Finding the right business software is like trying to buy a one size fits all shoe for five different people. The more you look for the right fit the more you realize the diverse needs of your team. An amazing solution for teams that need to tailor their software to specific needs is building their own applications using low-code software.
The rising popularity of low-code development tools is because of this growing demand to create your own business apps without the technical wizardry of professional programmers. Even if you are a new startup or small company there are free platforms you can get started with right away.
What Is Low-Code Development?
Low-code in this scenario means less coding or sometimes no required coding. Low-code development environments are graphical user interface that enables anyone to create without a single line of code. Teams build applications, templates, and databases. You can integrate APIs with programming skills. It’s a versatile environment.
You should be familiar with this modern development environment. It is a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to design apps by clicking buttons and manipulating your mouse back and forth. For the simplistic low-code/no-code platforms all your need is basic computer literacy.
Many low-code development platforms (LCDP) might require some coding knowledge in backend or frontend languages. Although many double as no-code platforms and allow you to develop web applications without any experience. This means citizen developers can create their own ideas from the ground up with little or zero programming skills.
This does not mean that all low-code application platforms are easy. Some low-code environments do require tech-savvy skills, but will probably not require professional developers. There are low-code tools that offer an integrated development environment (IDE), where you can hand-code smoothly.
Those with coding experience will be able to customize and have the flexibility to build exactly what they need. With a designer tool, you are limited to the preset options they have for you. When you can add code you can change what you want as needed.
The best way to think of a low-code tool is to travel to a place with a language barrier. You can explore and get farther than you ever thought possible because you know basic phrases, and you have a friend who is fluent. Your friend makes up for the fact you don’t know most of the language. They are your low-code designer tool.
For more information about Low-code, see our article explaining more about it here.
What Are The Benefits Of Using A Low-Code Platform?
Low-code applications are especially popular for creating business applications for business users. These platforms tend to be called BPMs which means business process management. They are low-code environments for designing project management, task management, or even databases to improve productivity.
You can create custom applications for your team, create a consumer product, or do both. If you or your company struggle with software apps that can’t meet your needs then why not create one? This is the entire concept behind low-code tools for business needs.
One caveat is that it’s important to maintain strong communication when building apps for your team. You don’t want to create shadow IT that your company doesn’t know about or that could lead to any security risks. Your IT department should be able to approve the apps you create for coworkers.
It’s also important that teams who will be the main ones using the apps like sales or research are given the chance to provide feedback. When creating an app tailored to your team’s needs, you need your end-user input every step of the way.
One common mistake, when apps are created by inexperienced citizens, is accessibility and usability. If you have colorblind coworkers and you color code important information like deadlines, it’s not accessible or usable for them. You should also consider if they have poor vision, or aren’t as tech-savvy.
What Are Examples of Free Low-Code Software?
Low-code platforms can vary in cost quite a bit. Some cost thousands of dollars a month. Others cost less than $30 per user a month. There are even ones that are completely free. Of course, there is a catch.
The majority of free LCDPs are limited in some way. Many restrict the number of user seats, while others bar you from their advanced features. There are even ones that only let you create one app.
The bright side to many free platforms is that if you are new to low-code environments, you can get a taste without spending a regrettable amount of money. Teams that don’t need to create a full tech stack worth of apps can optimize productivity with just the freemium version. Free versions are also super great for beginners that want to learn and navigate low-code environments without paying a monthly subscription.
Creatio is a technology company that makes business software. Creatio is also known for their customer relationship management (CRM) software. They offer a low-code development platform with premium features. The software has no-code tools, mobile app development capabilities as well as AI and machine learning for automation or building data models.
The platform is a BPM and offers process automation options for rapid application development that can streamline workflows for both professional and citizen developers.
User reviews report positive feedback for project management features, their no-code tool, and overall usability. One customer was very impressed with their no-code tool and stated “You don’t need to know how to code to build workflows with Creatio.” This means complete beginners can improve team productivity.
The general negative feedback is with the system performance, particularly with speed. One user reported “Performance and Speed wise it could be better,” but they still rated them a 9/10.
The contracts for all their products require a 3 year minimum. They have an on-premises deployment option for their Studio Enterprise plan but not their freemium version.
|Creatio Studio Plans
|$25 per user per month
The Process Designer subscription comes with unlimited users, a process library, collaboration, and documentation features. It also offers a business process model notation (BPMN). A BPMN is a visual representation of the activities and goals of the business. Both citizen developers, IT departments, and other business users can stay on the same page.
Process Designer Pros
This plan is rare because it can work for startups, small businesses, and even bigger companies that want to get started with the software. Process Designer comes with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface so you can easily build internal business applications.
Freemium versions with unlimited users are incredibly hard, but on top of that their regular costs are still affordable for both small and large teams.
Process Designer Cons
The free version of Creatio is really great but they don’t have strong analytics or advanced features like AI and machine learning. If you want enterprise-grade functionality or mobile app development it’s not for you. They also have a no-code tool that’s only available in the paid version.
For those of you that want to know how to use and navigate Creatio’s UI, we have a tutorial of the low-code process below.
Zoho is a business tech company that produces all sorts of software to improve productivity and operations. Zoho Creator is their low-code development platform solution. Their LCDP can help teams replace their outdated tech stack for a full digital transformation.
Something important we cannot stress enough about Zoho Creator is they do have a learning curve. The platform has its own private programming language called Deluge.
Deluge is integrated with Python and C++. This means object-oriented programming experience is going to be helpful for your development team. Deluge has its own separate site where you can learn more here.
Low-code platforms will have times where a dev needs to code and it will be in this language. It can be overwhelming if you don’t have any experience whatsoever with hand-coding. Zoho has a high-coding option and offers an IDE for developers.
Citizen developers can still learn and work with Deluge. The language was structured to be intuitive for those new to the language, and is meant to be easier to learn than other programming languages.
If you want feedback from Zoho Creator consumers, you should definitely go through their user reviews here. A review from Renewables & Environment Company gives super useful feedback on their experience with Zoho’s UI and dashboard.
|Zoho Creator Plans
|$25 per user a month with annual billing
$37 per user with monthly subscription
|$400 per user a month billed annually no monthly billing
The Free tier is a good choice for a single beginner or small teams. It allows 1 user seat, 250MB of storage, and only 30 days of history. Teams can build 1 app, 5 workspaces, and 100 tasks per month.
They also allow up to 1000 API units a day and have some augmented analytics such as predictive analytics for data models. Teams are allowed up to 10K rows of stored records and unlimited dashboards and reports.
Free Plan Pros
Use cases this low-code app development platform is best suited for startups and small companies that want a hands-on experience. This plan allows you a taste of its strong capabilities but you won’t be able to go far.
Free Plan Cons
The account only allows one developer so collaboration features are very limited. Your team communications would not be streamlined so you would need to work outside the web application. If you have big teams with plans to develop a number of apps that will not be possible in Free.
To help beginners, below is a video covering Zoho Creator basics.
Airtable is a low-code and no-code platform that helps experienced and inexperienced business users build relational databases. They can use their databases for mobile and web application development and streamlining workflows.
The low-code platform is not designed for product software development. It is a great solution for teams that want applications designed for specific user skills and needs. You can tailor business apps for the skill of each team that will be actually using the software to optimize their workflow.
Airtable reviews from consumers tell a story of high satisfaction with the interface and overall functionality. Users find it very easy to use, with one stating that for them it was “a wise economic decision,” for improving workflows like “creating annotations in the data tables or creating copies.”
Another Airtable end-user went as far as to say, “Airtable is used in almost every aspect of our business. It’s like the glue for all the missing pieces we always seem to be looking for.” This is the ideal result for teams that need to tailor applications and workspaces for business needs.
This does not mean the low-code development tool is perfect. The main complaints center around a lack of customization and the cost for additional features. Many reviewers have indicated dissatisfaction with not getting enough features before a paywall, and how they can end up spending too much per team member for the paid plans.
Another issue is even though Airtable is super easy to use, users still want more tutorials or options for learning. One customer wrote, “In my experience, Airtable is like skiing, it’s easy to learn/use, but it’s hard to really get good at.” This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get skilled in the program, but it does mean it may take some time before becoming a wizard at it.
Airtable is a very popular LCDP solution for both tech-savvy and beginner teams. The plans can be affordable depending on how many seats you need to fill and the freemium version is ideal for those just getting started in low-code or no-code platforms.
|$10 per user a month annually
$12 per user a month billed monthly
|$20 per user a month annually
$24 per user a month billed monthly
|Contact Sales for Pricing
The Free subscription offers teams of 5 or less unlimited bases (collection of tables), as well as real-time collaboration tools. You can use their low-code tools for mobile and web app development. Their mobile applications can work with both iOS and Android devices.
Each base offers 2Gb of storage space, one extension, one synced table and one integration. Teams have access to rich field types like dropdown menus and checkboxes. You will also be able to use up to two weeks of snapshot history for your projects. In terms of human support, the Free tier will be able to get you help via email.
Free Plan Pros
This plan is very functional for small projects and business processes. You can create a collection of databases for every project or team. There is a limit of 5 users for the plan but view-only users are not charged. This means you can restrict access to those who are building on the platform while still being able to share information in the data sources.
Startups and small businesses will be able to develop and grow their projects and productivity with their easy-to-use interface. Teams that are new to the app development process and databases will certainly appreciate the no-code tools.
Free Plan Cons
The free plan isn’t great for bigger teams, customization, and overall company growth. If your plan is to build complex, highly customized apps with your branding then Free isn’t going to be the right choice. Teams that have experience with the application development process and are expecting advanced editing, Admin, and support options also will find Free to be the wrong choice.
The next plan up in Airtable called Plus has more support and advanced features like advanced editing and customization options. The Pro plan has admin controls, more support, and professional services like consultation. Airtable plans are generally very affordable but they can add up quickly if you have a large number of user seats to fill.
If you have a more established company and citizen developer and research team you are better suited to those plans instead of Free. You can also consider pairing with another freemium service on the list to cut down cost but be able to access more features.
For a beginner tutorial of Airtable see the video below.
Appian is a company best known for their cloud computing software. Thankfully they also provide a low-code app builder. They also double as a no-code platform which can be especially helpful to those that have never written a line of code before.
Appian has plenty of positive feedback from end-user reviews. People enjoy their no-code/low-code options and the overall ease of use with the platform. Their negative feedback tends to be with the AI and ML functionality, but nothing too problematic.
One Appian user recommends it to anyone that wants an all-in-one BPM for their AI and ML, but they do feel they could update the UI and functionality for robot process automation.
Most of the platform’s user reviews are satisfied with the platform and services.
All subscriptions include Appian’s no-code and low-code tools, analytics, DevOps, and content management. The apps you build are mobile compatible with Android and iOS. The main things limited between tiers are the number of users and enterprise features provided.
Appian Community Edition
|Application (Includes 3 separate tiers)
|Standard – $75 per user/month
Infrequent – $9 per user/month
Input-Only – $2 per user/month
Appian’s Free tier comes with process mining, automation and AI as well as community support. This plan caps at 15 total users.
Free Tier Pros
The plan is great for startups and small businesses. Ideal use cases would be teams that may be beginners but want to hit the ground running and use no-code tools for rapid application development. The process automation and access to predictive AI will optimize any team’s workflow.
Free Tier Cons
Free is not for teams that want more support, more users, and more apps. It also doesn’t have enterprise-grade capabilities like on-premise hosting. Their other plans have the benefit of flexible and affordable pricing with customization options. If you find that Free is not enough, you can always look at the next plan up or pair it with another freemium LCDP solution.
If you want to learn more about Appian’s functionality, there is a tutorial below about how to create a timesheet application.
Bonitasoft is a BPM platform. They offer an open-source low-code option for small businesses. They are a digital process automation platform that offers both a free Community version of their application as well as a paid Enterprise version.
Bonitasoft reviews show strong satisfaction with low-code development and overall automation. One user from the company Accenture reported, “the tool enriches the automation processes with many available connectors.” This user gave Bonitasoft an 8/10 and enjoyed using the platform, but they did have concerns about features.
In general, users are positive about functionality like process documentation, UI, and cost. One thing that can be frustrating is not all reviews will differentiate which version they use so it’s important to keep that in mind. Bonitasoft does not go into too much detail on the capabilities of the Community version. They only have a feature breakdown for the enterprise version on their pricing page here.
The Community Edition of Bonitasoft includes their application development environment with their low-code tools. The download is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. For setup support, there is the community forum and their tutorial. When you are ready to download you can go to this page here.
Community Editon Pros
The biggest pros to any open-source software is the cheaper cost and freedom. You own all the data and can do whatever you want with it whenever you want. Tech-savvy teams of all sizes will be able to develop business applications smoothly with rapid application development of their designer tool.
Community Edition Cons
The main problem with open-source applications is you need to maintain and host them. Bonitasoft is a low-code environment so your developers do need experience. If you have never written a line of code or set up a server then it’s going to be a challenge.
With Bonitasoft, when you want to distribute your custom app as a product you will need to set up Bonita Runtime, which is another open-source environment. You can download your software to set up Bonita Runtime here. So not only do you need to set up the platform you also need to set up the separate distribution. This will not be easy for the inexperienced.
For a better look at Bonitasoft’s UI see the tutorial below.
OutSystems is a low-code app development platform best suited for tech-savvy teams.
Some of their built-in capabilities are more targeted at junior and professional developers. Citizen developers can absolutely learn how to use the platform but this is not a no-code development environment. Some experience with hand-coding and an IDE will be very beneficial.
All OutSystems plans are billed annually.
The Free tier comes with simple options but only enough to create one application. You can have up to 100 users for your app. The platform includes an IDE for devs that will be hand-coding, free training, and community support.
Free Plan Pros
The Free version is a great way to get in-depth, hands on experience with OutSystems without spending ridiculous amounts of money. This way you can learn the tools, layout, and overall functionality. It will obviously be limited, but you can still get a clear picture of the platform.
The large number of users per your app will also make it easier to test and figure out how well you can tailor certain features to specific users. This way you can test a custom app with your team, before any financial regrets.
Free Plan Cons
This is not a long-term option for teams unless all you really needed was one custom application. Use cases that need complex enterprise applications as well as reliability won’t be satisfied. The Free subscription does not have advanced features like DevOps or the 99.5% uptime guarantee.
The next plan up in OutSystems is also extremely expensive even for the established companies that can afford it. In fact, you are better off with Zoho Creator’s paid plans which have powerful code capabilities, and are significantly less expensive.
Below is a tutorial that explains how you can build an app in OutSystems.
TechRepublic offers a great article explaining the reason behind the demand for LCDPs here. OutSystems is an LCDP that offers a guide for potential users to learn more about the software in general here. Creatio is another popular LCDP that provides a comprehensive guide of information about LCDPs here.
For those that have used any of the platforms discussed here please leave a review to help other buyers make informed decisions.
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