The No-Code (R)evolution: The Shifting Landscape of Low-Code and No-Code Development

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Welcome to The Digital Experience Report, your source for news, analysis, and insights on the ExTech (Experience Technologies) market and all things related to the Digital Experience.

In this report, I take a deep dive into the evolution of the low-code and no-code sector including Appian, OutSystems, Mendix, ServiceNow, Salesforce, SAP, Skuid, Appify, and AgilePoint, and why I feel it’s becoming a revolution. Also, why efficiency is the enemy, one CIO goes all in on the customer experience, and a profile on ServiceNow’s Bill McDermott. Plus new studies from Workato and Verint, and news from Luminai, Mattermost, UiPath, Medallia, Talkdesk, InMoment, Next Matter, Submittable, Invoca and DealHub.

The No-Code (R)evolution: The Shifting Landscape of Low-Code and No-Code Development

The tech industry loves its weighty discussions and debates about definitions and categories. Buzzword wars sprout up periodically in never-succeeding attempts to settle the meaning of this term or that one.

It’s all a parlor game played by those on the inside.

But these distinctions are often meaningless to the enterprise leaders who buy this technology and need to leverage it to create business value.

Unless it helps them justify a purchase decision (hello analyst reports!), they tune out most of these debates and focus on the purpose-fit of any given technology to solve their business problems.

But sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.

We become so invested in the fight over terms that they become the focal point, leading us to miss the more significant trend or impact that the terms represent. Such is the case for an area I’ve followed for some time: the low-code and no-code market segments.

There is a significant shift underway in this space. I’d even go so far as to call it the beginnings of a revolution. And enterprise leaders need to be paying attention.

The Foundations of Low-Code and No-Code

While the industry often talks about low-code and no-code platforms in a single breath, each of these technology categories started in different places to address related but different problems.

Low-code was about helping IT close the developer backlog. As development demand increased, first-to-market low-code platforms such as Appian, OutSystems, and Mendix helped IT leaders draft non-developer IT staff into the application development game — and also made the pitch that development teams could collaborate with them by extending the functionality of these systems with custom bits of code. Thus, the low-code moniker.

By expanding the development footprint (and engaging the development teams as supporting cohorts), low-code promised to increase development throughput and help IT leaders respond to ever-increasing demand.

No-code players were also addressing the development backlog problem, but from a decidedly different perspective.

In this case, they were responding to the siren call of frustrated business users who had business-impacting, but low-priority automation requests. Their application requirements were often functionally specific and relatively simple in terms of development complexity. As a result, they never quite got to the top of the development backlog list.

No-code solutions aimed to help them get off the list altogether by giving them the power to create their own applications and serve their own needs. While that stinks of so-called shadow IT, in truth, many progressive IT leaders embraced this approach as it allowed them to meet business needs by letting them do it themselves rather than further burdening the IT development staff.

These two beginning postures are why most of the low-code/no-code story has been internally focused. It was almost all about closing the internal automation gap. And what a gap it is.

Although these platforms are still just scratching the surface in terms of enterprise penetration, the demand has kicked off a gold rush that has led to mountains of invested capital, an explosion of new players (not to mention a bunch of existing players that have rapidly retooled their messaging), and rapid innovation in the space.

Ironically enough, this rapid state of innovation is what has effectively dissolved the distinction between these two sectors and set the stage for the revolution that is beginning.

Low-code and No-code Evolves & Intersects

The flood of investments pushed both sectors to evolve rapidly.

On the no-code side, they moved up the ladder and started tackling more complex use cases, adding guardrails, and enabling more collaboration with IT. It was still focused on what was now called the citizen developer, but that citizen was now part of a broader and more orchestrated development effort.

In part, a shift in our understanding of the nature of citizen development drove this evolution. It turns out that the modern business user is far more technically savvy and capable of understanding technical elements, such as database schemas and business logic, than we realized.

On the low-code side of things, tech companies realized that less code was more.

As low-code providers increasingly extended functionality so that their users could do more visually and without code, it increased development throughput and decreased technical debt. As a result, even the most IT-centric low-code tools are increasingly no-code platforms.

At the same time, broad enterprise platforms such as ServiceNow, Salesforce, SAP, and others realized that this evolution was leading to their doors. The automation gaps enterprises were trying to close almost inevitably touched their platforms and leveraged the data held in their systems of record.

As they saw it, low-code and no-code approaches were just that — new ways to extend the reach of their platforms. This part of the evolutionary process threatened the traditional low-code and no-code players as these platform players co-opted the approach to deliver enterprise platforms and applications.

From Evolution to Revolution

All of this history leads us to today and the burning question: will low-code and no-code cease to be their own sectors and simply be a functional approach within other enterprise applications?

The answer is a definitive yes — and absolutely not!

There’s no question that low-code and no-code functionality is already a core feature of most enterprise platforms, and this trend will only accelerate over time. It is fast becoming the de facto approach to extending the functionality of everything, including systems of record, data integration platforms, workflow automation solutions, and even data science toolkits. Expect this part of the evolution to continue apace.

But I view that evolution as a good thing — and one that does not in any way signal the end for the sector.

In fact, I believe we are seeing the very first inklings of what will become a revolution in how the enterprise approaches application development and automation.

There are two reasons I believe this apparent dichotomy of direction to be true.

First, while there is plenty to like about the low-code capabilities offered by the enterprise platforms, they also demand that you exist within their walled gardens. That may not be an issue, but for many organizations (particularly those burned by restrictive or ever-increasing ELAs in the past), that may be one too many eggs in too few baskets.

But the second reason I expect to see a revolution and explosion in the low-code/no-code sector is an emerging class of vendors reimagining the entire enterprise development process.

Companies like Skuid, Appify, AgilePoint, and others are all taking traditional development motions and turning them upside down. Rather than simply trying to take long-standing development approaches and apply low-code/no-code veneers to them, this new breed of application development platform is willing to reimagine the entire process from the ground up.

The Enterprise Application Development Platform of the Future

When the low-code big players first entered the market, they understandably needed to conform to how the enterprise — and IT in particular — thought about the development process. Their approaches necessarily mirrored this process to demonstrate that they could play nicely in the existing world of IT.

It made sense. And it worked.

However, what we’re seeing now — and what has me so excited about what’s to come — is organizations willing to reimagine this process altogether. Skuid, for instance, takes a design-first approach to development. Using design thinking as its central ethos, the company helps organizations create on-brand experiences that connect disparate business processes from a customer or employee perspective — all with a heavy focus on the experience the resulting applications deliver.

Appify, founded just a few years ago, is highly visual and completely no-code. But what sets it apart is its focus on partner and customer-facing use cases. Unlike most of its competitors, its licensing model makes it easy to deploy its applications in customer-facing situations. In addition, it is now working with other software providers to create an integrated no-code layer that sits on top of their existing customer-facing, industry-specific applications. In some cases, these partners are rebuilding their application architecture around Appify’s foundation.

This approach enables their partners to compete in a no-code-enabled world, but also extends this new development ethos across a wide swath of application domains that would otherwise be left in the hinterlands.

Finally, there’s AgilePoint. The company is one that existed long before the low-code craze took root, and it’s leveraging this legacy to transform the way enterprises approach development. Rather than merely attempting to bridge the gap between professional and citizen developers, the company’s approach obliterates the divide altogether.

Using a unified development motif, citizen and professional developers can work side-by-side, creating almost any enterprise-grade application use case using what I call elastic boundaries. This approach means that if a citizen developer is more capable (and, therefore, more trusted), they can take over more of the development process — or vice versa. But all of this occurs in a unified interface that allows organizations to dynamically adjust and pivot based on both use case and capabilities — and leverage multiple development methodologies simultaneously.

And these are just three examples of the reimagining that is starting to happen.

As these new approaches and others like them take root, and as the big players follow suit, I believe we will see a revolution in how the enterprise develops applications and deploys automation.

It’s going to be a no-code world, and I, for one, can’t wait.

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About the author 

Charles Araujo

Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, the Digital Experience and the Future of Work. Researching Digital Transformation for over 10 years, he is now focused on helping leaders transform their organizations around the digital experience and to reimagine the future of work. Publisher and principal analyst of The Digital Experience Report, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, co-founder of The MAPS Institute, and author of three books, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and advisor to technology companies and enterprise leaders.

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