The pitfalls of adopting a low-code development platform

Are low-code solutions the right way forward for your digital engagement platform creations, or just another 4GL fad that can never deliver on the promises made? Story by Kevin Phillips.

Are low-code solutions the right way forward for your digital engagement platform creations, or just another 4GL Fad that can never deliver on the promises made?

Technology industries have always loved their buzzwords, and in particular those that aim to describe the seemingly next big innovation. Typically, these innovations aim to solve a perceived limitation with the status quo by offering new ways of working, speeding up processes, and making everything easier to manage.

The latest of these new technology concepts comes in the form of the coined ‘low-code’ solutions, which describes the ability to create software solutions using a set of prebuilt components without the need to enlist a team of software developers. The promises of adopting a low-code platform are indeed enticing:

  • Rapidly create and deploy solutions without the need for lengthy engagements with software development teams.
  • Avoid the risk of ambiguity through having to explain and translate requirements into detailed specifications and user stories.
  • Ability to make changes and improvements without re-engaging slower development cycles.
  • Decrease operational and IT running costs.

On top of all this, many low-code platforms allow additional features that are not yet in the client’s catalogue to be built using in-house development teams, building up a library of reusable components from “within the box” at the time of setup, and bespoke components specific to the client’s business needs.

To sum it up, Forrester describes them as: “Platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”

What’s not to like? Sounds great; also sounds like something that we’ve heard of before, some 30 years ago. Back then, when programmers beavered away writing code on their computers and VDUs, the same problems of development timelines, requirements translation, change control and high costs seemed to plague the industry.  In their striving to resolve the situation, the big software companies of the day conceived the idea of ‘Fourth Generation software’, the First Generation being the mysterious machine code, Second Generation being Assembly language, and the Third Generation (3GL), which is the most prevalent still today, being logical languages such as COBOL, C# and Java.

Fourth Generation Languages (4GL) were conceived to replace the need for software development ‘the hard way’ with prebuilt components, drag-and-drop-style interface design, and push-button database and software creation. Unfortunately, 4GL didn’t deliver on the promises, primarily because the variety of software uses was so vast it was taking longer to create the 4GL components needed than it was to just create the platforms using 3GL.

So, are low-code solutions the right way forward for your digital engagement platform creations, or just another 4GL Fad that can never deliver on the promises made?

Well, there are many angles to consider, not just those that you hear in the low-code software provider’s sales pitch. The fact is that there are a number of significant limitations to using the low-code software development platforms available today to support a digital banking platform, and they may be unable to satisfy the growing needs of today and the higher expectations of tomorrow:

  • Operational performance (speed and stability).
  • Cybersecurity and risk.
  • Power user fatigue.
  • Layman development practices.
  • Compliance and accessibility.
  • Lower holistic quality.
  • Incoherent and convoluted pathways.
  • Bloated attack surfaces.
  • Inaccessible support for niche third party components.
  • Proprietary stack and dead-end solutions.

This is quite a list, and not something that can be overlooked. The problem is that these are all ‘hidden’ from view; you’re not going to actually experience them until it’s too late, once you have selected a low-code platform provider and put the system in place.

In Part 2 of this mini-series, I will explain these limitations in more detail, so you can be fully prepared to ask the right questions of the next vendor who pitches up and presents to you their low-code development platform solution.

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