What Can You Build with a Low-Code Platform?


on October 24, 2017

At this point, you have most likely heard the term low-code development. As a refresh, low-code development abstracts away from manual, low-level coding through visual development tools and reusable components that reduce your time to deliver custom web and mobile apps. Low-code platforms not only support dealing with uncertainties of digital initiatives by enabling rapid, iterative development cycles, but also eliminate the inefficiencies of traditional development and operations activities with an integrated set of tools to streamline the complete application lifecycle.

Based on our experience with hundreds of enterprise customers, we see four common use cases that are the perfect fit for developing with a low-code platform. It is likely that your business initiatives fall into one or more of these buckets:

  • Innovation
  • Customer experience
  • Operational efficiency
  • Legacy migration

Let’s explore where these four use cases fit into your business.

Based on Gartner’s Pace-Layered Model, an organization’s application landscape is made up of three distinct layers with a corresponding rate of change. This rate of change is dictated by the uniqueness of the solutions and how concrete the requirements are.

At the bottom, you have Systems of Record, which are the foundation of the business. They are structurally solid systems with a slow rate of change and well-defined requirements. In the middle, you have Systems of Differentiation, which focus on fostering outside-in, customer-centric thinking, accelerating the rate of change, and developing unique approaches to sustain differentiation. At the top, you have Systems of Innovation, which represent brand new ideas to the organization and therefore have fuzzy requirements and a high rate of change.

We’ve mapped the four use cases to the Pace Layers, as you can see above. Innovation apps are an obvious parallel to Systems of Innovation. The middle layer focuses on how the business differentiates itself through its unique business processes and how it services customers. Legacy migration isn’t meant to completely replace Systems of Record, but to indicate that these apps tend to be closer to Systems of Record in terms of requirements definition and the fact that they support established processes.

One important thing to note is that not all applications fit squarely into one use case. You could have an innovation app that leverages emerging technology like IoT to drive operational efficiency. Or, legacy migration projects often address process gaps and therefore deliver operational efficiency. Let’s review each type of application to understand their individual characteristics. 

Innovation apps stem from ideas for new digital business models, products, and channels to help grow and differentiate the organization. Often, they leverage emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and Machine Learning to unlock new sources of value. Because innovation apps start as ideas, with loose and fuzzy requirements and a high rate of change, they require a high degree of business involvement throughout the entire development process.

Some examples of innovation apps include AntTail’s medicine tracking app, Solomon Group’s RFID wristband event access app, KLM’s IoT equipment tracking app, and Heijman’s IoT-based smart building management app.

Low-code platforms enable organizations to take a test-and-learn approach to innovation, exploring new ideas quickly and at low cost. Business users can build functional prototypes and collaborate seamlessly with development teams to extend apps with complex logic and integrations, allowing the organization to iterate toward optimal outcomes and quickly scale once ideas are proven.

Learn more about innovation apps here.

Customer engagement apps enable customers and partners to better interact and/or transact with the business, improving satisfaction, retention, and revenue. With these apps, the business has a fairly well-defined idea of the app, but the development team must adapt to unknowns revealed during the process. Customer-facing applications are often faced with high expectations from unforgiving users in terms of both usability and seamless, multi-channel access. There are often underlying operational improvements required to support customer-facing processes, and integration with Systems of Record is required to support the experience layer and existing processes.

Some examples of customer engagement apps are agent/broker portals, customer portals, self-service policy administration apps, claims management applications and student service applications for universities.

Recognizing that many enterprises lack sufficient UX resources, many low-code platforms include an integrated UI framework with out-of-the-box widgets and building blocks that make it easy for individuals without UX backgrounds to build highly usable, multi-channel apps. At the same time, a cloud-native architecture is key to enabling elastic scaling for large user bases and automatic failover for continuous operation of critical B2C apps or portals.

Learn more about customer engagement apps here.

These are employee- or partner-facing apps designed to lower costs by reducing or automating manual or paper-based processes. Operational efficiency apps may support departmental, cross-departmental or company-wide processes, and are often driven by compliance needs (i.e. avoiding cost penalties), particularly in regulated industries. This type of application almost always integrates with core systems. The closer the app is to the core systems of the business, the more critical operational robustness becomes.

Examples of operational efficiency apps include claims processing, supply-chain management, invoice processing, device tracking, university registration and order management apps.

Low-code platforms enable organizations to harness the knowledge of domain experts throughout the entire app lifecycle, enabling iterative design and development of operational efficiency apps. Moreover, platforms typically include out-of-the-box connectors or enable developers to build their own and make them available through a Private App Store, enabling easy integration with systems of record.

Most of the legacy migration projects we have seen within our customer base are business-driven transformation initiatives. That is, rather than a pure lift-and-shift of existing functionality, these new apps are meant to replace legacy apps that can’t support new processes or provide the right user experience. As such, they require new functionality, but should also support current processes.

Examples of legacy migrations include transferring legacy Lotus Notes, Microsoft Access, Sharepoint or Excel applications to an updated system.

Low-code platforms enable organizations to take a user-first approach when replacing legacy systems, adding new functionality and improving the overall user experience. At the same time, to ensure they don’t create tomorrow’s legacy, such platforms support modern, microservices architectures, and include built-in capabilities for addressing quality and maintainability at each stage of the lifecycle.

Learn more about the value of low-code platforms in the recent Forrester Wave on Low-Code Development Platforms.