What is low-code?

Low-code platforms lend app developers a helping hand.

The world runs on apps, and the business world is no exception. Unfortunately, the traditional app-development processes businesses have depended on in the past may no longer be effective. Building software solutions from the ground up takes time—months, or even years, of planning, designing, testing, and deploying. And when your organization needs solutions fast, waiting on overburdened developers may not be an option.

This is why so many businesses are turning to low-code development.

Low-code development is a new approach to app creation that empowers developers to create powerful software applications, with a minimum of hand coding. Low-code development platforms instead rely on graphical interfaces and configuration, handling the most time-consuming aspects and empowering developers to create more, more quickly.

It’s predicted that by 2023, low-code application development platforms will be in use by more than half of all medium-to-large enterprises, as one of their strategic application platforms. This is because low-code development carries with it a number of advantages.

These benefits include the following:


Accelerated development and delivery of new applications is perhaps the most widely recognized advantage of low-code development. Intuitive user interfaces, drag-and-drop functionality, simple integration with support tools, and one-click delivery options all help ensure faster turn-around than is possible with traditional development. In fact, low-code solutions can decrease development time by as much as 90%.


Low-code app development streamlines the development process. This means that developers can build more apps in less time—focusing on innovation and addressing needs, rather than minute technical details.


Decreasing the time to deployment carries with it an additional benefit: Business agility. As markets change and new opportunities arise, organizations can quickly create and release new digital initiatives targeting the changing needs of their employees and their customers.


Hiring, training, and supporting an army of developers can be an expensive endeavor, with the potential cost of developing a single mobile app ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. Low-code solutions allow fewer developers to accomplish more, and even empower non-developers to build apps. This means reduced costs, and a greater return on your investment.


Managing the development and deployment of potentially thousands of apps can be a monumental challenge. Low-code development platforms provide a central location from which IT teams can monitor and control every development project with full visibility.


Managing app development from a single location also promotes better collaboration between developers. Multiple individuals or groups can see exactly what tasks are being accomplished and by whom, allowing them to collaborate together to work on the same modules at the same time.

Scaling capacity

If you are relying only on professional development teams to build your apps, you may be overlooking a wealth of untapped capacity. Low-code development gives those with limited technical background the power to develop. These citizen developers can use the pre-built functionality of low-code platforms to further innovation and grow your business.

The terms low-code and no-code tend to get used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same thing. While both low-code and no-code solutions provide tools for simplified app development, the differences are worth considering.


Low-code platforms are designed for professional developers and non-technical business users. They require very little training or experience and use visual-based modeling to streamline the development process. They also allow those with coding experience to dive deeper, coding by hand when needed.


No-code platforms require no development experience, and are designed specifically for citizen developers and business users. No-code solutions open app development up to essentially everyone, but can lead to shadow IT—unsanctioned app development within an organization.

To improve the way that organizations develop apps, low-code platforms need to meet certain standards. Below are the fundamental principles of low-code development:

Fast delivery
Modular, reusable building blocks and pre-built functional components eliminate the friction of complexity and the need to build everything from scratch.

A multi-persona environment with tooling accommodates varying skills and experience levels across an organization. This allows various stakeholders to work together to quickly deliver the best possible app and experience. Less-experienced builders can leverage functionality built by professional developers, resulting in a faster, more-agile development process.

Foundational to the application development environment, low-code enables users to quickly scale experiences from the simple to the complex, and across enterprise silos from end to end.

Empowering citizen developers to build apps quickly can result in application sprawl. Low-code governance implements policy and technology constraints to limit and manage the growth of applications, while also limiting data duplication, inconsistency, and insecurity.

Application development must remain aligned with roadmap objectives. Strategic low-code development establishes and monitors measures of success aligned with business value, establishes criteria to approve application development activities, and oversees budgeting and resource allocation.

Low-code development initiatives must establish technical standards and best practices, define development processes, establish authorities and guidance for testing and deployment, and define technical training requirements.

The operational principle of low-code development defines and administers the demand intake process. It likewise established support, maintenance, and update requirements and ownership, while defining authorities for rationalization and deprecation.

Low-code development must consistently create a positive user experience. This promotes increased productivity. New apps do not disrupt user behavior or force new user training or change management.

Low-code integration is vital, ensuring easy connections between processes and resources. Platforms must be able to integrate any data or system without requiring specialized integration tools. Pre-built, end-to-end integration solutions reduce time to value.

Low-code is only effective if it can produce secure applications. Security is a defining principle of successful low-code platforms. Reducing risk related to data, operational impacts, business continuity, operational performance, and more.

Who can build with low-code/no-code?

Between no-code and low-code options, practically anyone within an organization can get involved in the development process. That said, not every app that your business rolls out is well suited to no-code development.

Low-code solutions are effective at building essentially the full-range of applications, including those that run sophisticated, important processes that may function as a core part of your business. No-code solutions may lack certain oversight, which could lead to problems with security, integration, compliance, or more. Prudent organizations will limit no-code development to front-end, low-risk applications.

With this in mind, it’s worth noting that different users may benefit from different coding options.

Developers and IT professionals will likely be able to put the low-code platforms to better use than no-code options. The tools available in effective low-code platforms are designed to assist in the coding process without limiting the capabilities of the resultant application. Professional developers may find no-code options too limited to meet their needs.

Citizen developers
Business users and other citizen developers with little-to-no development experience can also use low-code options. However, they would likely need to do so in collaboration with more-experienced developers. No-code solutions are better suited for developers without coding experience, and without the resources to ensure an effective low-code development process.

How to get started with low-code/no-code

Possibly the greatest advantage of low-code and no-code development is its accessibility. Low-code assumes—at most—limited coding experience, and no-code options are designed for those with no coding experience at all. Getting started with low-code and no-code options is as simple as finding the right platform, with the right tools. With an effective platform in hand, built-in tutorials, intuitive controls, and the occasional user support options should be enough to get your low-code projects started.

How do low-code development platforms work?

The tools listed above work together to provide an environment where developers can circumvent the greater portion of the app and software development process. Powered by visual programming and automatic code generation, these platforms limit the need for manual coding. At the same time, low-code platforms automatically connect to the back-end, managing data storage and usage without needing to involve the user.

Once an app is complete, the company or organization in question is responsible for rolling it out.

Top requirements from the best low-code platforms

Effective low-code platforms need to be able to provide the right support for developers and citizen developers alike. As such, the best low-code options are focused on the following:

  • Intelligent orchestration
    Built-in intelligence can predict possible issues before they arise and assist in promoting better business decisions.
  • Development tools
    A full suite of app-development tools can help empower developers at all levels to create powerful apps at speed and scale.
  • Integration services
    Including pre-built integrations for popular business apps, as well as the ability to create custom integrations, makes it easy to connect your platform to effectively any system and data.
  • Mobile-first user experience
    Platforms designed to function optimally on mobile devices provide a better user experience, and avoid the problems associated with scaling down design and functionality for mobile use.
  • Notification services
    Alerting users when important events occur, top low-code platforms use built-in notification services to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Reliable security features
    Business apps may contain potentially sensitive company, organizational, and personal data. Some of the most important features to keep in mind as you consider low-code options include application and platform security.

Taking tools, features, usability, and other factors into account, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms compares the best low-code platform options. Download the report, and see who’s leading the low-code charge.

The benefits of low-code development are not difficult to see; expanding development capacity beyond experienced development teams, and providing time-saving tools and automation means quicker turnaround time, increased productivity, improved agility, and more. But what about the value?

A 2021 Forrester Total Economic Impact study took a close look at the ServiceNow Now Platform™ and App Engine, and this is what it found:

  • End users are 50% to 75% more efficient when performing workflow tasks due to the applications built with App Engine.
  • App Engine developers are four times more efficient than their full-stack developer counterparts.
  • Legacy platform cost savings total $2.1 million in three years from decommissioning legacy software and applications.
  • New developers take a quarter of the time to onboard.
  • Development teams could rely more heavily on junior developers.

As a result, businesses saw the following average cost benefits:

  • Average ROI of 230%
  • Net present value of $7.06 million
  • Benefits present value of $10.13 million
  • Full payback on investment within nine months

Download the 2021 Forrester Total Economic Impact study.

Successes in low-code/no-code

Low-code and no-code development aren’t simply theoretical approaches or dumbed-down solutions to application development. On the contrary, low- and no-code approaches have helped major businesses in multiple industries reach and surpass their goals.

See how Aflac Japan used a low-code approach to modernize its IT services, create a better employee experience, and reduce development by 33%.

Discover how USU put low-code to work to transform IT, promote student success, and increase productivity by 25%.

See how low-code solutions allowed Owens-Illinois to create 100s of apps, cutting down application-delivery times responding ten times faster to emerging business needs.

Calculate ROI

See how the right low-code platform can grow your business with the ServiceNow Value Calculator.

Low-code solutions are designed to provide a faster, more productive path to software development. As such, low-code pairs very well with the agile methodology.

The agile methodology is a mindset that brings together a number of software development methodologies. At its most basic, Agile is focused on delivering customer value quickly, through collaboration between developers and decision makers, while also adapting to changing requirements throughout development cycles. This allows organizations to better manage continuous change, improving as they go.

Effective low-code platforms provide a single, central location for software development, promoting collaboration, enforcing best practices, and automating testing and feedback processes. This makes low-code a natural match for the agile philosophy.

Visual development relies on graphical interfaces incorporating simple logic and drag-and-drop tools, for a more natural development process. Although the terms are not exactly synonymous, visual development is an important feature in essentially all low-code and no-code platforms.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is used to automate basic repetitive tasks across applications. In other words, RPA is software that is capable of running and operating software. Although RPA is not exclusively low-code, it can be incorporated into an effective low-code solution.

Capabilities that scale with your business

The Now Platform includes core capabilities that enable you to quickly and efficiently digitize workflows and run them at scale.

Loading spinner