Low-code software development is helping federal agencies reduce costs, increase automation and agility, and improve customer experience, but there are instances in which you would still opt for traditional coding methods.
“These platforms will provide great building blocks to get you from point A to point B. If there are certain portions of that you want to concentrate on then you can focus your effort there — low code allows you to get the rest in place without a tremendous amount of effort,” David Rubens, project delivery manager of the Office of Consumer Response at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), said at the Digital Government Institute’s Benefits of Low-Code virtual event on April 6.
Low-code minimizes the amount of coding required for software applications by allowing users to "drag and drop" pre-coded elements to create applications and interfaces, ultimately increasing speed and simplicity and democratizing software development for less experienced coders.
The market for low-code development is projected to hit more than $25 billion this year, according to Gartner, marking a 19.6% increase from 2022.
“Any platform will require training to get up to speed — in general, I think if you can follow decision charts, if you can create those flow charts and visualize your process, it will put you in a better position to start building,” Rubens said. “In addition, if you can take your idea and translate it into mockups then that will also translate well when you want to start using a low-code platform.”
The Department of Veteran Affairs is already investing in low-code development and reaping the benefits as it prioritizes automation and reuses existing platforms and solutions.
“We've accelerated our time to value for low-code products by six times, and for no-code, which we call SaaS, by three times compared to traditional software development,” Carrie Lee, the agency’s acting deputy CIO of product engineering, told GovCIO Media & Research in an interview last year.
Over the past decade, Rubens has worked alongside CFPB to implement low-code methods into its workflow. Despite the benefits of low-code, IT professionals still need to understand how and when to use traditional coding methods to account for gaps in the low-code method. For example, sometimes low-code misses bugs and vulnerabilities in software.
“Culturally we’ve become more discerning about when we do which (low code or code). We have to think about, is it really worth that extra 10% for four times the effort, or am I going to get the value that I need?” Rubens said. “Low code is not always the most maintainable especially when it comes to source control. It's part of the reason why a lot of developers really prefer code because it's just a lot easier to track those changes and debug."
As low-code development continues to spread, federal agencies should rely on a strong, cyber-aware culture to achieve success, Rubens added.
“Talk with other agencies before finalizing your licensing terms, make sure you cultivate a network of people who have been there done that. Get cybersecurity involved early, make sure the CS team understands the system. Traditional tools like code scanners are helpful, you need vetting and securing low code elements,” he said.