Are we seeing a low-code revolution?

Low-code is often best used to deliver something relatively small and discrete that needs to be spun up quickly

During the pandemic we’ve seen examples of local authorities moving from hypothesis to a live service, that’s been tested and iterated, within 2 days. Low-code has made that possible. Low-code is software that allows non-technical people to create user interfaces like online forms without needing to do any traditional computer programming or coding.

Building good services on cheaper technology

While it can be a quick way to deliver a service, there are potential downsides to low-code. In particular, if you’re not clear about the outcomes you want to achieve, using low-code can be a quick way to deliver a service that doesn’t actually meet your users’ needs. Councils can also find themselves locked in to one provider and facing substantial hidden costs in future when they need to make changes.

Despite the many caveats, low-code can be used to build good services on cheaper technology. But good services still require an understanding of your users, and the ability to design simple, clear, and effective processes. Councils still need good user research, service design, content design, and product management to avoid falling into the trap of building ineffective, inefficient services.

If those skills don’t already exist within the council, it’s worth seeking out a digital agency with that expertise to help you build your service and, in the process, develop the capability of your own team so you can operate more independently in future.

When low-code works best

Low-code is often best used to deliver something relatively small and discrete that needs to be spun up quickly, like a tactical service or website. Low-code is ideal if you need a form for councils to gather information from users quickly, like apply for a grant.

Doing this through bespoke software is expensive if you don’t have the necessary in-house technical expertise. One developer’s time from a larger consultancy can start at £1,200 to £1,500 per day. So there are substantial cost and time savings to be made from using low-code rather than building bespoke software.

That’s why low-code has been so invaluable to councils like Croydon, as they’ve responded at speed to the pandemic.

It’s possible to use low-code to build a more complicated, end-to-end service. For example, one that includes a workflow, database, and back office management that doesn’t need to be integrated with much else. But building this type of service in low-code means you are locked in to using that low-code platform for the lifetime of that service. Open source low-code platforms aren’t common, but are clearly best to avoid this situation.

The future for low-code

Making the best use of your existing data, and your existing infrastructure, is vital to delivering effective services. Low-code definitely isn’t a good foundation for your technology strategy. If you want to make good use of it, you need to build that foundation through a wider digital transformation effort. One that breaks apart your legacy systems and provides APIs for data and systems that can be used by new services built around user needs.

But as long as you’re clear about the limitations, and it’s used in the right way, low-code can deliver services that meet user needs and save money. We want to trial its wider potential, and learn from others’ recent experience, to see what it’s capable of.