Low-Code Versus No-Code – Do You Know the Difference?

If you’ve been considering moving away from traditional application development methods, you have probably come across low-code and low-code. The crux of the idea is that you can develop an app using visual tools without needing huge volumes of code. 

However, despite the fact that low-code and low-code sound pretty similar, they are actually significantly different. It’s vital that you know the differences and when to use each one, so you know what you’re getting into before you get too far with your next development project. 

Why Consider Low-Code and No-Code?

If you’re involved in developing a new software system or application or updating or migrating an older system, you will have found that there is more than one way to tackle the problem. Traditional development involves gathering requirements, developing a plan and working with a professional development team to write the custom code you need to build the solution. However, problems can occur with coding, infrastructure and testing and projects often run over budget and are significantly delayed. 

Low-code and low-code, on the other hand, allow users to skip the process of setting up the infrastructure and development environments to support their applications. This means there is less need for formal development processes, and users can use simple drag and drop tools to build their applications. 

What is Low-Code?

Low-code development is ultimately a way to design applications with minimum hand coding. It uses a graphical interface to enable developers to drag and drop visual blocks of existing code into a workflow. The method completely replaces the traditional method of hand-coding, enabling skilled developers to work smarter and faster without the need for repetitive coding. 

Low-code offers many benefits, including:

  • Speed – low-code enables you to build apps for multiple platforms simultaneously and deliver working examples in days instead of weeks or months. 

  • Resources – with low-code, you no longer have to depend entirely upon your development team. Specialised coding skills aren’t necessary, which means you can move forward with your development projects more quickly. 

  • Security – low-code comes with built-in security processes, data integration and cross-platform support, reducing the business risk of launching applications. 

What is No-Code?

No-code development solutions take low-code to the next level as they require no knowledge of programming languages. No-code was developed for citizen developers, the people within your organisation who are adept at solving problems with technology but aren’t professional developers by any stretch of the imagination. No-code solutions have everything built-in, allowing applications to be easily built to solve simple business problems or replace manual processes.

No-code platforms are ultimately software that writes software. They are usually designed to solve a specific business problem, and allow applications to be developed without writing a single line of code or the user having any programming experience whatsoever. They include the likes of drag and drop modules, selection boxes and spreadsheet imports. 

However, with the high-level of pre-written elements within low-code systems comes limitations. Applications built with low-code tools tend to be difficult to customise and have no unique functionality. This makes them difficult to modernise, adapt or integrate with other applications. 

The Difference Between Low-Code and No-Code

While the names are remarkably similar, there are actually lots of small capabilities that vary between low-code and low-code solutions. However, in spite of the difference, confusion arises because, at the UI level, the differences aren’t apparent. In fact, at a glance, both solutions look remarkably similar and allow organisations to:

  • Rapidly deploy new capabilities at a lower cost.

  • Develop software applications without the need to write code.

  • Use a visual development approach.

  • Help professional and non-professional developers alike.

  • Reduce the overheads of maintaining infrastructure and development environments.

However, that is where the similarities end, the basic principle of abstracting code to provide the benefits of visual modelling. No-code tools are great for solving basic functional-use cases, small applications for use by a single department. However, they aren’t designed to scale and have limited integration capabilities. So, the advantage of low-code, the ease and simplicity that is built-in, is actually the disadvantage too. No-code applications will usually have to be deployed to the cloud, can’t be integrated with legacy systems, and have no governance due to their stand-alone nature. 

Low-code platforms, on the other hand, are much more in-tune with the technology and governance of the wider enterprise. They provide scalable architectures, are more flexible with cloud and on-premises deployment and can incorporate custom connectors and APIs to integrate with other business systems. Ultimately, low-code platforms enable more sophisticated applications to be built and can, therefore, handle more uses cases. What’s more, the platforms incorporate new technologies like AI and machine learning, focus on customer experience with pre-built user interface templates and enable continuous deployment opportunities for modernising legacy systems. 

Should You Use Low-Code or No-Code?

There are several considerations when choosing the right platform for your project, including size, volume of users, deployment timeline, budget, technical capability, desired longevity and integration requirements. Low-code will allow you to develop sophisticated applications that run core business process, although they can also be used for simple stand-alone web apps. No-code, on the other hand, should only really be sued for front-end use cases. The likes of reporting, analytics and tracking apps are ideal for low-code, replacing simple business cases or manual processes that don’t require connections to third-party systems. Anyone who understands the need for the application should be able to build it without any technical knowledge. 

To decide which route to take, you need to consider more than the technology alone. It is about understanding how you’ll align the deliverables and what users actually want and need. By partnering skilled developers with key business experts, you should be able to use both tools to facilitate collaboration and rapidly speed up application development. More importantly, by collaborating between IT and the business, you remove the danger of shadow IT that low-code systems present and ensure every application is optimised for the relevant business outcome. 

In summary, the key things to remember about low-code and low-code are:

  • No-code solutions cater to the business user and require very little training. Anyone in your organisation is able to develop applications. However, they need to be used with caution to prevent the creation of unsanctioned shadow IT. 

  • No-code solutions are best for simple use cases like reporting apps to replace manual process. However, low-code solutions are limited as they have to be deployed to the cloud, don’t integrate with other business systems and aren’t scalable. 

  • Low-code platforms serve both business users and professional developers. Business users can create apps with guidance from IT, while professional developers can work more efficiently, spending time focusing on business logic and  hand-coding where needed to create custom connectors and integrations.

  • Low-code platforms can be used for every use case from simple  web applications to sophisticated enterprise-grade applications. 

If you need to deploy more apps more quickly, both low-code and low-code has something to offer your business. However, to gain a true competitive advantage, you need to ensure that you only use low-code for the simplest of applications that require little in the way of customisation and integration. Otherwise, it is low-code that will give your business the flexibility, control and speed it’s looking for. 

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About the author

Drew Alexander is the Co-CEO of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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