Things to Watch Out for in Low-Code Process Automation
The low-code approach simplifies application development by replacing hand-coding with reusable components that can be stacked together via a drag-and-drop interface. While these platforms help reduce IT strain, decrease costs, and increase productivity, they come with their own set of challenges.
Business optimization is the subtle art of producing better results faster, with fewer errors and lower costs. Today, automation is integral to this process. By removing the complexity of application delivery, low-code development brings business automation solutions to enterprise clients at record speed. No-code development goes a step further, reducing the provisioning of business tools needed to streamline work to simple drag-and-drop configurations.
Both these application development approaches offer significant advantages to modern business. They are already widespread in the enterprise environment, and their adoption is still increasing. Gartner predicts that by 2023, every other medium to large enterprise will have adopted a low-code application platform. However, the proliferation of low-code automated business process management systems (BPM) exposes new and significant vulnerabilities.
What is low-code/zero-code process automation?
The low-code approach simplifies application development by replacing hand-coding with reusable components that can be stacked together via a drag-and-drop interface. Instead of coding every single feature and workflow, developers use ready-made elements to avoid duplicate work and shorten the application delivery time. Apart from time savings, low-code platforms bring another vital benefit to the table — they don’t usually require highly-specialized skills to build maintainable enterprise-grade applications.
Zero-code or no-code solutions also use visual development to speed up the delivery of front-end business applications. They take away the coding part entirely, enabling business users with no IT expertise to quickly assemble the needed tools by drag-and-dropping the interface components.
4 challenges of low-code and zero-code BPM solutions
Automated low-/zero-code BPM solutions empower enterprises to accelerate business processes without engaging expert IT resources. While these platforms help reduce IT strain, decrease costs, and increase productivity, they come with their own set of challenges.
Small enterprises typically use hundreds of apps day to day, which can snowball to thousands at giant corporations. Considering these numbers, seamless integration of a low-code BPM platform with a host of third-party apps and services may pose a significant challenge.
Low-code automation solutions support built-in integration options, ranging from exposing SOAP web services and REST APIs to implementing connectors. On the one hand, the wide choice of integration methods and data mapping formats ensures flexibility. On the other, it adds a level of complexity to the integration process that in-house developers may be unable to resolve, in which case, business process management consulting might be required.
Some companies may choose to go with an alternative solution to avoid cumbersome integration by getting an ‘all-in-one’ low-code software replacement. They hope that setting up a new system consolidating all required business process management functions will cause less friction than interoperating dozens of different platforms. Unfortunately, sacrificing the existing infrastructure to use a single end-to-end enterprise platform is often the case of going out of the frying pan into the fire.
One of the most significant drawbacks of the ‘one to replace them all’ approach — apart from the massive time and money investment it entails — is vendor lock-in. Wooed by moderate costs of adoption, enterprises often find themselves entrapped in dramatic price increases once they need to buy more licenses or add sophisticated options (see the customization point).
Besides, low-code platform vendors often don’t provide access to their source code, making it impossible for buyers to reuse or extend it independently. To avoid getting stuck with the same provider for good and bad, it’s essential to look for a solution that offers readable code and transferable workflows. Again, an experienced integrator may provide invaluable support in this task.
The critical promise of low-code and no-code platforms is, as their name suggests, to eliminate manual code. But when reality kicks in, their business logic may buckle under the weight of specific business requirements.
Out-of-the-box, low-code solutions can only deliver as many use cases as they have been programmed to handle. When it comes to unique scenarios, for example, when you suddenly need to scale the system following a company acquisition or quickly roll out a new and complex workflow, these platforms often prove ineffectual. Fiddling with their business logic until you find the right configuration — if it exists — may become counterproductive. Sometimes, writing a piece of code appears to be the easiest, fastest and most cost-effective way out.
For 59% of enterprises, security remains the greatest challenge when adopting low-code and no-code automation solutions. Without visibility into the system’s inner workings, enterprises usually have to rely on third-party security tools to run scans and audits, never knowing what’s going on underneath. Ensuring security is particularly demanding for platforms deployed in the client’s data centers or hosting sites. In SaaS solutions, the vendor is responsible for updates and patches, while the client ‘only’ needs to take care of the data.
Connecting low-/no-code platforms to existing systems and data sources also presents potential security risks. The same goes for adding custom code. However, possibly the most prominent security fault of low-code systems is the limited visibility into the tools created by the users. As the low-code approach democratizes business app creation, it puts much freedom into non-technical employees’ hands without involving the IT department. While this enables greater agility, it also results in less control and oversight over business apps, which forces enterprises to set up rigorous security policies and ensure their strict compliance.
Low-code BPM is the future, but it comes with a tradeoff
Low-code/no-code technology has reached the point where it is mature enough to power enterprise-grade business-critical applications. By replacing ground-up coding with easily configurable tools and components, it accelerates business workflows, empowers non-technical users, and eliminates process bottlenecks.
Despite certain challenges, demonstrated above, in many cases low-code development can be more effective and secure than the traditional manual-coded methods. However, to live up to the expectations, low-code and no-code platforms require skillful implementation and integration, with optimized data flows.