How to Choose the Right Low-Code Platform

Part 1: A Strategy for Your Evaluation

Author: Susan Coleman, Content Marketing Manager, Appian

Choosing the right low-code platform comes down to matching the needs of your business to the capabilities and services provided by a platform vendor. If you’re new to low-code, you can start by educating yourself about low-code in general and then using that knowledge to determine how low-code could apply to your business.

If you’re already familiar with the many benefits low-code provides, choosing the right low-code platform requires research into two key areas: your own organization and the low-code vendor(s) you choose to work with. Arguably, the former is equally if not more important than the latter.

Step 1: Increase your self-knowledge.

Have you ever planned a project and, in your enthusiasm to get started, ran out and bought supplies, only to find you bought the wrong items—or that you already had most of what you needed in a closet or your garage? The waste of time and money can be frustrating. In this example, you can probably return the items for a refund, but that’s not an option if you buy and install enterprise technology and only later realize it doesn’t suit your needs.

A study conducted on companies in the United States and United Kingdom in 2016 found that $34 billion was spent per year on software licenses that were either underused or not used at all. To avoid falling into this trap, you need to look deeper within your own organization and determine what business issues can be addressed by a low-code platform. Ask yourself the following questions:

What types of applications will you build? Fully understanding where your needs and opportunities lie will help you evaluate vendor offerings and make sure you maintain focus on the capabilities and use cases most likely to benefit your business. But what are your needs—current and future? This can be a difficult question, especially for organizations with larger staffs, more complex processes, and a broad geographic reach. But being able to answer this question is crucial to choosing the right low-code platform. 

Some low-code platforms can help with this early discovery phase using process mining technologies. Process mining tools use the data within your existing processes to highlight opportunities for optimization, such as eliminating bottlenecks or duplicate steps, automating tasks that don’t require human intervention, and discovering other issues that keep your processes from running as smoothly as they should. Once you are aware of the issues, it will be much easier to build the kinds of applications that will help you overcome them.

What is the state of your current technology landscape? How will your new low-code platform interact with the technology you already have? If you don’t have a clear picture of your current landscape, this may be difficult to answer. Be sure you have a comprehensive view of your systems, data, integration needs, and usage requirements before speaking to vendors.

What people aspects do you need to consider? This includes IT resources who will be using the platform to build applications, users who will interact with the applications, and anyone else playing a role in your low-code project, such as data specialists, citizen developers, and designers. Be sure you have all the necessary stakeholders involved and up to speed on your low-code initiative’s objectives. This is the ideal time to discuss any governance and DevOps requirements you’ll want your low-code platform to fulfill.

Step 2: Vendor evaluation.

Once you’ve got a clear picture of your application needs and available resources, and you have an understanding of your current technology and data landscape, you can begin evaluating vendor offerings. The low-code market is growing at an incredible rate, and every vendor will bring some strengths to the table. You’ll find that vendor offerings run the gamut from simple workflow creation to enterprise-grade capabilities. Take the time to learn about the features you may encounter in vendors’ low-code platform offerings, including automation technologies, security, data accessibility, and mobile functionality. You can then focus your research on three main areas: customer and analyst reviews, the low-code platform itself, and vendor support and services offerings.

What do analysts and customers say about the vendor and its offerings? While analyst firms such as IDC, Gartner, and Forrester are well-known resources for charts that plot vendors on a vector, these rankings can sometimes be difficult to interpret. When using analyst reports to evaluate vendors, be sure to read the full description for each vendor carefully to better understand the nuances of each analyst’s rankings. This will help you determine whether the strengths and cautions listed for each vendor speak to your organization’s needs. For example, if you require more end-to-end process management and orchestration, be sure this is included among a vendor’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Perhaps a better way to evaluate vendors’ real-world capabilities is through customer use cases and reviews. Sites such as Gartner Peer Insights, TrustRadius, and G2 include first-hand commentary by actual users as to their experiences with various low-code products. Most vendor websites also include customer reference reports and videos highlighting the ways customers have successfully implemented low-code technologies to solve their business issues.

What’s the best way to evaluate the low-code platform itself? The proof is in the product, so the more access you can get to it the better. This could start with a product demo, but if you choose this route, be sure it’s a custom demo that’s tailored to your business’s needs. Initial conversations with each vendor you’ve shortlisted should lead to an even better understanding of how the technology can deliver value specific to your requirements. This should be the focus of your custom demo.

The more time you can arrange for your developers to interact with the product, the more informed your decision will be as to which vendor is right for you. Conduct a proof of concept, during which your developers will work with vendor resources (virtually or onsite) to stand up an application within a set amount of time. A proof of concept can be run simultaneously with multiple vendors, if you have the available resources. This kind of side-by-side comparison can provide insights you might not arrive at if you were to evaluate each vendor on a one-off basis.

And finally, take every opportunity possible to allow your developers and designers to work with the platform on their own time. This kind of nonstructured experience with the technology is invaluable. Vendors should offer a free trial or free basic version of the platform for your developers to get a better sense of what they’d be working with when building applications for your organization.

What level of support does the vendor offer, both during implementation and beyond? Vendors should not be judged solely on their platform’s capabilities. As low-code will be a new technology for many organizations, it’s important to partner with a vendor that will provide more than just a product. When researching the services offered by vendors, be sure they cover the following:

  • Advisory: Look for end-to-end support options, from blueprint to implementation and beyond. Your vendor should be able to advise you on a wide range of topics, such as how to make the most of the platform’s latest features. It should also provide troubleshooting support for your development team.
  • Implementation: Your vendor should be readily available to assist you throughout the implementation phase. You should have a dedicated delivery team for your project that will help you set the bar for performance and quality and establish programmatic standards and best practices.
  • Education: Look for a wide variety of education options—from personalized to on-demand, beginner to advanced. Offerings should include self-paced coursework, instructor-led classes, and hybrid learning, so you can be sure everyone on your team is given the option to learn in the way that’s most comfortable.
  • A choice of support options: The vendor should be able to provide the right level of support at the right price. Consider whether you’ll need support outside your regular business hours and how frequently you’ll require onsite audits, for example. The vendor’s tiered support plans should be structured so as to suit your needs without including expensive and unnecessary extras.
  • Community: An active community should be part of every vendor offering. It should engage your developers with discussion boards that are easy to search for specific topics. Look for a community that delivers curated content that’s current and insightful and features community experts who are frequent contributors of valuable information.

As with any major initiative, level-setting among all stakeholders is crucial to success. You will have a lot to learn from your low-code vendor, but be sure your vendor is also willing to learn about your organization and its needs. This balanced exchange of information is imperative to getting the most out of your low-code technology.

Posted: February 11, 2022

Susan Coleman

Content Marketing Manager, Appian

Susan Coleman has been working in the enterprise technology industry for over a decade. At Appian she writes on topics related to low-code, ranging from automation technologies to application development platforms, process mining, and more. Prior to her role at Appian, she developed product and strategy content at SAP.

Low-Code Guide

Low-Code development is the way to build apps more quickly by reducing the need to code.