Developing applications for the Internet of Things is no easy feat. Connected things typically involve the integration of a disparate mix of technologies, including back-end systems, IoT endpoints, other platform and data sources.
Additionally, companies that aim to build Internet of Things( IoT) applications need developers with specialized skills that allow them to configure and maintain these technologies properly. These developers must also collaborate with business leaders to investigate new ideas and develop new applications quickly.
What’s more, the speed of change is making it difficult for IT teams to stay abreast of new capabilities and advancements.
But low-code or no-code platforms can eliminate many challenges in the IoT application development process and enable companies to drive better results.
What Are Low-Code/No-Code Development Platforms?
Low-code/no-code platforms are app development tools that enable non-software engineers to build software applications, said Chris Nicholson, CEO of Pathmind, a company applying deep reinforcement learning to industrial operations.
“Low code means you have to know a little code, as much as you might use with Excel to write some formulas,” he said. “No code usually means you use drag-and-drop icons and connect them in a graphical user interface.”
Low-code/no-code is another step in the rapid application development movement, said Ashish Chaturvedi, principal analyst at ISG, a technology research and advisory firm.
However, because the market is still in its infancy, all low-code and no-code platforms are different in their characteristics and abilities. Some no-code platforms only require business logic and integration skills to develop an application, whereas some low-code platforms have their own scripting languages and thus require a user to have basic coding knowledge as well, Chaturvedi said.
IoT App Development with Low-Code/No-Code
Low-code and no-code tools are accelerators, said Charles Cote, chief architect – enterprise architecture, Capgemini North America.
“Once set up in the IoT platform, end users can easily create complex scripts and processes on the managed devices without any technical knowledge – enabling faster development and more reliability from a business point of view, as it is directly developed by the business owners,” he said.
Low-code development generally requires technical knowledge about IoT technologies and software development and is typically used by integrators and software developers to accelerate IoT development without needing experts, Cote said. No-code platforms are aimed directly at business end users, using simpler but less flexible user interfaces.
Using low-code platforms to develop IoT applications is an interesting proposition that leads to multiple possibilities, including broader adoption and new use cases, Chaturvedi said.
“The IoT market is still small and untapped,” he said. “So enterprises are hesitant to put in a lot of effort or money in such projects. Low-code development solves this problem to a great extent as applications can be developed in a few days and without sophisticated coding knowledge.”
As a typical IoT setup consists of heterogeneous devices and applications, integration via regular development is not easy. Low-code platforms via an application programming interface (API)-based integration approach minimize the complexity, according to Chaturvedi.
The latest versions of leading low-code software provide easy integration with all major IoT platforms, such as IBM Watson, Microsoft Azure, KPN’s long-range, wide-area network and Amazon Web Services, he said. Therefore, the orchestration process is streamlined.
Industries Benefit from Low-Code and No-Code Platforms for IoT Development
All industries where operational technology (OT) assets are available can benefit from using low-code or no-code platforms to build IoT apps, said Bart Schouw, chief evangelist, Software AG.
“These industries, under the pressure of IoT, will have to transform,” he said. “By its nature, the OT side of the house has knowledge that is very hard to transfer to data analysts. So even if you have an army of data analysts, you will need to determine whether they can find the insights that the business can really benefit from. Being able to mobilize your operators in this way is incredibly powerful.”
Any company that manages physical operations, for example, such as manufacturing, logistics, robotics, HVAC, building management or energy management can benefit from low-code and no-code platforms, assuming that they are integrated with the devices and systems the company relies on, according to Nicholson.
Cote agreed that all industries that want to build IoT-based products and services can benefit from these technologies. The only requirement is to have a strong IoT platform to gather and command the devices, he said.
“Low-code/no-code can be seen as an extension of IoT platforms,” Cote said. “For example, it is very useful for a utilities company to manage and monitor their production more accurately and ensure regular business upgrades.”
Usually, an IoT platform includes few fixed business processes, according to Cote. Low-code and no-code platforms open the IoT API to create new business processes efficiently.
“It’s a must-have for companies with custom alerting, data analysis and other IoT services in place to create business value,” he said.
How Companies Should Implement Security For Low-Code and IoT App Development
Security, governance and testing are all complicated subjects that require the work of specialized professionals, according to Nicholson.
In some cases, companies may find that the low-code and no-code platforms can help them with security, governance and testing. This will be especially true for the parts of the platform that are in the cloud, he said.
“However, the nature of IoT applications is that some part of them must be on the edge – usually on-site with the company, and in that case, the company may need its own experts to ensure compliance,” Nicholson said. “The problem with asking non-software engineers to write software is that they may not be used to ideas related to testing, security and governance.”
Cote said that these technologies require safe development and testing before being used in production. A key for ensuring high quality and robust code is data and device simulators.
“Using a simulator, you can safely test your scripts and business processes without any [sending a command to a remote actuator],” Cote said. “Also, easing the development does not imply removing validation and security checks. Governance-wise, documenting and referencing created scripts is needed to avoid code duplication.”
Security, governance and testing are exactly the frictional points that have to be overcome before moving from consumer-oriented applications to more industrial applications, said Sean Chou, co-founder of Catalytic Inc., a platform for no-code process automation.
“And this is where you get into a traditional weakness of no-code, he said. “I don’t think it impacts low-code as much because low-code is oftentimes already done by developers who have that mindset. But when you’re talking about no-code, you’re now trying to loop in people who haven’t been trained on proper secure treatment of data and governance. They haven’t been trained on things like peer programming.”
So for no-code to start taking off within the enterprise or within industrial applications, no-code platforms have to have those features built into the platform, he said.
What’s happening now is that low-code and no-code are becoming characteristics of different types of platforms from development platforms to integration platforms, automation platforms, data science platforms, IoT platforms, Jason Wong, distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner Inc.
“And what it really means is that the products are abstracting away the code (i.e., reducing the need to actually write some scripting or some programming in order to do something),” he said.
Organizations that are looking into using no-code or low-code development platforms to build IoT apps need to understand exactly what those platforms are and what the vendors are offering, said Jason Wong, distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner Inc.
When companies look into using no-code and low-code development tools to build IoT apps, they need to go beyond the vendors’ marketing messages to assess the underlying approaches of the vendors to the development tools or platforms, Wong said in a Gartner research note.
Even if a vendor is marketing “low code,” that may not mean it’s for professional developers and if a vendor markets “no-code,” that doesn’t always mean it’s for citizen developers, he said in the note.
Companies need to determine how code is abstracted and added because this will ultimately determine the extensibility and flexibility of the vendors’ approaches and how easy the tools are to connect with other technologies, Wong said.