The low-no-code series - Unit4: 3 reasons low-code is over-hyped

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 Claus Jepsen in his position as CTO, Unit4a company known for its ERP software suite and solutions.

Jepsen writes as follows…

I have worked in the IT industry for many years and sometimes it’s hard not to become a little weary of the hype around the latest trends. Low-code/no-code is one of those trends where hype can distract from a proper understanding of the true value of this approach to application development.

Firstly, we have been here before with different initiatives to make application development easier – I can remember the Microsoft Oslo project from 2007. There may well one day be a world where minimal, if no coding is required but frankly if you have to generate any layer of business logic you need to code.

Secondly, I would be surprised if many corporates with sensitive company information would allow its employees unfettered access to such tools. There is no way we would do that at Unit4. The vast majority of low-code tools are cloud-based services that are run by multiple different vendors, so if that doesn’t set off alarm bells for your Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) I would be very surprised.

Thirdly, what a lot of these tools appear to be offering is a UI layer on top of your existing applications, which does not give you access to the core data in these systems. Not only does that mean you need people with coding knowledge to maintain these key systems — if you want the low-code UI to interoperate with your core data, you need to know how to do business logic.

Why low-code is important

Now that I’ve aired those concerns, I will say there is value in low-code.

At Unit4, we have spent the last few years building a microservices architecture to underpin our ERP platform, because we understand the agility it can give our customers who want to respond quickly to their customers and market opportunities. However, they are our tools and we offer an Extension Kit that complies with certain standards and policies so that any new functionality added to our core environment will interoperate effectively without disruption. So I definitely understand the value low-code can offer.

There is one very real, practical driver for the adoption of low-code and that is the huge shortage of skilled IT workers. Logically, if low-code models enable you to automate elements of application development saving time and resources there is a clear cost-benefit argument for it. That said, I don’t see low-code meeting a specific technical demand or delivering technical benefits, rather it is solving a very real human problem.

Be disciplined

If you want to make low-code work, you have to follow the same best practice that is expected of any form of application development. It requires adherence to a disciplined process and good governance. That means being strict about how the tools interact with your existing environment. Yes, they need access to backend data systems, but they should not have unfettered access for obvious security reasons.

If you’re worried about low-code encouraging application sprawl, you must be disciplined about who can create an instance and have the right access/level controls. Applications should be built and managed properly using specific standards and should follow a process for approval and quality control.

From a governance perspective, you must also ensure your low-code developers are not spinning up instances that lead to data being stored locally – aside from adding to storage costs it could cause issues around data protection depending on the market in question.

A kingdom far, far away

Unit4 CTO Jepsen: Once upon a time, mission-critical software systems were built with zero coding skills.

As a Dane, I’m well-versed in fairy tales. I would not say no code development is one, but anyone telling you about the potential of such approaches could just as easily be describing a kingdom far, far away.

In my opinion, why stories such as Hansel and Gretel worked so well is that they were also pretty scary. Now I’m not suggesting anyone adopting a low-code/no-code strategy should be afraid but you need to go into it with your eyes wide open.

Ultimately, don’t believe the hype – low-code is like any other coding.

You will still need a knowledge of coding if you are going to implement it properly and it will require discipline and good governance if it is to be properly implemented. Your IT teams and those chosen from the business to implement such application development models will need to be trained so they understand what is expected of them and the code they implement. It will not be a panacea to all your application development needs, but it might just help solve the very real problem of skills shortages.

All about Claus

Claus Jepsen is a technology expert who has been fascinated by the micro-computer revolution ever since he received a Tandy TRS model 1 at the age of 14. Since then, Claus has spent the last few decades developing and architecting software solutions, most recently at Unit4, where he is the chief architect leading the ERP vendor’s focus on enabling the post-modern enterprise. At Unit4, Claus is building cloud-based, super-scalable solutions and bringing innovative technologies such as AI, chatbots, and predictive analytics to ERP. Claus is a strong believer that having access to vast amounts of data allows us to construct better, non-invasive and pervasive solutions to improve our experiences, relieve us from tedious chores and allow us focus on what we as individuals really love doing.

Unit4 is on Twitter @Unit4global.



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