Developing great apps takes time, but in the age of the customer that time is measured in days and weeks -- not months.
Customers simply aren't going to wait for their smartphones to grow outdated while the IT staff designs, hand-codes, tests and finally releases a new app. No wonder there is simmering tension between marketers who want to enhance revenue and the IT staffer who must cope with shrinking resources and rising demands.
Enter "low-code" app development, a process that Forrester says will "speed up development by allowing application development and delivery (AD&D) teams to eliminate barriers to customer participation in projects as well as [expediting] handoffs between phases of projects."
Busting Development Cycles
A report cowritten by principal analysts Clay Richardson and John Rymer noted that the short schedules for developing applications "often bust development life cycles," sending companies scrambling for a quicker alternative to traditional programming platforms.
"Low-code platforms are rising as an alternative for developing customer-facing apps," the report said. "Initially targeted at speeding all projects, these platforms are finding traction in the age of the customer's heightened priority for customer experience software."
"Hand-coding," it said, "is too slow to develop and deliver many of the applications that companies use to win, serve and retain customers."
That is because developing customer-facing applications pushes the limits of enterprise software development by presenting four key challenges:
Speedy: Software delivery has to keep up with the breakneck pace of the fast-changing world of consumers. As the authors put it, it must be "as nimbler as their customers' imaginations."
Intuitive: This means the software should be immediately useful with "no training required." Forrester gave Waze, Hipmunk and Fly Delta as examples of apps that meet this measure.
Transitional: Frequent updates to apps require continuous integration models that go beyond Agile, the report said. So coding frameworks like Spring Framework and .NET often aren't enough.
Engaging: The report noted that platforms that relay on faster development techniques such as visual development or user interface transcoding can speed delivery of the app.
Some companies address those challenges by outsourcing the work, turning to packaged applications or through specialized middleware. But Forrester notes none of those approaches solve the basic problem. Low-code platforms solve it by slashing the hand-coding needed for applications, providing a framework for testing and experimentation, addressing all customer channels and providing a single control point for configuration, delivery and maintenance.
There are three basic "neighborhoods" within the software industry where low-code platform vendors are practicing. In the area of business process and dyamic case management, for example, Forrester noted AgilePoint, Applian, Bizagi, Intalio, K2, MicroPact, Mobideo, Nintex, RedHat and Software AG.
"These vendors are not all the same," the report said. "K2 and Nintext both have strong .NET foundations and often supplement investments in Microsoft SharePoint with workflow functions. MicroPact's primary focus is case management. The others are business-process specialists that can support a broad array of process use cases."
The second neighborhood is general purpose and public cloud app platforms. This group includes Alpha Softare, Alphinat, Claysys Technologies, Mendix, OutSystems and Salesforce. The third, web content management, includes Acquia, Adobe and a "host of other" WCM specialists for customers who "value nimble, lightweight solutions compared with the enterprise WCM solutions."
Forrester maintains that a customer-centric philosophy will drive "a broader cultural shift not just in application development and deliver organizations" but throughout technology management. Forrester said all the 22 software companies it interviewed made that point.
In order to speed up development, Forrester said AD&D teams not only need to accept Agile's core concepts as "table stakes" but also adopt new test-and-learn methods, create funding models that allow uncertainty, track metrics that put engagement over automation, and define nimble architectural practices after initial wins.
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