How to Choose the Right Low-Code Platform

Part 2: Technologies, capabilities, and expertise to meet your needs

Author: Susan Coleman, Content Marketing Manager, Appian

Low-code use has exploded in recent years, so you may be thinking about how low-code technology could bring business value to your organization. But before you delve into all the different technologies and capabilities available from low-code platform vendors, you need to do some preliminary work. In part one of this two-part guide to choosing the right low-code platform, we offer recommendations to help you gain an understanding of your organization’s needs, its current technology landscape, and your available resources. At this stage you’ll also want to consider your options for how you’ll want to engage with vendors—both before and after the sale. These are all important steps to take before educating yourself about RPA, AI, IDP, and all the other acronyms vendors will throw at you. This is especially important for ensuring that the platform you invest in will produce quantifiable benefits for your organization, your users, customers, constituents, and stakeholders of any kind.

But acquiring a baseline understanding of the technologies and capabilities before you engage with vendors is equally important. This will make it easier for you and the vendors to draw direct connections between your needs, the functionality the technologies deliver, and the value you’ll derive from your investment. It will help give you peace of mind that your time, money, and effort are going towards a real game-changer for your business.

So, what types of technologies, functionality, and capabilities should you look for in a low-code platform? It depends on your requirements, but you should work with a vendor that has the most comprehensive offering possible, as your needs are likely to change over time. Pay particular attention to vendors’ platform features and expertise in the following areas:

Security.

Low-code technologies are often positioned as having a lower barrier to entry, meaning even non-technical workers—who don’t necessarily have an IT worker’s depth of knowledge on subjects such as data security—can create their own applications. This kind of scenario could send up red flags for the people in your organization responsible for security, but it doesn’t have to. Enterprise-grade low-code platforms come with built-in security, which means the applications running on them inherit that same level of security. Even the individual components of a low-code application, which can be reused in any number of other apps, are governed by the same security features. High-quality platforms also give you centralized control over who can access the apps, the automations, and the data underneath. With the proper guardrails in place, low-code application development can actually be more secure than traditional app development.

But how deep does the vendor’s security go? Your in-house experts will be invaluable resources for evaluating this highly specialized area, but here are a few things you can ask vendors to get the conversation started:

  • What third-party auditors are used to validate that the controls and protections are working properly? How often are audits conducted? Can the vendor provide recent and exemplary ratings from third-party auditors
  • Does platform security align to NIST, PCI, and other leading security frameworks?
  • Does the vendor involve InfoSec as part of the design and development of the platform's capabilities and features?
  • Does the platform undergo continuous monitoring (24x7x365) for uptime, performance issues, response time, and security notifications? How does the vendor handle the reporting of security incidents, both from and to customers?
  • What kinds of vulnerabilities does the vendor regularly test for?

Data.

On the subject of data, low-code platforms offer benefits over traditional high-code methods of application development when it comes to availability, accessibility, governance, and compliance. A robust low-code platform should let you access and incorporate data from any source without expensive migrations or database programming. It should have pre-built connectors to leading enterprise systems that allow you to bring data into an application while leaving the data in place. When there’s no need to migrate data, it can then be used for any number of different purposes, such as case management, account onboarding, and supply chain orchestration, and in any number of different formats, such as workflows, forms, dashboards, or reports.

Along the same lines as the discussion around security, a robust low-code platform will provide role-based access control features. This helps you more easily manage security rights and the assignment of different levels of user access. The best low-code platforms should also provide capabilities such as defining and enforcing compliance policies in the environment, automating security policies, and encrypting data.

Integration.

In order to deliver on the promise of data availability and access, applications developed on a low-code platform need to integrate with all of your existing systems. This goes for legacy systems as well as more modern applications, cloud services, DevOps tools, and office productivity suites. And these connections have to be made as easily as possible with no-code connectors to systems of all kinds and from all vendors, such as Salesforce, SAP, and AWS. By linking new functionality to existing systems, high-quality low-code platforms provide the extensibility necessary to grow and evolve along with your business. A low-code platform vendor must deliver on these requirements as well as offer the flexibility to provision and deploy apps both on premises and to the cloud of your choice.

Automation.

Perhaps the most talked-about aspect of low-code is automation. Automation goes beyond the simple application of bots to carry out rote tasks. A low-code platform vendor should have a comprehensive offering of a variety of automation and business process management tools. But just as important as the technology itself, a vendor must prove its expertise in helping you to orchestrate these capabilities so as to achieve the best outcomes. Using a technology for a job it’s not well suited to will not only minimize the success of your low-code initiative, but it could also create more work for your developers in the long run. So, take the time to familiarize yourself with the following technologies and the ways they should be used:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA): RPA bots can be used to automate repeatable, rule-based tasks that don’t require human intervention. They can also help you connect to older systems where no APIs are available. They are not well-suited to long-running processes or any processes that are liable to change often. Most low-code platform vendors will provide some RPA functionality, but make sure this functionality is part of a larger offering. RPA alone may deliver some small gains, but for real business benefit, it’s best when used as part of a larger automation initiative encompassing the other tools and technologies discussed here.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): AI can make simple cognitive decisions, suggest next steps, and ensure that business rules and logic are followed. As part of a low-code platform, AI can deliver functionality that augments your other tools, such as helping bots determine the next, best action, improving image and text recognition in document processing, or providing recommendations and sentiment analysis in real time within a case management workflow. To achieve the most effective technology orchestration, be sure the vendor offers AI capabilities that are built into the low-code platform, rather than supplied by external vendors.
  • Intelligent document processing (IDP): IDP is a prime example of an automation technology that delivers much improved outcomes when coupled with other automation tools. The basic IDP technology extracts data from documents so you can use that data in other systems, for example, pulling a vendor ID number, invoice number, and invoice amount from a digital document and populating a payables system with this data. When done correctly, this can save your organization a tremendous amount of time and money. But, to do it correctly, you need AI within the IDP tool to learn and make adjustments, otherwise any changes or anomalies within the documents being processed will require human intervention. As part of a high-quality low-code platform, IDP can connect seamlessly to business processes and workflow capabilities, and can interface with RPA bots to carry on downstream processing.
  • Business rules and case management: Enterprise-grade low-code platforms should include a no-code way of managing complex business logic while also offering the means of dealing with exceptions. To ensure you’re working with a vendor that delivers the capabilities you need, ask questions such as:
    • Does the platform include built-in design guidance when it comes to creating error-free business logic? Examples of this include real-time validation, integrated testing, and automated overlapping and incomplete logic checks.
    • Can business rules be reused and made accessible across any application built on the platform?
    • Does the platform offer a way for business users and application designers to collaborate and create complex decision logic together?
    • What type of capabilities are available for testing and getting immediate feedback as you define your business rules? What types of alerts and recommendations does the platform provide as guidance?
    • Do case management capabilities extend to both structured and ad hoc types of exceptions?
    • Again here, how does the technology work together with RPA and IDP?

Discovery.

This can be a valuable differentiator to look out for when evaluating low-code platforms. As outlined above, the desire to automate aspects of your organization’s business processes may be a big part of the reason you’re investigating low-code options in the first place. But without an effective means of discovering where the various automation technologies will deliver the greatest impact, you could be relying too much on random chance to drive your automation efforts.

It's therefore important to explore where in your process you're most likely to see significant value from automation. You need to identify, define, and document your process, which is where a process mining tool comes in. It uses data that resides within your processes to create a visual representation of where you’re experiencing bottlenecks, delays, duplicate effort, and any other events that are slowing progress. This is incredibly valuable, not only at the beginning of an automation initiative, but at any point during the lifecycle of your applications when you want to know whether there is opportunity for optimization. And when process mining is natively built within the low-code platform, you can translate insight to action much easier than if you were working with an external tool.

User and developer experience.

Though the conversation here focuses largely on the features, functionality, and capabilities delivered by the technology, it’s just as important that the vendor demonstrate expertise when it comes to the relationship between the technology and the humans interacting with it—namely the developers building applications on the platform and the users who engage with the applications as part of their role in the business. 

The best low-code platforms supply the means for improved collaboration between developers and their business stakeholders through the use of a visual designer that allows for rapid prototyping. This helps business users to be involved early and often in the application development process, providing feedback that developers can then integrate into the next iteration. Ask vendors how much of the experience, logic, and integration can be built with the visual designer, and how much additional, custom code is needed. The platform should also provide the choice of both pre-built components and templates and custom branding capabilities.

Mobile.

From a development standpoint, you should expect the low-code platform to have cross-platform functionality standard in its design, tuned to the specific capabilities and usage patterns of iOS and Android devices. No separate development, maintenance, or upgrades should be required to deploy your applications on mobile. This will save front-end development time as well as maintenance effort, as any changes to your applications will automatically be reflected in every mobile experience. From a user perspective, you’ll want your mobile apps’ offline experience to be the same as the online experience. This is especially valuable if your business requires users to work away from their desks in areas with poor cellular connectivity.

Technology orchestration with a low-code platform.

This may seem like a lot of moving parts to manage, but that is the exact capability that a high-quality low-code platform brings to the table. It makes the orchestration of all the different priorities and technologies within your low-code initiative easier. Whether you’re determining which automation technology to apply to which use case or how to balance human and machine involvement in your processes, or if you’re looking for a way to improve collaboration between your developers and business stakeholders for better outcomes, a highly qualified low-code platform vendor can be the ideal partner for success.

Learn all there is to know about choosing the right low-code platform with the Appian Low-Code Buyer’s Guide.

Date: April 4, 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.