High Hopes for Low Code: The Bright Future for Quick and Nimble Software

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Drag-and-drop business flows, seen here in Camunda’s Modeler, are an example of low code’s promise to let more people make more changes in less time, and so bypass slow-moving procurement and IT processes.

It’s been an exciting year for the low-code movement, and AOT Technologies is helping lead the charge with its open-source formsflow.ai software suite, and by organizing last October’s online LowCodeCon.

“We’re proud to have hosted this low-code convention bringing together government and private enterprise,” said AOT’s marketing director Richard Sweeting, “and we think these great presentations are well worth a first, second, and third look.”

By putting the power of programming in the hands of non-programmers, low-code and no-code solutions promise faster, more nimble responses to changing conditions, with the ability to make frequent small changes rather than front-load a big project with specifications that may go out of date even before the ink dries.

The ten presentations, available to view on LowCodeCon’s website, include speakers from Camunda and Form.io (both part of AOT’s formsflow.ai solution), TIBCO, Pegasystems, and Red Hat (an AOT partner), with a particular emphasis on the motivations and technologies behind low-code approaches.

Former UK minister Lord Francis Maude kicked off the sessions with a keynote presentation on the government digitization project he headed from 2010 to 2015. He explained how he gathered siloed content under one roof, www.gov.uk, to provide citizen-first services that also cut costs. As co-founder of FMA, he now helps other governments create user-friendly digital portals.

Camunda’s CEO Jakob Freund offered thoughts on using a Universal Process Orchestrator “to achieve digital transformation empowered by process automation in an organization that needs to cope with a complex legacy situation.” He noted that robotic process automation (RPA) is just one step. Camunda software’s BPMN layer provides the low-code workflow abstraction to complete the job.

In another keynote address, Nelson Petracek, global CTO of TIBCO, talked about “powering the composable enterprise with low code.” TIBCO’s enterprise software focuses on “connected intelligence” that brings data together, moves and analyzes it, and then does something useful with it. He explained how abstraction layers allow low code to run on vendor-specific legacy systems, but developers should avoid the temptation to use proprietary extensions

Karim Gillani, a senior digital services architect with British Columbia government’s Service BC, discussed how AOT’s formflow.ai has overturned a legacy of old processes and attitudes. The low-code software makes it easy for Service BC, which runs many of the provincial government’s frontline services, to modify forms and workflows as conditions change. And managers can turn to technologists, the people who like doing Excel macros, for instance, to keep on making changes instead of calling in the IT department. AOT’s Chris Robinson joined in the discussion and talked about how low code fits in with agile methodologies.

A panel discussion moderated by AOT’s Sweeting looked deeper into enterprise solutions. 

Travis Tidwell, founding CTO of Form.io, emphasized how the rise of mobile devices has turned the architecture of the Internet upside down, and said many of his customers already feel they’ve gone through the first phase of a digital transformation. The next stage is not just to embrace progressive web applications, but other innovations such as microservices “to break up the monoliths, the monolithic technology stacks.”

Gerald Nunn, solution architect with Red Hat, noted that customers no longer need an explanation of containerization as it’s become so well known, and whether you’re developing low code or high code, you can benefit from “the elastic infrastructure and the abstraction that it provides around that infrastructure.”

Alex Case, senior director at Pegasystems, explained how Pega’s low-code approach helps the public sector apply AI and RPA to transform customer service, and their abstraction approach means clients don’t have to throw out their legacy systems.

And in a separate presentation, Case went through the low-code workflow design steps in Pega App Studio. He showed how to define the right microjourneys, the personas on each journey and the channels they engage in, and the data and data sources that capture and retrieve what’s needed on that journey.

In another presentation, Shawn Gorrell, a principal architect for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, discussed their experience with low code. Gorrell said modules in a legacy C# app took eight to twelve weeks to develop and had two to three thousand lines of code. Using Microsoft’s low-code Power Platform, developers replaced each module in four hours or less with zero lines of code, instead just using out-of-the-box connectors.

A colleague at the Federal Reserve, solution architect Lu Sancea, gave a demo of some different options citizen developers and low-code, no-code developers can use, including Power Automate for Desktop, available for Microsoft Windows 10 and 11 users at no additional cost.

AOT’s Vinod Uppinipurath gave a presentation on formsflow.ai, which bundles open-source web forms and workflow design along with data analytics, all available as open source. In answer to an audience question, the senior architect explained that users don’t have to start with forms, they can design their business processes first.

AOT’s Sweeting moderated a panel discussion with Jeff Card and Stefaan Verhulst on digital government. Verhulst, co-founder of New York University’s Governance Lab, said the real value of open data is often found at the subnational level, so that’s one of the next frontiers to focus on. Card, director of architecture and business strategy for the division serving the BC government’s five natural resource ministries (NRM), spoke of how open data increased collaboration across different provincial ministries.

In the final presentation, Gary Wetzel, CEO and co-founder of Form.io, tried to strike a balance between the ease of low code and the benefits of developer experience.

“We sometimes say we talk out of both sides of our mouths,” said Wetzel. “We are a low-code combined form-and-data-management platform for developers!”

But whatever the balance, “a low-code, no-code strategy brings with it a huge amount of advantage to getting to the point of enabling citizen developers and business processors to live their own lives, and not depend on developers for every little thing, or for anything, to build their business process applications.”