch a product faster and at lower cost, so it can be helpful for developing an MVP and testing with first users. But limited functionality and code ownership can lead to issues. Without professional support you won’t be able to customize and extend components and integrate your app with third-party services. You are depending on the platform, because the code generated automatically is essentially applicable only there. Transferring it to another platform requires rewriting it manually.
On the one hand, you can save money on this stage, if you do tests yourself. However, it is worth remembering that improper testing has an impact on product quality and may slow down the release. Testing will take time and distract you from more important business tasks. Here is where professional QA engineers are needed. The QA operates in close cooperation with the developer, so it is easier and faster to troubleshoot issues. A bunch of low-code platforms are available for testing automation. They can help you, but not all tests can be performed this way. And it’s still better to put testing in the hands of a professional QA.
5. Release and Maintenance
As we said earlier, low-code platforms reduce time and costs, as most of them are SaaS solutions. Also, predefined hosting closes the issue with smooth deployment. Maintenance and support are important questions. Vendors can release an update without notification of upcoming changes. The problem is, their next update may disrupt your code. And of course, you need to pay for maintenance and support as a part of the vendor’s service. In most instances, you have to pay for these services.
What’s the Verdict?
Given the drawbacks, is a low-code approach useless? The answer is no. It can be a good instrument in professional hands. With proper integration into your software and processes, low-code can save you a lot of resources. With low-code app builders, you can validate your idea, launch fast, get users’ feedback and attract investors. Website builders allow you to create engaging landing pages without much effort. Also, you can add components and perform some operations. As your business grows, your software also needs to become more complex and therefore requires more expertise and efforts, which might shift your focus towards custom software development.