February 3, 2020 Last updated March 6th, 2020 606 Reads share

Going Digital on a Budget with Low-Code

Image Credit: DepositPhotos

Competition between businesses has never been so intense. To remain relevant, companies continue to leverage technology to deliver on customer demands. Two proven digital strategies involve adding applications with the features your customers need and streamlining workflows. But that puts small and mid-sized businesses at a disadvantage. 

Major corporations have massive budgets and IT departments to build complex applications from the ground up. With access to these resources, they have a clear competitive advantage. So, how does a small business compete with larger companies without burning through their budget on software development? The solution rests in low-code. 

What Is Low-Code? 

Many large organizations find themselves entrenched in legacy systems that have high purchase tags and require constant, expensive maintenance. Smaller, more agile systems (cloud-based infrastructure, for instance) can serve as a cost-effective alternative. Still, with any change, there’s always the fear that a company will waste money and still end up joining those who’ve failed to achieve their digitization goals

Meanwhile, small businesses need to enter the market at a level similar to large organizations if they want to remain competitive and relevant. They need approachable solutions that can streamline and scale. But they don’t have access to the massive budgets enterprise organizations have. 

Low-code presents a viable, scalable solution that can allow them to automate and integrate their businesses on a budget. 

Defined by Forrester, low-code systems are “platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”

In other words, low-code is an assembly line for software creation. It serves as a simple solution in an era plagued with IT skill shortages and increasingly high price tags for application builds. Low code platforms use digital interfaces and provide prefabricated code that makes it easier for both programmers and citizen developers to build applications and integrations. 

Because low-code is, by definition, low in code, it reduces the cost of producing digital solutions for businesses. Instead of having to onboard new team members, train them in how your business works, and then hope they can quickly build the applications you need, you only need to train your current staff on the interface. 

How Low-Code Can Work for Small Business

A growing business faces many problems, but perhaps one of the most challenging rests in designing processes that keep up with your growing organization. When you start a company, you don’t need a lot of applications. But as your organization grows, the processes you relied on before not only slow you down, they become a liability

Take procurement, for instance. When your company is smaller, it’s easier to process invoices as you see fit, but as it grows, you’ll find that you have an increasing number of purchases. And this can lead to issues. Data entry errors, increased processing times, bottlenecks for approvals, and duplicate invoices are just a few costly problems that haunt the Accounts Payable departments of growing businesses. 

As a result, you may want to automate processes. But if your current IT department has a backlog of work, it may not be feasible. And if you’re a smaller company, you may try to outsource that process, only to quickly find that you generally get a mixed bag. It can be a time-consuming, cost-intensive process that results in lack-luster applications that fall short of expectations. 

The easier and cheaper method would be to use a low-code provider to build the applications you need and then connect them to existing workflows. You won’t have to staff an IT department, nor will you have to wait for months to have your applications built. Instead, your team can create the exact applications they need for their departments. 

The Economic Advantage of Low-Code

Traditional digitalization can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It has a high initial cost, but also high returns over time. Mistakes can be costly, but many companies see the returns as worth the risk.

What happens, for instance, if there are budget cuts in the middle of a digitization initiative? Many companies are currently considering this as a potential possibility. As a result, there has been a noticeable decrease in tech spending between June and September this year, according to a recent Barron report

Companies are increasingly hesitant to start major digital endeavors that may balloon in cost should their bottom lines start to shrink. 

Low-code provides an economical solution for companies looking to keep costs low. Cutting out the IT department results in cost-effective, faster application builds. You don’t burn through your budget to automate and integrate your business. And because optimized workflows reduce costs and increase efficiencies, you’ll have more resources for expansion. 

Empower Your Workforce with Low-Code

Employee adoption is also a barrier to overcome when digitizing any business. New systems require employee advocates willing to champion the change. This can be hard with top-down digitization incentives. Systems designed by an outsider will inevitably miss the mark in some way.

And if the system isn’t user-friendly enough or if it’s actually worse than the previous systems, employees won’t take advantage of it. 

Inadequate applications combined with the pressure of high-performance and pending deadlines can push employees to revert to previous systems or even promote instances of shadow IT. When that happens, you’re opening up your business to inefficiencies, errors, and possible security breaches. 

Alternatively, low-code relies on your department-specific employees to create the applications they need. This empowers them to figure out how they can most efficiently carry out their tasks. The applications they need will be based on the problems they regularly face. As a result, they’ll be more deeply invested in their use. 

Plus, you could reduce shadow IT because your staff won’t need to circumvent IT policies to carry out their jobs efficiently.

Downsides to Low-Code

Low-code is not without its issues. Understanding its limitations and how to maneuver around them can help you decide where and how you implement low-code into your business.

  • Risk of vendor lock-in: Apps designed for one platform don’t usually migrate to others. 
  • Security concerns: Low-code providers work within a cloud-based environment. Anytime your business relies on a cloud provider, you have to trust that they will maintain a secure environment. 
  • Some technical skills required: Low-code doesn’t mean “no-code”. While any member of your staff can create applications, they will need some technical skills/training.
  • Some decreased efficiency: Low-code apps are quick, easy, and cost-efficient to build, but they lack the efficiency of apps made from scratch and tailored to a business. 
  • Limited customization: While you can design the application you need, you won’t have the level of customization you’d get from a custom application. 

In short, low-code is a quick and simple way to bridge gaps, increase transparency, and improve efficiency. But as it has limitations. Knowing what those limitations are, allows you to use low-code strategically, optimizing your business within a budget.

How Can Your Organization Implement Low-Code? 

As with any best practices in digitization, your company needs a clear strategy before it beings implementing low-code initiatives. Carrying out an effective digital transformation, after all, is about revolutionizing your business. Without a clear strategy, you may add some new tools to your organization, but it most likely won’t have the impact you desire. 

Map Out Your Digitization Strategy

You’ll want to begin with workflow process mapping. This is the easiest way to find any gaps, bottlenecks, and redundancies. Then, you’ll need to create a roadmap that plots out a strategy for how you go about implementing low-code solutions. Once you have a clear view of your business and its critical weak points, you can prioritize improvements.

It is absolutely vital to map out your digital strategy. Without a clear strategy, you risk wasting your resources focusing on minor problems while missing major opportunities to streamline inefficiencies.

Finding a Low-Code Provider

Once you figure out your strategy, you’ll need to find a low-code provider. The market is competitive with several providers offering various features tailored to your industry. And with a low-code strategy in place, you can quickly figure out which platform will work best for you.

  • Appian
  • Google App Maker
  • Mendix
  • Microsoft PowerApps
  • Nintex Workflow Cloud
  • OutSystems
  • Quick Base
  • Salesforce App Cloud
  • TrackVia
  • Zoho Creator

After choosing a provider, you’ll need to familiarize yourself and your staff with the coding knowledge needed to create the applications. Generally, there are two types of low-code services, one made for businesses and one for developers. You’ll only need minor training for the business side of low-code while the developer side will require more knowledge.

Remember: Low-code is not no-code. Low-code requires some general coding knowledge while no-code is mainly visual (with the coding hidden behind those elements). Still, you won’t need a full background in code to use a low-code platform.

Low-Code Consultants

Consultants provide an easier way to get the low-code solutions you need for your business. Usually, they’re experts on certain platforms with integration and application specialists on staff. 

These teams sit down with businesses and figure out what type of low-code solutions they need, then create them using services from certain platforms. They’ll also work with employees to support change management. 

The downside to low-code consultants is that there are additional costs for consultations along with the difficulty of finding one that adds value on top of the original services provided by the low-code platform. However, the right vendor can reduce the time and cost to launch your low-code solutions while helping you design an implementation strategy that will yield the highest ROI for your organization.

Stay Prepared with Low-Code

You don’t need an economic downturn to benefit from low-code. Every organization can remain competitive with streamlined workflows that increase transparency and efficiency while reducing errors and waste. The additional resources low-code provides will give your employees the opportunities they need to innovate. And in a market where competition is fierce, you need every advantage you can get, regardless of the market trends. 

computer coding – DepositPhotos

Kevin Shuler

Kevin Shuler

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