Skip to main content
Exploring what’s next in tech – Insights, information, and ideas for today’s IT leaders

How low-code/no-code platforms may reinvent DevOps

Low-code/no-code platforms have become the sweethearts of rapid application development. Can RAD intersect with DevOps frameworks and survive?

DevOps is quickly becoming the de facto methodology for quickly delivering applications in the enterprise. While DevOps may owe that success to a number of things, the foundation of that success lies with the cultural shift in how applications are developed and delivered, a shift that is embodied by the principles of CALMS (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, Sharing). Yet, for all the frameworks involved, DevOps still relies on the generation of code that can feed a continuous integration (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and continuous testing (CT) pipeline to bring agility to applications.

Low-code and no-code development platforms leverage a host of premade tools that significantly reduce the burden of building an application. The platforms offer a visual approach to building an application and use a graphical user interface (GUI) to ease development. No-code development goes one step further and offers drag-and-drop simplicity to define and build an application. Both a shortage in DevOps talent and the desire to quickly build applications has made the alternative approach of low-code/no-code development of great interest to many organizations, as well as SaaS providers.

For all its promises, DevOps seems to fall short in one critical area: the ability to automate and speed the creation of code. DevOps has fueled a cultural and organizational shift, which in turn has empowered enterprise software teams to deliver better software quicker. However, DevOps practitioners still favor hand-coding applications and rely on automation tools only for testing and deployment. The low-code/no-code movement directly addresses these issues.

 

Address the hand-coding bottleneck

Simply put, the low-code/no-code platforms that have long populated the fringes of the application development market are a somewhat alien concept to those who code by hand for a living. "DevOps has mainly been focused on a hand-coding mentality," says Jason Bloomberg, founder and president of industry analyst firm Intellyx. "It's increasingly difficult to do DevOps without low-code because the hand-coding is the bottleneck."

In most cases, low-code/no-code platforms have been used in smaller organizations with few development resources. Low-code/no-code tools fit well in those environments, where someone who is often not a full-time programmer can quickly create a custom application to address a particular need. In fact, low-code/no-code tools embrace the concept of waterfall development, where the needs are planned and the application is created to meet those needs and then delivered. Unlike CI/CD, low-code/no-code platforms build applications that are finalized and then delivered, with no solid plans for continuous improvement or enhancement.

Advantages of low-code/no-code platforms></p> <p>What's more, the majority of low-code/no-code platforms are meant to stand alone; the tools needed to create and deliver applications, access data, test, prototype, and edit are usually fully integrated into the platform. That leaves little room for those platforms to integrate with DevOps workflows or processes.</p> <p>However, low-code/no-code platforms are rapidly evolving and adding new features aimed at those organizations that want to embrace DevOps or, at the very least, institute CI and CD. Today's low-code/no-code tools come with extensive libraries that incorporate support for the latest innovations, such as blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and hybrid cloud environments. Additional components are often supplied directly by the vendor, third parties, or the community of users.</p> <h2>Make low-code/no-code part of the process</h2> <p>The question still remains: Can low-code/no-code platforms become part of the DevOps process? It is a question whose answer borders on the status of Schrödinger's cat—in other words, the answer is both yes and no, at least until you try it.</p> <p>"The use of low-code platforms makes a lot of sense when attempting to solve basic problems for end users, especially when the IT department is busy with other concerns. A low-code platform may prove ideal for throwing together a quick application for tracking a department's laptops or converting a spreadsheet into something more like an application," says Thomas Stiehm, CTO of Coveros, an agile and DevOps consultancy. "However, building large-scale, enterprise-class applications still requires highly skilled programmers who are comfortable with coding by hand."</p> <p>That brings into question where the future lies with low-code/no-code platforms in the enterprise world, especially when DevOps is the menu. "No, it isn't the future of code," Stiehm says. "It certainly has a place in the future and will be leveraged to make many applications. It will not replace other ways of creating software because low-code breaks down when the complexity of the solution increases."</p> <p>However, purveyors of low-code/no-code platforms beg to differ. "Low-code platforms enable a wider pool of less-technical users to work on and improve the speed at which applications can be built," says Holly Anderson, a director at K2, a purveyor of low-code solutions. "One of the goals of DevOps is to reduce the tedious manual tasks that monopolize developers' time. Solutions that lighten and streamline the workload of DevOps, such as automation and low-code development environments, are becoming more critical."</p> <p>Anderson makes a good point: Low-code/no-code platforms can lead to citizen developers taking some of the development chores off the hands of busy DevOps staffers and become part of the DevOps culture. Broadening the application development space to nontechnical professionals allows organizations to liberate their highly skilled developers from routine coding work and redeploy them to more strategic projects that are critical to core business processes.</p> <p>There are also other advantages offered by integrating low-code/no-code platforms into the DevOps space. For example, the platforms integrate rules that help make the development of applications more consistent. Elements such as GUIs, reports, input forms, and even workflows follow a defined logic, forcing non-programmers to be consistent in the design of applications.</p> <p>Innovation in the low-code/no-code platform market is also driving change. Many of the platforms available offer a variety of technologies to integrate with DevOps processes, such as APIs, SOAP and REST web services, and Forge components. "Low-code platforms have become great tools to extend the gains of agile and DevOps. Platforms today give you the flexibility to integrate with your existing tool chain while also harnessing its built-in DevOps capabilities," says Mike Josephson, senior solutions architect at OutSystems, a company that provides a low-code platform for building enterprise applications. "Today, companies can benefit from continuous delivery that ultimately fosters the productive collaboration between the business and IT by using a suitable low-code platform."</p> <p class=While low-code/no-code platforms may not replace hand-coding completely, they have some characteristics that can bring additional value to DevOps. For example, organizations often need to build applications quickly, for both internal and external purposes, but many don't have the in-house skills and are finding that there is a limited pool of DevOps talent available—a situation that can derail projects. With low-code/no-code platforms, organizations can supplement a lack of talent and enable basic applications to be created and delivered in a matter of hours vs. weeks or months.

It's about the added value

Take Salesforce, which introduced Lightning Platform Mobile, a tool set that uses pre-built JavaScript components for low-code development. According to the company, it rolled out the platform so users can quickly create mobile applications and address "a significant mobile developer skills gap," which is at some 48 percent of IT organizations in the market.

Many other software companies are looking to capitalize on the need for low-code/no-code platforms, and most are looking at their platforms as a way to enhance DevOps. "The market should not be surprised by complex technology being distilled into simpler forms," says Mike Duensing, CTO at Skuid, a no-code cloud app platform developer. "The rise of low- and no-code is comparable to mobile devices being packed with computing power that once resided in mainframes. It is a level of abstraction that keeps going, making something tedious, hard to do, and time consuming much easier to do."

Of course, there are some big players in the low-code/no-code space, but their focus on DevOps may be a bit cloudy. A case in point is Microsoft, which brought several pre-existing products together to build a low-code tool called Power Apps, which is closely coupled with Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. Oracle offers two low-code tools, Application Express, which is linked to the company's database management system, and Visual Builder Cloud Service, which is cloud-based but also offers an on-premises deployment. Cloud services provider Zoho has offered Zoho Creator since 2006, and the company claims that more than 5 million applications are running on its platform. Creator uses a proprietary scripting language called Deluge.

Ultimately, DevOps is all about bridging the gap between development and operations. Low-code/no-code development platforms provide a way to cross that chasm with capabilities that can reduce workloads and bring more automation into the process.

Related reading:

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.