Low Code Platforms

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Low Code Platforms

by Geoff Keston

Docid: 00018002

Publication Date: 1912

Report Type: TUTORIAL


The demand to develop software has grown sharply in recent
years, and
writing in-house applications has become a necessary practice for many
businesses whose specialty is not technology. In response, commercial
low code platforms have been created to help speed the development
process and enable people with less expertise to participate. These
platforms are affecting a wide range of industries and
understanding this change has become important not just for IT but for
business strategy planning.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Software development issues have expanded beyond IT teams to
impact executive decision making and the strategies of organizations
outside of technology. 


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Mobile and cloud applications, in particular, have made software
ubiquitous. Low code platforms are a commercial product, typically
delivered as a cloud offering, that aim to help businesses keep pace
with the growing demand for creating new software. There is, by some
accounts, a shortage of qualified developers, so low code products greatly
assist developers to build applications.

Low code platforms are relatively
new and the market for them is still taking shape. Some leading
vendors are specialty companies offering general purpose coding tools.
But others are large companies like Microsoft and ServiceNow, which
have integrated low code capabilities into their traditional product
suites. Organizations that rely on such well-established business
software therefore need to consider how new low code
capabilities impact their administrative processes for these
traditional business suites.

The increased importance of software
development to many businesses, even outside of the technology sector, makes low code
platforms a potential issue for executive oversight and strategic
planning. One consideration is that the problems that low code
platforms intend to mitigate may be caused by deeper issues, such as
poor needs assessment for software projects, insufficient testing of
code, or inadequate training and hiring practices for developers.
Organizations would therefore be wise to consider not just low code
platforms but other steps to improve the speed and quality of the
software they develop.


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In a previous generation of technology, software was created mainly by
large vendors like Microsoft and IBM. Software development
in this traditional environment had the following

  • Releases were large, representing years of work.
  • Software was installed on a network, whether on servers or
  • Users (or organizations) selected when (or whether) to
    install an update.
  • Software was used for a smaller number of functions.

But as the client-server model of computing has become less central and
cloud and mobile infrastructures have increased in importance, software
is being created and distributed in different ways:

  • Updates are often delivered automatically over the Internet.
  • A wide range of organizations are creating software; in
    particular, in-house development is more common.
  • Agile methods, which call for continuous development, have
    become popular.
  • New software is released more frequently.
  • Software is used for a wider range of functions, from
    mobile devices to the cloud to the Internet of Things.

In this new environment, there aren’t enough skilled software
developers to help organizations keep pace. This has led to the creation of a new type of software
development tool, low code platforms. These tools are typically
available as on-premises or (perhaps more commonly) cloud-based products. Typical features include:

  • Graphical user interfaces
  • Drag-and-drop interactivity
  • Templates for common functionality
  • Code that automatically translates to multiple platforms
    (Windows vs. Mac or desktop vs. mobile)
  • Templated graphic design
  • Creation of development workflows
  • Integrated data and asset management
  • Automated connection of disparate systems
  • Automated testing of application programming interfaces
  • Branding customization

At this stage, the technology and market are still taking
shape. Over time, some features may come to be viewed as essential
while others become irrelevant. Still other capabilities are likely to
be added to products. Even further ahead, the market could bifurcate or
products might separate into various sub-categories. The exact nature
of such potential developments cannot yet be forecast, but the
newness of the overall field makes changes of these types likely.

Current View

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The Technology

Low code tools are often integrated into a larger suite of software.
For example, Google’s G Suite for businesses includes a low code tool,
App Maker, that works with the suite’s collaboration and productivity
applications. The emergence of low code technology has, in fact,
occurred to a large extent within the software-as-a-service market.

Another key aspect of the technology is that the products
currently available tend to emphasize the creation of mobile and Web
software. These new categories of software are largely responsible for
the greatly increasing demand for more coding, which has led to the need
for low code tools.

The Marketplace

A 2019 survey by OutSystems found that 41 percent of
were already using low code technology and an additional 10 percent
intended to do so.1 Respondents to the
survey also
identified delays in completing projects that are pushing them to use
low code platforms: 45 percent reported having a backlog of one to ten
projects, and 19 percent had more than ten development initiatives in
their backlogs.

Research by Forrester shows that the technology is
generating strong interest: The market is forecast to grow at a compound
rate of 40 percent, reaching $21.2 billion in 2022. 2
And Gartner concurs that the market is “growing strongly.”3


In the early days of the market, low code products were mostly
offered by specialty companies. But the technology is likely to become
important to larger software companies as part of their larger
portfolios and as a supporting capability for their main products. This
need could lead to an acquisition spree. For example, ServiceNow, the
leading provider of IT service management technology, bought low code
company SkyGiraffe.4

Leading providers of low-code platforms include the following:5

  • Appian
  • Google
  • Mendix
  • Microsoft
  • Nintex
  • OutSystems
  • Quick Base
  • Salesforce
  • ServiceNow
  • TrackVia
  • Zoho Creator


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The overall trends that have led to the emergence of low code
platforms will not only continue, but accelerate: 

  • Software will become more ubiquitous.
  • Agile and DevOps methods (of various types) will continue
    to be dominant software development approaches, driving demand for
    quicker releases.
  • In-house coding, often by IT staff who aren’t expert
    developers, will become a more common practice.

Another coming development may be the emergence of “no code” platforms. These products, already on the market, push the
low-code concept further, making the process faster and more accessible to
an even wider range of non-specialists. The definitions of these terms aren’t universally agreed on in the
industry, and in practice the characteristics of products in one
category will often be only shades different than those of products in the
other. But, when distinctions are made, vendors that advertise their
products as no code, such as Betty Blocks or Tulip, assert that their
offerings are much faster, aren’t subject to the types of mistakes that
result from manual coding, and can be used by anyone.

But analyst group Forrester says that the true vision of
no code development is, currently, “an aspiration and only sometimes a
reality.”6 Forrester’s research finds
that at least some manual coding is needed on most projects, and
today’s projects are useful only for a limited range of development
needs, mostly prominently “to integrate their apps with other systems,
create custom user interfaces (UI), and address their reporting

The emergence of true no code platforms is likely to occur gradually,
as vendors improve their products over time. As this evolution occurs,
the range of people who can use the tools will broaden, changing the
processes by which organizations create software.

An example of how such non-experts can use a low code or no code
tool is provided in analysis published by the World Economic Forum, covering the concept’s application in manufacturing: 

Engineers begin by analyzing
their process and identifying a problem that needs to be solved.
Perhaps shop floor associates need guidance on a complex custom
assembly, or they want to measure the overall effectiveness of a
machine, or track the root cause of defects being incurred on a new

The engineers responsible
for these operations build apps with custom logic and content. These
apps can then be connected to and incorporate data from machines,
sensors, and back-end systems found on the shop floor.7


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Consider Other
Sources of Software Development Shortcomings

The problems that low code platforms aim to alleviate – the time pressures of creating code or the push for applications
with fewer bugs – are not purely technological. And low code products
are only one potential solution. Before implementing any low code
platform, a good first step is for an organization to evaluate its own
software development processes:

  • How are software needs defined?
  • How are software projects prioritized?
  • What testing is performed?
  • How is the need for a software update identified?
  • How are software developers hired and evaluated?

Choose a Low-Code Platform Carefully

Low-code platforms are relatively new, so developers and the
organizations they work for are unlikely to yet have strong
preferences. At this point, using low code tools may be experimental
for many software teams. With this in mind, some organizations may
approach their use as a pilot project, focusing on a coding goal of
limited scope and carefully monitoring and measuring the results.

One approach to choosing among low code tools is described by NTT Data,
which sought help in increasing its development times when a 2016
acquisition of Dell Services forced it to quickly integrate another
company’s software. NTT Data conducted what it called a “bake-off.”8 Development
teams were formed, with each assigned a different tool. The teams then
performed various development tasks. This exercise helped the company
pick its preferred product and acquaint itself with low code practices.

Reconsider Processes

If an organization does implement a low code platform, it would be wise
to reconsider its processes for software development. These
changes might be relatively small if, for example, an experienced development
team is using the tool simply to accelerate some common tasks. But the
changes might be extensive if an organization is instead using low code
technology to bring business staff (that is, “citizen developers”) into
the process.9

The change here is potentially radical. Low code platforms aim
not just to help developers or IT staff who aren’t experienced coders; they can
potentially “[e]mpower everyone in your organization to
easily build their own apps,” to quote Microsoft’s description of its
platform. Making this change successfully and smoothly will require
process changes, some perhaps wide-reaching. Each organization will
need to perform a self-analysis to identify the particular changes it
will experience. There isn’t, at least at this early stage, a
one-size-fits-all blueprint for how to bring non-developers into the
development process.


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1 Cliff Saran. “IT Pros Hold Hope that
Low-Code Platforms Will Help Resolve App Backlog.” ComputerWeekly. May
16, 2019.

2 Clint Boulton. “How Low-Code
Platforms Are Transforming Software Development.” CIO. September 17,

3 Paul
Vincent, Kimihiko Iijima, Mark Driver, Jason Wong, Yefim Natis. “Magic
Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms.” Gartner.
August 8, 2019.

4 Mike Wheatley. “ServiceNow Acquires
SkyGiraffe for Its Low-Code App Development Platform.” SiliconANLGE.
October 25, 2017.

This list was complied in part by referencing the following sources:

Rob Marvin. “The Best
Low-Code Development Platforms for 2019.” PCMag.com. August 10, 2018.
Vincent, Kimihiko Iijima, Mark Driver, Jason Wong, and Yefim Natis. “Magic
Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms.” Gartner.
August 8, 2019.

John Rymer and Bill Seguin, “Watch Your Language! Low-Code’ and
‘No-Code’ Are Not the Same.” Forrester. April 5, 2019.

Erik Mirandette. “Manufacturing Is Finally Entering a New Era.” World Economic Forum.
March 21, 2019.

Clint Boulton. “How Low-Code Platforms Are Transforming Software
Development.” CIO. September 17, 2019.

9 For more on the concept of citizen developers, see:

“How the Mythical Citizen Developer Is Secretly Your Development Unicorn” (video).

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About the Author

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Geoff Keston is the author of
more than 250 articles that help organizations find opportunities in
business trends and technology. He also works directly with clients to
develop communications strategies that improve processes and customer
relationships. Mr. Keston has worked as a project manager for a major
technology consulting and services company and is a Microsoft Certified
Systems Engineer and a Certified Novell Administrator.

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