How Low-Code Apps Need to Evolve to Meet Their Potential in the Enterprise
April 27, 2021

Jason Beres
Infragistics

Low code tools on the market focus on going from idea to app, by skipping the designer and much of the developer. That's a good way to get a concept out of your head and come up with a prototype, but to create a mission-critical business app with a good user experience, low-code apps on their own won't cut it.

The greater promise of low-code apps — and why companies are so eager to put them to work — is because they have the potential to get companies beyond a major inflection point: there's more demand for developers than there are developers; developers' backlogs are already extensive, and for companies to digitally transform and keep up in the market, they need to move fast.

Currently, low-code tools are the domain of citizen developers, but they have the potential to help enterprises scale fast without necessarily scaling their development teams, and build meaningful lines of business apps that deal with mission critical data. In order to do so, these low-code apps need to be part of a larger design system, and not simply a code generator.

Here are three ways we see low-code tools evolving to meet their potential in the enterprise:

1. The product innovation process doesn't change just because the coding process does

Low-code tools have the ability to eliminate product innovation processes. They're typically template-driven or rules-based, and empower one person to come up with an app. According to a report by Gartner, low-code should be used predominantly on projects that are architecturally simple, with projected life spans up to 5 years and are not deemed mission critical or transactional. For instance, an app that would be considered "simple" would be one that lets a salesperson collect leads at a tradeshow, with a few screens and a field.

For low-code tools to take on larger projects — beyond a few screens or a single use app — they need to follow the same philosophy as any app dev project in the enterprise. This means all the agile design and development processes that were in place before, should remain the same.

One of the biggest obstacles low-code apps face in the enterprise is that they don't address one of the primary sources of demand on developers: the user interface (UI). An enterprise application's UI can account for up to 60 percent of a developer's time. For a low-code tool to reduce this time spent constructing the UI by 20-30 percent and truly accelerate product delivery, it must address the entire product innovation process, beginning with the UX designer, aiding usability testing, and continuing beyond the handoff to the developer.

Low-code tools are only impacting the code writing process and, to be successful in the enterprise, they can't be a replacement for human iterative design tasks, stakeholder feedback loops, and innovation processes.

2. UX is the differentiator of a product — and will continue to be — even with a new tool

The design of an application is what will keep customers using it — or what pushes them off — so the need for UX designers can't be eliminated just because coding is being aided by an app. In fact, it's more crucial than ever in the enterprise, because these enterprise applications need to be adopted. Enterprises are seeing customers moving off their apps, to work with newer ones because they have a better user experience. At the end of the day, the user doesn't know how the application was built (via low-code tools, or not), they just know how their experience is with the tool.

We're seeing that development teams are so focused on perfecting the code, that the user experience falls wayside. Many software delays come from handoff issues because the development teams are focused on the wrong thing. The number one priority for teams should be how the user is successful — which all comes down to UX.

Low-code tools have committed their product to target the citizen developer, but many of them have never even considered the UX experience. For low-code tools to be a part of these bigger enterprise projects, they need to be adopted by digital product teams as well. Without that wider approval, enterprises won't have the focus on UX that is critical for user acceptance.

3. Low-code needs to be part of a larger design system

For low-code tools to meet their potential to create mission-critical enterprise apps, they must be a part of a larger design system. The digital product design platform is a concept that was introduced by Gartner, for organizations to adopt to deliver the best user experiences. These platforms are where user experiences are defined, designed and built — with a tool defined for everything from screen design to code generation. This introduces flexibility in how each stakeholder in the product delivery lifecycle achieves their desired outcomes, but in a single tool. Collaboration is seamless inside the team and with external stakeholders. It's easy to manage the single source of truth from the initial design in a tool that everyone on the team uses, including user tests, analytics and reporting from user testing, interactive prototypes, and actual code to build the application.

In this bigger design to code system, code needs to be high quality and clean to be usable by a development team. Low code has a place in these tools or platforms, but it needs to be backed by UI components. This offers the ability to implement user flows, user testing, code generation — all backed by UI components — making the handoff to the development team seamless. Anything that is designed and tested and can be achieved in real code in real time.

Low code tools should augment current design and development processes. They are not a replacement for people and they are not meant to introduce a new complex process in the existing system. In order for low-code apps to evolve to meet their potential in the enterprise, they need to be considered as one part of a bigger design to code system. Only then can they build business apps that deal with mission critical data.

Jason Beres is SVP of Developer Tools at Infragistics, and creator of Indigo.Design
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