Why low-code is the future for enterprise development [Q&A]

Developers in many organizations are under pressure to produce new applications and updates faster than ever before and this highlights the weaknesses of traditional methods.

Using a low-code approach by contrast allows allows the automation and streamlining of the development lifecycle. We spoke to Brian Sathianathan, the chief technology officer at Iterate.ai, to discover more about low-code and when it is and isn't the best option.

BN: What are the advantages of low-code for enterprise application development?

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BS: For non-engineers, low-code offers the ability to tweak existing code modules and accomplish specific development without needing to become coding experts. Low-code brings meaningful value to trained professional developers as well -- for whom it simply saves a ton of time. The low-code approach is all fueled by connectivity: low-code users can piece together Lego-like code modules to assemble desired applications via a drag-and-drop UI. The strategy makes it easy to rapidly develop (and then iterate on) desired functionality.

In many cases, non-engineers using low-code are folks who regularly use software tools to accomplish goals related to their job functions. With low-code, they can directly build and customize applications to their preferences, quickly and without requiring (and/or waiting for) major IT resources. Low-code platforms offer simple interfaces and prompting to assist novices and even newcomers to accomplish their development goals.

Experienced web and script-based developers, on the other hand, can leverage low-code's efficiency and automation of basic development activities to deliver advanced solutions at an accelerated pace. This advantage is especially valued in emerging fields where demand is high and talent is at a premium. A strong example is the AI field. In a world that has just 300,000 AI engineers, it would be a huge waste of time and talent to write code from scratch. Instead, low-code enables an optimal development environment. Low-code offers huge efficiencies for development using the staff they likely already have.

BN: What industries are the ripest for transformation via low-code?

BS: From retail to healthcare to the public sector, enterprises in just about every industry currently feel pressure to speed up their digital transformations and offer more compelling and individualized customer experiences to compete. Low-code is particularly applicable in situations where enterprises can and need to leverage emerging technologies to realize innovation. For example, AI/ML, voice and messaging, IoT, blockchain, continuous data ingestion, and APIs offering new functionality are all capable of transformative business impact. Fortune will favor those who can modernize around these innovations, and low-code is arguably the most efficient path to getting there for many organizations.

However, as I touched on above, each of these more advanced technologies -- AI/ML integration, for example -- requires expensive talent (if you can even find it) to utilize well. Instead, low-code empowers an existing technical workforce to develop applications at 10X speed compared with traditional code writing. And that time savings translates directly into budget savings.

BN: Is low-code as secure as traditional development?

BS: It's a good question. Low-code development is highly secure, but as with any solution its security must be implemented correctly and monitored vigilantly. Also, many more recent low-code and no-code SaaS solutions are intended only for rapid prototyping, and aren't up to the rigors of meeting enterprise-grade security and scalability needs. If a particular low-code tool lacks built-in security and sandboxing at its core, that's a big red flag for risk.

Because low-code platforms leverage open source and third-party code to enable their modular components and capabilities, security updates and patches must be continuously applied to protect that code from newly discovered vulnerabilities. The most secure low-code solutions will enable even citizen developers with zero security knowledge to operate safely, and will actively anticipate and address risks and potential issues.

Before committing to low-code, enterprises should get their security teams involved to implement best practices -- and especially so ahead of production. They should only use platforms that include an internal security layer for addressing vulnerabilities, and that openly share their security tests and best practices with their users. For all the speed and accelerated development that low-code rightfully gets organizations excited about, security is one area where you want to be deliberate and methodical in vetting solutions and implementing careful practices.

BN: Low-code isn't going to fit every use case -- when should low-code be avoided?

BS: While low-code is widely applicable, organizations do need to make sure their low-code platform decision aligns with their use case from an enterprise IT perspective. Ultimately, production-ready enterprise applications need to be as scalable, extensible, and secure as the use case demands.

A low-code platform intended only for prototyping will fall short of these goals. Within organizations, business teams are often the first adopters of low-code platforms, motivated by a drive to get innovative apps out the door. IT teams motivated to keep systems safe and effective are their counterpart in operating these platforms, and will voice their exasperation if those tools aren’t worthy of enterprise-level use cases. To avoid tension and difficulties, organizations should require buy-in from both innovation and technically-minded teams before greenlighting any low-code selection.

BN: What are the biggest challenges or misconceptions for enterprises when they do turn to low-code development?

BS: The biggest misconception in the industry is that low-code solutions are only good for prototyping. The reality is that low-code platforms can more-than-capably build and execute code that is production-scale and ready to serve millions of an organization's customers (let alone their internal enterprise users). The right low-code platform strategy will pair well with modernized infrastructure that’s built to scale, like Kubernetes.

There’s another lingering misconception around resource efficiency. There's still a belief by some organizations that even though low-code platforms are faster for developing applications, they executive slowly and take up too much computing and memory resources. This was true in the early days of low-code, but it's no longer the case and is an outdated understanding. To put numbers to it that I’m familiar with, low-code platforms can serve 15,000 sessions on a four core CPU system, compared to the underlying Node.js technology servicing 10,000 sessions on the same hardware.

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