How charities can use low-code software
Updated: Feb 28
Written for Charity Digital. Live link here.
With low-code platforms, you can create your own apps quickly and cheaply – even if you’ve never touched a line of code in your life
Apps have traditionally been created by developers, coding line by line. But low-code platforms let you use templates to create your own apps and interfaces. They’re really visual tools, mainly using a drag-and-drop approach, so pretty much anyone can create their own web and mobile apps, even if they have no experience of coding.
Low-code platforms have been around for a while, but are now coming into their own. In fact, Gartner, the global information technology research and advisory company, predicts that: “By 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity”.
Low-code is likely here to stay. In this article, we explore low-code in detail and discuss the potential benefits for charities.
Why do you need to know about low-code?
The benefits to low-code are obvious: it’s quicker and cheaper to create your own apps. And because it suits organisations with limited budgets and IT skills, it’s had take-up across the board, instead of being dominated by finance and telecoms like lots of new tech.
Using low-code, organisations without in-house developers can create their own apps. And because there’s no need to hire expert coders, there’s less financial risk.
The whole development process can be more agile and streamlined, with it taking weeks (and in some cases, days) instead of months to create an end product.
There’s always the option of using low-code to build an app that you know works and that users like, then getting in a professional developer to fine-tune it – rather than programming it from scratch.
Because low-code makes it easy for non-programmers to build apps, it can open up opportunities for people without tech know-how to get involved in the process.
That means you could be tapping into some great creative ideas from colleagues who would otherwise be a few steps removed from development – people who really know the ins and outs of the process they’re trying to improve or have a closer relationship with the end-user.
How can charities use low-code?
Because low-code works with templates, it’s good for streamlining standardised processes like donor tracking or booking annual leave. But its uses are endless. HR could create an approval process app for new volunteers, merchandising teams could build a sales app, or fundraising teams could create their own, fully branded events apps.
Mencap used Mendix to create apps quickly – so they can fail fast and learn. End users helped build and critique the apps, giving them more buy-in by feeling part of the process. This was especially helpful in getting carers to feel more comfortable using apps, many of whom had limited use of tech.
The University of Sussex used Boomi to create an e-assessment portal for students and faculty that can be updated and accessed in real time. And the Charities Trust used Appian to improve its donations and fund management systems, including streamlining on-boarding and lifetime relationship management.
University College London is using low-code to launch a number of services. It built its ‘connect to protect’ COVID-19 reporting app for students and staff using OutSystems.
This made it easy for users to record whether they had symptoms, when they’d been tested and their test results, helping the university to identify clusters, complete statutory reporting to the council, and make important decisions about campus facilities. It took just days to get a first version live, and can be adapted quickly and easily.
What platforms can you use?
There are lots of low-code software platforms to choose from – here are some that charities have been using. All three are listed in Gartner’s 2020 Low-Code Magic Quadrant, making them market front-runners, and each offers a free trial.
Appian runs where you want it to – whether that’s the cloud or on-premise and every app you create is automatically mobile. It can bring data together from across the organisation into a single interface, automate complex workflows, and easily integrates with systems such as Salesforce, Oracle, and DocuSign.
Mendix offers two options: Mendix Studio (aimed at users with no experience of coding) and Mendix Studio Pro (giving professional developers a more robust design environment and more flexibility). You can create highly-customised apps using the platforms, and the recently released Data Hub allows users to easily access and use once hard-to-find data.
OutSystems has a comprehensive set of ready-to-use building blocks that you can customise and AI assistance to help you build your apps. It’s capable of meeting complex needs, integrates easily with other systems and provides real-time performance management so you’ll know what works for your users. It’s a good option if you’re likely to get a professional developer to evolve the app, or have non-tech developers working alongside professionals.