Developing great apps takes time, but in the age of the customer that time ismeasured in days and weeks -- not months.

Customerssimply aren't going to wait for their smartphones to grow outdated while theIT staff designs, hand-codes, tests and finally releases a new app. No wonderthere is simmering tensionbetween marketers who want to enhance revenue and the IT staffer who must cope withshrinking resources and rising demands.

Enter "low-code" app development, a process that Forrestersays will "speed up development by allowing application development anddelivery (AD&D) teams to eliminate barriers to customer participation inprojects as well as [expediting] handoffs between phases of projects."

Busting Development Cycles

A report cowritten by principal analysts ClayRichardson and JohnRymer noted that the short schedules for developing applications "oftenbust development life cycles," sending companies scrambling for a quickeralternative to traditional programming platforms.

"Low-code platforms are rising as an alternative for developingcustomer-facing apps," the report said. "Initially targeted atspeeding all projects, these platforms are finding traction in the age of thecustomer's heightened priority for customer experience software."

"Hand-coding," it said, "is too slow to develop and delivermany of the applications that companies use to win, serve and retaincustomers."

That is because developing customer-facing applications pushes the limits ofenterprise software development by presenting four key challenges:

Speedy: Software delivery has to keep up with the breakneck pace ofthe fast-changing world of consumers. As the authors put it, it must be "asnimbler as their customers' imaginations."

Intuitive: This means the software should be immediately useful with"no  training required."  Forrester gave Waze, Hipmunk andFly Delta as examples of apps that meet this measure.

Transitional: Frequent updates to apps require continuous integrationmodels that go beyond Agile, the report said. So coding frameworks like SpringFramework and .NET often aren't enough.

Engaging: The report noted that platforms that relay on fasterdevelopment techniques such as visual development or user interface transcodingcan speed delivery of the app.

Learning Opportunities

Less Hand-Coding

Some companies address those challenges by outsourcing the work, turning topackaged applications or through specialized middleware. But Forrester notesnone of those approaches solve the basic problem. Low-code platforms solve it byslashing the hand-coding needed for applications, providing a framework fortesting and experimentation,  addressing all customer channels andproviding a single control point for configuration, delivery and maintenance.

There are three basic "neighborhoods" within the software industrywhere low-code platform vendors are practicing. In the area of business processand 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 andNintext both have strong .NET  foundations and often supplement investmentsin Microsoft SharePoint with workflow functions. MicroPact's primary focus iscase management. The others are business-process specialists that can support abroad array of process use cases."

Customer Focus

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 WCMsolutions."

Forrester maintains that a customer-centric philosophy will drive "abroader cultural shift not just in application development and deliverorganizations" but throughout technology management. Forrester said all the22 software companies it interviewed made that point.

In order to speed up development, Forrester  said AD&D teams notonly need to accept Agile's core concepts as "table stakes" but alsoadopt new test-and-learn methods, create funding models that allow uncertainty,track metrics that put engagement over automation, and define nimblearchitectural practices after initial wins.

Title Image by Oksana2010 / Shutterstock.