ServiceNow Low-Code vs Custom Development
ServiceNow Low-Code vs Custom Development
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ServiceNow: Balancing Low-Code Development with Custom Solutions

The digital age is a relentless engine of change. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) forecast predicts a staggering $483.1 billion in worldwide enterprise application revenue by 2027, fueled by a surge in cloud adoption.  

Application development must undergo an approach change to accommodate this digital transition. Low-code platforms such as ServiceNow are rapidly emerging as leaders, but for some journeys, custom development may still remain crucial.  

For example, AI-infused development platforms (e.g., TuringBots) could potentially boost traditional high-coding productivity, leading professional developers to favor it over low-code. This shift might result in a slowdown in the low-code market's growth, aligning it with the overall software growth rate of 11% per year, as reported by Forrester. 

In this article, we will uncover ServiceNow's low-code platform strengths and explore when custom development is preferable to maximizing the platform’s capabilities. 

Understanding Low-Code Development with ServiceNow 

Low-code development empowers a new breed of creators: citizen developers – business users with limited coding expertise. According to a recent survey, 87% of professional developers already leverage low-code platforms, signifying a clear industry-wide adoption of this democratizing technology. The global low-code development platform market is also booming, with the revenue projected to reach 190$ million by 2030, and ServiceNow stands as a prominent player in this dynamic space.

For instance, for four consecutive years, Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ has recognized ServiceNow as a Leader in Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms. This esteemed recognition underscores ServiceNow's commitment to providing a robust platform that caters to both citizen developers and seasoned IT professionals. 

Benefits of ServiceNow Low-Code Development 

The benefits of building apps on ServiceNow are well-stated: cost savings, consolidation of IT systems, automations, and many more. Having low-code development tools, ServiceNow empowers businesses with compelling features that can help them:

  • Accelerate time-to-market. Traditional coding can be a time-consuming thing. While ServiceNow's low-code platform can speed up development cycles with drag-and-drop functionality, pre-built components, and visual modeling tools. This allows businesses to bring applications to life faster, capitalizing on fleeting market opportunities — some organizations stated seeing up to 90% reduction in development time due to low-code/no-code applications.
  • Boost agility and adaptability. The Now Platform's inherent flexibility allows for rapid iteration and modification of workflows. This equips businesses with better adaptability to evolving market conditions, customer demands, and industry regulations.
  • Reduce reliance on IT resources. Low-code development enables citizen developers to build and automate tasks within their domain. This lets the IT department dedicate their time to more complex tasks, as using low-code tools frees up their important resources for larger long-term projects.

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Key Low-Code Tools within the Now Platform 

While many low-code platforms offer drag-and-drop simplicity, the Now Platform also presents a robust suite of integrated tools that expand citizen developers’ opportunities in building business applications. Let's delve into some of these key tools and explore their impact. 

UI Builder  

ServiceNow UI Builder enables users to create visually appealing and intuitive UIs. This tool offers drag-and-drop functionality and a variety of interface elements. Users can design effective UIs that improve data comprehension and application effectiveness, seamlessly integrating with data managed within the Now Platform. 

Table Builder 

This powerful low-code tool forms the foundation for your application's data. With ServiceNow’s Table Builder, you define the structure of your data by creating tables, specifying data types for each field (e.g., text, number, date), and establishing relationships between tables. This ensures data integrity, simplifies data retrieval and manipulation within your applications. 

Flow Designer 

Flow Designer simplifies process automation for everyone. Using a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface, both citizen developers and business users can automate routine tasks like approvals, ticketing systems, and data processing workflows.  

Workspace Builder 

Users can create custom workspaces within applications. These workspaces can be tailored to specific user roles or departments, providing a personalized experience for users interacting with the platform. 

Decision Builder 

With the ability to define clear rules and conditions, Decision Builder improves efficiency by eliminating manual decision-making and also ensures consistency and reduces the risk of errors. 

App Engine Studio 

Now, let's talk about App Engine Studio, as a central hub for creating new applications, managing roles and permissions, and configuring workflows. This tool lies at the heart of the Now Platform's low-code philosophy, providing an intuitive visual development interface and a library of pre-built components and templates. With the help of it, citizen developers – business users with limited coding experience – can build custom applications, automate routine tasks within their domain, reduce reliance on IT resources, and foster innovations.

The Total Economic Impact of ServiceNow’s App Engine was studied by Forrester with users noticing a 75% efficiency increase and over $2 million in cost savings.

The Impact of Using ServiceNow’s App Engine 
The Impact of Using ServiceNow’s App Engine

Source

When Low-Code Reaches Its Limits: Custom Development Use Cases for ServiceNow 

The Now Platform is designed to accommodate a variety of user needs. While citizen developers can build basic applications, some situations require the expertise of professional developers, also known as "pro-coders" within the ServiceNow ecosystem. Pro-code development (aka custom development) offers the flexibility and control to tackle complex functionalities that extend beyond the capabilities of low-code tools.  For instance, complex system integrations, high-performance computing needs, or highly customized user interfaces might necessitate pro-code development. 

Complex Integrations beyond Pre-Built Connectors 

Low-code development with ServiceNow excels at basic integrations with pre-built connectors. On the other side, complicated third-party systems frequently necessitate custom programming for managing errors, complex data transformations, and mapping. A recent survey revealed that 98% of IT teams encounter challenges in digital transformation, particularly in efficient integration. Using custom development, you can write scripts that make data move smoothly, even between legacy systems. 

Building Business Processes from Scratch 

While ServiceNow Flow Designer provides a robust library of pre-built workflows for common business processes, this may not be enough for your specific business needs. Custom development with ServiceNow unlocks the full potential of the Now Platform — you can build highly customized workflows with specific approval steps tailored to your hierarchy, dynamic notifications to keep everyone informed, and reporting structures designed to capture the data that matters most. For example, with custom development on ServiceNow, you can build a complex procurement process with multi-level approval routing to the appropriate managers and custom reports detailing spending by department.

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Advanced Automation and Testing

According to Gartner, 80% of executives see automation as viable for any business decision. ServiceNow’s low-code solutions offer basic automation capabilities, but for complex scenarios like comprehensive test automation for IT service management (ITSM) or large-scale data imports with complex transformations, custom scripting becomes essential.  

For instance, consider a complex IT service request fulfillment process with multiple conditional steps and error handling. Low-code solutions might struggle here. In contrast, custom scripting within ServiceNow allows you to write robust scripts to seamlessly automate even the most challenging tasks.

Large-Scale Data Migration and Management 

Though ServiceNow's low-code solutions help simplify importing or exporting data, you may need custom development for large volumes of data, its migration, and advanced management. For example, should you want to migrate client data from the legacy CRM system (with complex custom fields and relationships) to ServiceNow and enable seamless integration into your existing data ecosystem. Additionally, with custom coding and automated workflows, you can facilitate data management in ServiceNow and minimize manual errors. 

Granular Access Control and Security

Common knowledge states that low-code provides basic access control to tables and fields. But what if you need granular security based on user roles, dynamic data conditions, or specific record attributes? With custom development, you can incorporate scenario-adaptive logic with sophisticated security practices. As an example, consider the implementation of access restrictions for sensitive customer data, which are contingent upon the customer's risk profile. Custom development enables the creation of resilient security measures.   

Conclusion

ServiceNow's low-code platform offers a compelling solution for businesses seeking to accelerate innovation, boost agility, and empower citizen developers. Yet, for complex scenarios, custom development remains irreplaceable. A winning combination for improving ServiceNow can be achieved by enterprises through understanding  the limitations of minimal code and strategically employing custom development. 

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About the Author

With over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, Oleksii has held various roles including Developer, Technical Architect, IT Engineer, Team Lead, and Project Coordinator. He has acquired extensive functional knowledge and hands-on experience with IT Service Management (ITSM) frameworks, along with a broad understanding of enterprise IT infrastructure. Oleksii has acquired a number of ServiceNow certifications (ServiceNow Certified Application Developer, ServiceNow Certified Implementation Specialist – ITSM, ServiceNow Certified System Administrator).
Oleksii Toporovskyi

Oleksii Toporovskyi

Senior Software Engineer

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