How to Pick a Low-Code Platform

Andrew Monteith - 23/01/2020

There is a perception among some developers that using a low-code platform will inherently reduce the quality of a product. Some believe that low code just lets you pump out half- baked products quickly.

Maybe people will tell you that you can't build complicated software on a low-code platform. Those developers may have been using the wrong platform. Hopefully I can help guide some dev's away from that. There are plenty of low-code platforms around, and most will promise outlandish productivity improvements. But not all of them give you everything you need to actually succeed. Below I offer some ways to help evaulate if a platform can really deliver what they promise, from a developer’s perspective.

Does the platform support multiple environments?

I've never met a developer who doesn't produce bugs and you don't want your end-users to catch them for you. Multiple environments enable a more complete and controlled QA process, which far fewer bugs slipping through to users.

Does the platform have version control? What does it look like?

You need to be able to roll back changes sometimes, how hard is that going to be? How hard will it be for multiple developers to work on the platform at once? Is that even possible? How does the platform handle conflicts? The answer to this question will determine how well teams can work together, and have an influence on velocity.

How do deployments work?

If a platform requires you to copy and paste files around manually to deploy it, that platform will not be stable. If a developer needs to follow a manual process to release changes, there will inevitably be mistakes, likely resulting in production downtime. More automation in this space is almost always a good thing. Good platforms in this space allow you to do it in a few clicks. The bad one's will require you copy and paste files around like it's 1998.

How does the platform encapsulate complexity and allow re-use of logic?

This is where a lot of low-code platforms fall down. Software gets complicated. The more functionality it has, the more complicated it gets. If you can't organise, re-use and encapsulate that complexity then you can't build high quality, reliable and maintainable systems

How good is the training and documentation?

Documentation should cover more than just how to use the platform, it should also guide you towards best practice. It should include practical examples and provide in depth walkthoughs. Some platforms will have forums and support available as well.

How hard is it to integrate with?

No low-code platform can do everything. You will need to integrate with external systems. You are going to need some funtionality from a code library at some point. How hard is it to do this? How much time will it take? What languages does it support? Is your development team familiar with these languages?

How much maintenance does the platform require?

Does the platform require patching? How much technical skill and time is required to do that? Who is responsible for patching? Will the vendor do it or do we need to train up and do it ourselves? Do we need to upgrade the platform periodically? How much effort or cost does that upgrade typically involve? Good platforms in this space will offer to handle all of the patching and maintainence for you. Other platforms will see you do it all yourself with little support available.

These tips should help you form a basic framework to evaluate if low-code could work for organisation. As always, there's much to consider depending on your individual situation so if you'd like help planning your next project please get in touch.

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