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Low-code governance: What you need to know

Learn what low-code governance is and why it’s necessary for your organisation.

What is low-code governance?

Low-code governance is how your organisation guides its professional and citizen developers—employees who use technology to create solutions for business needs—in building custom applications using a low-code development platform.

These platforms help employees—whether or not they have coding experience—to create applications through a graphical user interface. They use features like templates and drag-and-drop functionality to quickly build apps that automate business processes. Very little manual coding is needed, except to add custom elements to an application using cascading style sheets.

During the software development lifecycle, low-code governance helps you maintain security and compliance and maximise the value of your low-code development platform.

Why is low-code governance necessary?

Low-code governance is necessary for ensuring that your professional and citizen developers adhere to policies, security procedures, and organisational standards. For example, your platform governance framework may define what can be built on the platform, who is responsible for reviewing and approving the applications, and how to follow your IT department’s best practices for low-code development.

Who uses low-code tools?

Professional and citizen developers use tools like low-code development platforms to quickly create and deliver business applications that don’t rely on manual programming. Professional developers have the expertise to write code, but it’s time-consuming and requires code reviews and maintenance. While development is not part of their job, citizen developers are go-getters who find faster and easier ways to get work done. They see opportunities to improve processes for their team using tools sanctioned by their IT department.

Citizen development can easily veer into shadow IT—using hardware or software without the knowledge or approval of the IT or security teams in the organisation—which can introduce security risks. Citizen developer governance helps reduce risks like data leaks and compliance violations. Elements of this governance strategy include:

  • Defining rules for citizen developers.
  • Establishing strict security requirements.
  • Identifying who is eligible for the low-code development programme.
  • Training citizen developers in areas like data security and continuous development.
  • Tasking your IT department to sanction and oversee the resources being used.

Implementing a successful low-code development platform depends on well-defined policies and strategies, and citizen developer governance helps to define roles and responsibilities and minimise security risks.

Features of good low-code governance

Governance influences how an organisation’s goals are set and achieved, how risk is monitored and addressed, and how performance is optimised. It encompasses the processes that direct and control your organisation and hold it accountable. Applying these factors to low-code governance helps to build stakeholder confidence, lay a foundation to achieve high performance, and enable your organisation to respond to constant change when using low-code tools.

Primary features of good low-code governance include:

  • Elevating management performance. Good low-code governance helps management to make decisions that align with your organisation’s goals. It helps them assign responsibilities to IT and low-code developers, set up your low-code development programme for success, and accelerate time to market.
  • Using technology to generate business value. Automating processes and reducing errors helps you see a greater return on investment (ROI) on your low-code development platform. To lay the foundation for building effective applications, determine what tools your organisation will use for low-code development and establish a support system for the employees who are using those tools.
  • Mitigating risk associated with technology. Good low-code governance applies best practices, incorporates security considerations, and helps you meet regulatory requirements for the low-code tools your organisation uses. To improve risk reduction and management, organisations often outsource their technology solutions to third-party providers that specialise in these areas.

Incorporating good low-code governance

How you govern your organisation’s low-code development platform directly affects its success. The time and effort you spend to establish a clear and concise low-code governance framework will enhance application performance and help maximise your ROI.

To incorporate good low-code governance, ensure that your organisation accomplishes the following activities.

Define your low-code development programme. Clarify the roles and responsibilities of low-code developers. Give developers the resources and support they need to build useful apps, which helps to minimise the possibility of shadow IT becoming an issue.

Make a plan to oversee the programme. IT leaders in your organisation should have the knowledge and ability to establish strategies for a successful low-code development programme and mitigate the risks associated with it. They should be instrumental in choosing the most appropriate low-code development platform and providing guidance and support to low-code developers.

Establish a training plan. Before training begins, it’s important to identify the employees who show an interest in low-code development, have basic technical knowledge, and understand data. Training includes how to:

  • Use the chosen platform.
  • Incorporate best practices.
  • Plan for the application they want to build.
  • Understand security, compliance, access and permissions, and management practices.

Identify all security and compliance requirements. Have a data management policy in place to help your organisation meet security and compliance requirements. The policy sets guidelines for data use, data sharing, and data retention. For example, it may state that low-code developers aren’t allowed to create databases, thereby helping to prevent data duplication and possible exposure.

Mitigating business risks

Governance plays an important role in mitigating risk when using a low-code development platform. Establishing guidelines and clarifying expectations among organisational teams and stakeholders are key to developing effective low-code governance policies.

It starts with questions like:

  • Who’s allowed to build low-code applications on the platform?
  • What skills must developers have?
  • What are they allowed to build? (For example, only apps that automate a business process?)
  • How will these applications be used by others in the organisation?
  • Who’s responsible for reviewing, approving, and supporting the low-code apps?

Allowing low-code developers to build apps can introduce security issues. While companies that provide cloud-based storage and services offer access controls and permissions, there are other business risks to consider. For example, shadow IT—the use of tools not approved by IT—introduces a lack of visibility into what developers are building.

The following are additional considerations for risk mitigation:

  • Data oversight is imperative in low-code development to help protect mission-critical data; therefore, developers need to request certain types of data and obtain approval before it can be used in their apps.
  • Companies that provide low-code platforms must show their security audits, compliance certifications, and service level agreements; this transparency will help determine which platform your organisation chooses.
  • Business logic problems may expose sensitive information and compromise your organisation’s security; the same protections you apply to software development should also be applied to low-code development.

How testing supports good low-code governance

Low-code platforms typically have built-in automated testing features that allow low-code developers to test the functionality of their applications throughout the development process. Drag-and-drop widgets used in the platform are usually pre-tested, so additional testing may only be necessary if custom code is used. API testing is a continuous necessity because APIs can be updated by their creators without your knowledge.

While built-in testing features are helpful, code reviews are still important to verify that applications adhere to your governance framework. Conducted by professional developers, code reviews confirm that low-code applications are sufficient for the task and they meet established security requirements to minimise risk. Code reviews explicitly check for vulnerabilities that might expose sensitive data or lead to a security breach.

The significance of application permissions

To help prevent operational and security risks, application permissions must be enforced in low-code development. The low-code platform you choose should already implement access controls and permissions, but without specific access requirements, organisations won’t really know what low-code developers are doing with data. Depending on other security factors in the application, sensitive data could be exposed in the public domain and cybercriminals could gain access to your network.

Tasking your IT professionals with granting application permissions helps to ensure that low-code developers aren’t making high-level decisions that are beyond their scope of responsibility. IT pros have the knowledge and experience to review the code and determine if the app is connecting to a site with poor governance or less-than-strict permissions.

How code is protected on the platform

Security and governance should be built into the low-code development platform used by your organisation, but your IT professionals control access to data assets that are used by your low-code developers. Using the security guardrails within the platform, IT is alerted to permissions that may need stricter control to help protect data.

One way to encourage transparency in low-code development is to require your developers to use the platform’s sandbox to build their applications. This limits their access to resources and restricts their viewing, editing, and data sharing capabilities. The platform’s security controls help to ensure that only those who have proper permissions are allowed access to the system.

Discover your low-code governance solution

With the rise of digital transformation, now’s the time to optimise your low-code development programme. Choose a low-code development platform with governance, visibility, and safeguards built in—Microsoft Power Platform helps your low-code developers create high-quality solutions quickly and efficiently. Managed Environments offers governance capabilities that simplify, automate, and streamline IT administration of Microsoft Power Platform at scale.

Empower your employees to build low-code apps that modernise business processes and make your organisation more agile. Learn more about Microsoft Power Platform and Power Apps.

Frequently asked questions

Is low code the future of software development?

Low-code development has democratized software development and made it easier and faster. With minimal code writing, pre-built features, and reusable elements, it could be the future of automation, app development, and software development. However, low-code apps may not adhere to strict security or compliance requirements. For example, they are unlikely to be optimised for heavy workloads, and they might not meet accessibility requirements for screen readers and voice input.

Why is low-code development important?

Low-code development is important to businesses that want to increase their agility and react faster to the market and their customers’ needs. It gives low-code developers the opportunity to create solutions for specific problems in a short amount of time, and decreases the demand for custom software from IT.

What industries are using low-code development platforms?

Every industry can use low-code development platforms to automate processes and save time and money. For example, in the education industry, low-code apps help to track attendance and monitor remote learning, while in healthcare, they provide patients with compliant self-assessment and scheduling apps.

What are low-code development platforms?

Low-code development platforms help people with little or no coding experience to create applications using a graphical user interface. The platforms use features like templates and drag-and-drop functionality to quickly build apps that automate business processes. Very little manual coding is needed, except to add custom elements to an application using cascading style sheets.

How do I choose a low-code development platform?

When choosing a low-code development platform, know how you want to use it; for example, in mobile app development or for web app tools. Consider its capabilities, including governance, application testing, deployment, and management. If your low-code developers have programming knowledge, choose a platform that offers a higher degree of customisation; otherwise, a platform with more visual tools is better suited for non-technical users.