Low-Code Application Platforms: How Easy to Use Are They?By Jenn Fulmer Print
Low-code application platforms tout themselves as easy-to-use, even for people without coding experience. Our reviewer tries Appian to find out.
Low-code application platforms (LCAP) are growing in popularity due to their ability to lower the burden on developers. Traditional application development is resource-intensive and time-consuming. Companies need to be able to develop apps quickly and easily, without bogging down their developers, but are LCAPs as easy to use as their websites claim? To help you determine whether these tools are a viable option for your business, I started a trial of Appian armed only with their Low-Code Guide and my minimal coding knowledge to see how easy to use these platforms really are. My review of that low-code tool follows.
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Traditional application development can take weeks or even months to complete. Once the need for an app is apparent, however, companies may realize they need the application much quicker than traditional development allows. An LCAP simplifies the development process. It lowers the time it takes to build and deploy applications and reduces the burden on experienced developers, freeing them to focus on more complex development tasks.
Low-code application platforms, like Appian or Microsoft PowerApps, have made a big impact on many businesses, including healthcare providers, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve allowed companies to lower their application development time and push mission-critical apps that they might not have been able to build otherwise.
Along with Appian, here are a few other low-code platforms you might consider for your project:
- Microsoft PowerApps
- Zoho Creator
- Google App Maker
Before I get into the review of my experience with Appian, I should start with a disclaimer. I am not a developer, and I have very little experience with coding. People with more experience than me probably would have an easy time getting set up and running on Appian. That being said, I thought the platform was easy to use overall, and the tutorials they provided were clear and helpful.
Interactive tutorials and video courses
When I opened up the trial website for Appian, I was immediately faced with an introductory video tutorial to get started. Now, I wasn’t forced to take the tutorial, but I was glad it was featured so prominently. Not knowing how to get started on my own, I went through the introductory course to learn more about the platform.
The introduction, as well as the other tutorials included in the trial site, involved a combination of video tutorials and interactive assignments to help users get a feel for the platform. There were already a few datasets and application frameworks loaded into the trial, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. It gave me the chance to learn some of the basics and understand the different ways I could use the platform before moving on.
The drag-and-drop builder
One of the things I liked best about Appian’s drag-and-drop editor was the ability to search for different elements. While someone with development experience may have a better understanding of how certain elements would be categorized, I did not have the same luxury. It took me a couple of minutes to find some of the pieces the tutorials wanted me to insert into the builder, but once I noticed the search function, it was much easier.
The platform also does a really good job of making it clear where you’re about to drop elements into what you’re building. It offers a bright pink line or outline to help keep you from accidentally dropping items into the wrong section. Then, once your pieces are in the builder, you just click on each one to format them using the configuration menu.
Building detailed forms
Because I wanted to take on a small project, I stuck with building out a few forms using the platform. I started with the tutorial and then built one of my own. The nice thing about the tutorial was that it already had variables and data built-in for me to pull from. It let me get used to building the form and making sure it was pulling in the right information before I had to worry about where that information was coming from. The platform does a really good job of making use of building blocks during the learning process. They teach one aspect of the build before moving on to something deeper.
Building my own form was slightly more difficult, if only because there was a little too much possibility. I didn’t really have a project in mind since I’m not working for a business that needs an app developed, so I just created a form that mimicked support ticket requests. The builder was easy to use, and it allows you to choose from a variety of different inputs, including text, dates, and selections. It was also easy to go back and make changes once I realized I had left out some important fields.
Problems I faced
Overall, I think someone with some coding experience could make Appian work well for their business, but I did run into a couple of problems.
First, you can’t just go in and start a free trial; you have to request it, and then Appian has an approval process. Now, when I requested the free trial, the first thing I had to do was verify my email address, which might not have been a problem except that the verification link they sent me took me to a 404 error. Thankfully, a member of their support team followed up shortly after when they noticed my account hadn’t been verified, and, though it took several days and back and forth emails, they eventually got me set up.
The other main issue for me was that when building out certain apps and forms, you get error messages if you don’t have other people to add as users. For a trial, it makes sense that I wouldn’t have other people on, so it made it difficult to see how things would actually work. You can move on without adding others, but it might be helpful if Appian offered a group trial in the future.
An LCAP is a great option for organizations whose developers are overburdened and don’t have time to build apps they might otherwise need to in the traditional way. Additionally, LCAPs might be an option if your IT team is spending most of their time on maintenance, leaving little room for innovation or proactive building.
Though low-code tools previously were only able to foster the development of simple applications, the technology has improved enough that they now allow organizations to build even complex and critical apps for their business operations. Many even include artificial intelligence and machine learning options to improve your process.
If you’re considering low-code application platforms for your business, we recommend starting with a free trial. This will allow your citizen developers to see how much they can handle on their own, and what they’ll need a developer’s help for. You should also talk to the support team if possible to see how responsive and helpful they are before you make your final decision.
Read next: Investing in AI to Enhance Remote Work
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