What exactly is a Low-code platform?

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Nigel Warren

Welcome to Low-code Corner, a new monthly feature in which we’ll examine this new and upcoming category of BPM software. The kinds of question we’ll be answering in a series of articles and interviews include:

Where, when and why should you consider using a low-code platform?

How are they different to more traditional BPM tools?

What’s the difference from a methodology standpoint?

Who’s using them and what can we learn from their success?

But we start this series by defining the term:

What exactly is a Low-code development platform?

That’s the question I asked Clay Richardson, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research when I met him at Forrester’s Forum for Technology Leaders in June 2015. As many readers will know, Clay is a long-term BPM professional who has worked in BPM industry for many years and has headed-up much of Forrester’s BPM research since 2008, which now includes research of the Low-code development market.
Here’s what Clay said:
"Low-code platforms help accelerate application development and focus on fast ramp so people can get up to speed really quickly. It’s really about building engaging apps. So usually we see Low-code solutions being used to speed up the time it takes to get a new app developed and also allows you to use developers that may not have the professional development background or formal training in development."
I asked Clay to go into a little more detail about the characteristics you’d expect to find in a low-code platform.
"A big part of reducing the amount of code that’s necessary to build an app, is drag and drop features. So teams can actually create a new app by just dragging fields onto a page and at the same time building the application’s logic without having to code, just through visual configuration as opposed to coding."
So far this may not sound entirely new, as BPM tools have offered a very visual way of building applications for several years. So I asked Clay to draw a comparison between BPM tools and Low-code platforms.
"BPM has been doing this visual thing for a very long time. What’s different now with Low-code is it’s about fast-ramp. It’s the ability to train up very quickly.

I was just speaking with an insurance company yesterday, where they’re using a low-code development platform, and what’s impressive is they’re using the platform primarily because they can reduce the amount of time to train people. So instead of having to involve Java developers, or .Net developers where it takes a long time, they’re saying, ‘We can get this done in a couple of days, train people and have them productive in a matter of a week as opposed to 9 to 12 months’; which you’ll see with traditional BPM platforms or traditional development environments."
Clearly this concept of "fast-ramp" is a key characteristic of a low-code development platform, so I asked Clay to go into a little more detail about the issue of speed of deployment.
"Teams not only want to speed up in terms of reducing the amount of code, they want to speed up setting up the environment and getting started with building a solution immediately and so the Cloud helps accelerate that by reducing the barrier to entry and allowing faster configuration, faster introduction of changes without being dependent on internal infrastructure or hardware."


The Key Takeaways RE: Low-code platforms...

They enable faster development via graphical configuration instead of programming.

They lower the learning curve and reduce the IT burden for set-up and solution development.


By way of an analogy – If you wanted to create a new website or blog – the low-code alternative to programming in HTML is a service such as WordPress. It’s Cloud based, quick to start and dramatically reduces the learning curve via preconfigured themes and widgets. Chances are your company uses just such a solution for your corporate website. So why not seek the same kind of benefits when building business apps?

So the obvious question is why is this something process excellence teams should take a keen interest in?

The answer to this lies in shifting business priorities in what Forrester call "The Age of the Customer". To cut a long story short, in today’s economy businesses need to be customer obsessed to survive or gain competitive advantage.
The consequence for process excellence professionals is that today you're more focused on improving the processes by which your company wins, serves and retains customers. By implication - you need to find faster, more agile and even experimental ways to improve customer-facing-processes. Entrepreneurship and lean start-up techniques (often called "test and learn") are now center stage in the business process lexicon.
Agree? Disagree? Have your say.
Watch the full interview with Clay Richardson by clicking the image below:
Next month in Low-code Corner:
"Test and learn – When and how should you apply a more experimental approach to process improvement?"