A guide to low-code platforms for SMEs

Published on 10/19/2021 by Tessa Anaya and Quirine Storm van Leeuwen

Low-code platforms and applications are on the rise — and it looks like they’re here to stay. Research by Gartner shows that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will be created using low code or no code technologies (full report available to subscribers). But what exactly is a low code platform, and why are they becoming so popular?

a guide to low code platforms to help smes use low code and no code to develop affordable applications

With the simplified interface of a low-code platform, developers can build bespoke applications while keeping costs low. In this article, Capterra explains what low-code is in detail, as well as how it differs from no-code platform software.

What are low-code platforms?

Low-code application platforms (LCAP) are software building environments that enable programmers to build apps without needing to write code. Low code application development (LCAD) focuses on graphics and interfaces which the developer can alter to fit their vision. Further adaptation with additional code is possible, but not necessary.

definition of a low code platform

LCAPs generate metadata (a set of data that describes and provides information about other data), which the developer can use to directly express business processes to the underlying server infrastructure without having to write code.

They have opened up the technical process of application development to professionals working outside of IT, who can now develop and test customized web platforms quickly and efficiently.

What are low-code platforms used for?

Low code platforms provide a visual interface that is accessible to non-programming professionals and developers alike. For SMEs, this software can enable them to tackle application or web development without hiring a programming specialist.

As a practical solution for professionals without coding experience, low-code software can be used to quickly develop desktop applications, mobile applications, or a website. These platforms are particularly useful for internal business applications or for creating an external application prototype.

The pandemic has greatly influenced the shift towards teleworking, digital workflows, and large-scale remote collaboration. With these changes, low-code platforms have become useful to companies wishing to develop several applications with limited means (whether they’re limited by lack of personnel, budget, or programming skills). Ecommerce software is a great example of what a low-code platform can produce: turnkey online shops can be created without any coding knowledge.

ecommerce software featuring a choice for users to build using no-code or low-code platforms
This ecommerce software, Clerk.io, allows businesses to personalize their online shops, choosing between drag-and-drop design or adding low amounts of code.

Low-code vs no-code platforms

Although they’re similar concepts, low-code and no code platforms differ slightly in essence. 

No-code platforms are great for delivering simple applications in a short amount of time and without any code required. The development is done by using building blocks (similar to a website page builder). As it doesn’t entail very specific coding knowledge, it’s accessible to both developers as well as non-developers.

Low-code platforms on the other hand, can and do use code occasionally. They’re mainly used for building, testing, monitoring, integrating, and delivering applications in a short amount of time. Furthermore, LCAD enables developers to also build complex applications, something which is not possible with a no-code platform. 

The advantages of low-code platforms for SMEs

Low-code development platforms offer the following advantages, among others:

  • Rapid application development: Low-code has its technical roots in Rapid Application Development (RAD). This agile, flexible, and adaptable software development methodology prioritizes rapid prototype releases and iterations.
  • Minimal investment:  LCAD allows SMEs to save the time, money, and attention invested when hiring IT personnel (especially in the post-pandemic times of labour shortages). Instead, low-code platforms make it easier for the non-developers on the team to step up and alter the applications themselves.
  • Ownership of assets: While no-code platforms built on templates can quickly look very similar to their competitors, applications which have been self-developed are property of the organization. This reserves organizations the right to change or adapt their assets as they see fit.
  • Low barrier to entry: Even though startups and smaller companies tend to have less resources than their larger counterparts, low-code platforms enable SMEs to develop their applications in line with their needs. In turn, small businesses have the opportunity to become competitive with the leaders of their market despite having fewer resources available.
  • Improved user experience: With LCAD, any team member that you’d want to give access to can alter the application themselves with any missing functionality. The low-code or no-code applications are usually integrated into the business software, making them more manageable for the IT department who can keep an overview and control over the application.

The 3 types of low-code platforms

Some LCAD platforms focus on a very specific business need or application. Examples of these niche platforms may target specific processes such as customer relations management (CRM) or business process management (BPM) platforms. Normally, these apps need to be integrated with the company’s specific software architecture. 

There are also low-code platforms which focus on software development for specific suppliers. Platforms such as Microsoft Power Apps by Microsoft and Oracle APEX by Oracle give teams the ability to build custom applications that connect to business processes already supported by the parent company. 

the dashboard of Microsoft PowerApps shows that users can choose from a variety of templates to start their low-code development
Using minimal code, businesses can customize templates from the Microsoft Power Apps dashboard and create bespoke web and application content.

Most low-code platforms are suitable for developing all types of applications. These programs are meant to be used widely, and do not prioritize serving a particular function. Using API integrations, the applications are integrated into the existing structure of the company.

How do you choose the right low-code platform?

When selecting the right low-code platform for your business needs, there are a list of questions to ask. While a robust strategy doesn’t have to be defined, you should be able to answer questions like:

  • Do you prefer using low code or no code?
  • Will you create a single application or will you use an LCAP for multiple business processes?
  • Are you looking for new functionalities or the expansion of functionality?
  • Do you want to make desktop applications, mobile applications, or both?
  • Should the applications be stored in the provider’s cloud (public or private), your own cloud or in your local infrastructure?

Once you have a clear list of requirements, you can begin comparing low-code platforms. Reading user reviews can be helpful in this process. There, you’ll get information on the usability of these platforms from business owners like yourself rather than IT professionals.

Looking for low-code development platform software? Check out our catalogue.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

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About the authors

Tessa is a Content Analyst for GetApp, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.

Tessa is a Content Analyst for GetApp, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.

As a Content Analyst at GetApp, Quirine highlights the technological possibilities for improvement in SMEs. She focuses on digitization, software and technological trends.

As a Content Analyst at GetApp, Quirine highlights the technological possibilities for improvement in SMEs. She focuses on digitization, software and technological trends.