What we’ve learnt using low-code to deliver digital services rapidly

After using low-code extensively for two years, we’ve figured out what it’s best at.

Published on
May 29, 2023
Reading time 5min

PebbleRoad has used low-code development extensively on client projects since 2020; this includes a number of government projects. Although low-code was already gaining traction before the COVID-19 pandemic, its adoption skyrocketed during the crisis.

Recall how hawkers in Singapore—reluctant to accept digital payments or work with food delivery platforms—became digital merchants overnight to survive.

Large organisations also scrambled to adopt digital technologies to allow their employees to work remotely—on a scale never seen before. Frontline services, e.g. social services and healthcare, turned to digital to safely deliver and scale their work. 

These changes sent demand for digital solutions through the roof. Additionally, there was an urgency to develop solutions rapidly and to modify them on the fly with the volatile situation evolving daily.

The rise of low-code

To respond quickly and to take the load off overwhelmed IT employees, many organisations, such as healthcare institutions, turned to low-code development platforms to create websites or progressive web apps.

Unlike traditional coding where developers spend weeks manually writing lines of code to build software, low-code enables citizen developers (or business technologists) to quickly develop software using a visual language with a “drag and drop” graphical interface. 

Gartner has predicted that by 2024, developers outside of formal IT departments will account for at least 80% of the user base for low-code technology and tools. This is up from 60% in 2021. Gartner’s latest report projects the worldwide market for low-code development technologies to reach US$26.9 billion in 2023, an increase of 19.6% from 2022. 

Finding the right partner

One client that has adopted low-code is a government agency that helps small and medium businesses (SMEs) transform with technology. 

In mid-2021, the agency commissioned PebbleRoad to build a self-service portal for businesses to assess their digital maturity and to pick the right digital solutions to achieve their business goals.  

The agency wanted the portal to be developed in an agile manner. As it expected to introduce features progressively, it also needed a platform that its own team could easily maintain and enhance if needed.  

From our experience, we think low-code is most suitable when projects have some complexity and ambiguity, with no obvious solutions. Good thing this is the type of work we enjoy doing.

We started by using design thinking to understand and map the SMEs’ digitalisation journeys. Then we prioritised the key components to build, before creating a backlog of features to introduce later.

To meet their expectations of fast development and rapid iteration, we proposed using OutSystems, a low-code platform. This got us to Version 1 MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in four months, with subsequent iterations following quickly.

The portal was launched in February 2022. Today, we continue to build new features, such as login portal, personalisation features, and integrations with other systems like internal data systems and SingPass/CorpPass. 

When to use low-code

From our experience, we think low-code is most suitable when projects have some complexity and ambiguity, with no obvious solutions. Good thing this is the type of work we enjoy doing.

For the abovementioned self-service portal, there were no fixed requirements upfront, so low-code gave us the speed and flexibility to work in an agile manner.  Where needed, we could use our own code on top of pre-built low-code elements, allowing our developers to focus on higher value activities in the development process. 

With OutSystems, we had a fully customisable platform that allowed us to build, modify or experiment with whatever we envisioned for clients. 

If the portal had been coded from scratch using traditional approaches, we would have needed many more months to launch the portal, and additional weeks to deploy new code whenever a new feature was introduced. Using OutSystems made the entire process—from design to development, deployment and maintenance—about 3-4 times faster than before. 

Get the most out of low-code

Low-code mindset

Low-code development platforms bring a new capability to organisations to address continuous change by users and policy. However, to build this new capability an organisation would need to nurture a low-code mindset that emphasises: 

  • Agility over traditional software development practices
  • Reusability over one-off modules
  • Capability building over handovers
  • Iteration over one-and-done projects

Be agile

From our experience, we have found low-code to be a perfect match for Agile development, which is characterised by teams empowered to make decisions fast, with a mindset of delivering continuous improvements. We recommend using the Scrum framework.

An organisation that uses the waterfall or linear approach will find it a struggle to keep up with the blistering pace of low-code development. That said, even clients who thought they knew Agile have had to adjust to the speed of low-code, especially now that low-code can be used in combination with AI

Reuse and architect for scaling 

Low-code platforms are designed for microservices and reusability, which can be used to scale efficiently. It is important to learn the platform architecture patterns and use them correctly. After all, low-code platforms provide building blocks, but using them correctly is still the responsibility of the development team.

With this approach the applications will perform better, but future applications will also be faster to implement because they will build on what has been developed previously. It will also be more cost-efficient to maintain and extend features this way.

Build internal capabilities 

As organisations become more digital at their core, it’s important for them to build digital capabilities in-house so they can react quickly to fast-evolving needs. We often help clients build such teams through a co-sourcing model.  

Apart from getting their IT specialists comfortable with low-code, organisations can also empower other staff (known as citizen developers) to use low-code to automate workflows, build simple web-based forms or other tools they need for work. This helps to reduce the backlog of app requests, and frees developers to focus on building higher-value, critical apps.

Many low-code platforms are now augmented by AI, which can be used to automate workflows, give suggestions for next steps in logic flows, or improve accuracy of text-based tasks like sentiment analysis to detect the tone of customer service reviews. This will further democratise the use of low-code in organisations. 

Gartner projects the segment of citizen automation and development to grow at the fastest pace (against other low-code technologies) at 30.2% for 2023. (Source: Gartner 2022)

Iterate continuously

When internal teams are empowered with new skills and a low-code mindset, they will be able to continue improving and evolving their product. This requires a shift from a project mindset (which focuses on creating and launching new products), to a product mindset, which focuses on taking ownership of a product to make constant tweaks. 

A project mindset focuses on creating and launching new products while a product mindset focuses on taking ownership of a product to make constant tweaks. 

Low-code governance

In tandem, we will need to establish low-code governance—a system of people and processes that support the scale of low-code in the organisation. 

We can help clients to develop a Centre of Excellence (COE) to set up processes and checkpoints on scaling low-code in their organisations, such as determining which apps can be built using low-code, how to start a low-code project, how to design low-code apps etc.

Overcoming barriers

It is not all rainbows and unicorns when you first start using low-code. Here are some of the hiccups we faced and lessons we learnt: 

Implementing low-code platform in client’s environment

It can be challenging to install and maintain the low-code platform on premises, which is understandable when you think of the number of tools built into the platform. Do not hesitate to seek your low-code platform vendor's support and assistance, as we did. Also remember the platform can be extended and used to build and deploy additional applications in future.

Meeting client’s security requirements

Meeting some security requirements can be difficult, in particular clearing source code reviews. This is in part due to the fact that the compiled source code also includes mechanisms from the platform itself, generating many files even for small projects. Our team managed to learn and document practices to save time in subsequent iterations. It is also interesting to notice that some other security requirements like web VAPT are usually very easy to clear thanks to platform built-in mechanisms.

Using Agile correctly

It is always important for us to help and assist our customers to focus on value, especially because of the fast iterations and speed at which we can implement changes using a low-code platform. It is very important to avoid falling into the trap of iterating too often for the wrong reasons and losing time. Always focus on what the product is meant to deliver, and rely on objective data to make decisions. 

Integration with existing systems

Connecting to an API is always a challenge due to security, authorisation, encryption, network connectivity, etc. If the external system is too unconventional, you may need to create your own dedicated mechanisms instead of relying on what’s included in the low-code platform. The interesting part here is that even when you engage in very specific tasks (like unique encryption, for instance), you still take advantage of some other common platform features, so using low-code is still more efficient than using a traditional development approach.


Low-code is no longer a novelty, but a necessity. It is a powerful tool that is enabling organisations to respond to the demands of a digital world while keeping costs in check.

The beauty of low-code lies in its ability to streamline development processes, relieve the burden of IT teams, and empower a new breed of citizen developers to actively contribute to the creation of future-proof digital solutions. 

Take the example of the City of Shawnee, Kansas, where a lone developer modernised 30 apps for the city's 66,000 residents within a single year, thanks to the capabilities of the OutSystems platform. We now hear such success stories more frequently.

Although the adoption of low-code in Singapore’s government sector is still limited for now, we are on the brink of an imminent transformation especially with the recent publication of a S$600m tender aimed at providing government agencies with new software and platforms, including low-code.

As early adopters achieve their first successes, the wave of low-code adoption is set to surge. Low-code is not just about technology; it is a key to unlock the potential of digital transformation in today's dynamic and fast-changing landscape.

Note: An edited version of this article was published by The Edge Singapore on 1 June 2023.

Vasu Kolla
Vasu Kolla
Engagement Director

I enjoy collaborating with enterprise leaders who are committed to transforming legacy organisations and driving growth in the digital world.

Maxime Baracco
Enterprise Tech Lead

I innovate to surpass boundaries and reshape organisations through technological breakthroughs

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