The low-no-code series – Pantheon: Now is the middle of the shift

The Computer Weekly Developer Network gets high-brow on low-code and no-code (LC/NC) technologies in an analysis series designed to uncover some of the nuances and particularities of this approach to software application development.

Looking at the core mechanics of the applications, suites, platforms and services in this space, we seek to understand not just how apps are being built this way, but also… what shape, form, function and status these apps exist as… and what the implications are for enterprise software built this way, once it exists in live production environments.

This piece is written by Josh Koenig in his position as chief strategy officer at Pantheon – a company known for its position as a WebOps platform for open source Drupal and WordPress websites.

Koenig writes as follows…

JavaScript in web browsers now powers real software applications. Just look at all the online replacements for traditional desktop workloads (e.g. Google Docs, Office365), the growing number of desktop apps that are really thin wrappers around a browser (e.g. Slack, Spotify), or the rapid adoption of Chromebooks as a platform of choice in security-sensitive or managed environments (e.g. primary education).

This trend is also impacting the way the web itself is made, with the rise of low code and no code tools for web development.

Building the web with the web has always been a secret weapon for developers and designers, with ‘design in browser’ recognised as a best practice vs the dreaded handoff of static design ‘comps‘ [comprehensive layout] that then needed to be recreated from scratch in HTML and CSS. Working directly in the medium is much faster and eliminates errors in translation; it makes it possible to iterate and leverage an Agile approach.

This is now being democratised by low code web builders, which enable those without software engineering skills to self-serve in an increasing number of scenarios.

This vision is certainly enticing – after all, there is a dearth of developers and an increasing demand for creative digital experiences. Gartner thinks that by 2023, there will be four ‘citizen developers’ that use low code services for every professional software developer employed. But also bear in mind that expectations for low code have been ahead of reality for the past few years.

While we’ve turned the page from the era of static comps, or desktop GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) with an ‘export to web’ option, it’s still early days. There are increasingly robust consumer/prosumer low code solutions (think Wix or Webflow), but larger organizations with more complex needs still face many unsolved challenges. For example, how can you balance the need for consistency/standards in brand and accessibility vs. the freedom to be creative, or manage connections and integrations between web-based end-user interfaces and internal data stores?

Looking ahead, we will see a confluence between microservices architectures and component-based, or ‘atomic’, design – and there will be a focus on design systems, instead of ‘themes’.

The ability to securely and quickly route data from one place to another via a consistent service mesh will become a critical enabling capability. This architecture will allow a ‘drag and drop’ experience of very quickly building lightweight interactive experiences, but crucially that are guaranteed to be on-brand, meet operational standards, and be maintainable over time.

Caveats & conundrums

Holes will need patching.

Koenig: Low code one-off ‘snowflake’ apps will rapidly melt away, we need sustainability.

While you can build applications as a citizen developer, consumer-oriented low code platforms still have unanswered questions around governance and integration. For the foreseeable future, IT organisations will need to bridge those gaps either by building around these platforms, or using open-source tools to implement their own.

These applications will become more embedded in how teams work.

A low code approach that churns out one-off ‘snowflakes’ will rapidly prove unsustainable. They [the applications] will need to be maintained over time, evolving along with the rest of the business and connecting to other new and different applications.

Also, the technical side must rise to meet compliance and management requirements.

We are in the middle of a shift from individual services that operate in isolation to a joined up approach that will see low code web applications integrate into the wider business IT world. Technology leaders need to think ahead, and in terms of systems and platform, so they can empower their stakeholders but at the same time provide the right guardrails – so the same issues around updates, management and accessibility don’t keep on recurring.

Low code will continue gaining momentum, but best practices are still emerging.

What will make low code work for more people is clear playbooks, guidance, and systems for the kinds of support, maintenance and accessibility that are key to long-term success. While we have some of the tools that we need today, there is still more work to be done before low code web apps breakthrough to become go-to solutions or are considered ready for mission-critical use cases. But that day will almost certainly come.

 

 

 

 

 

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