In the melee of 2017 prediction articles, there has been a lot of talk around the rise of the App and API economy and the effects it is having on developers. As revolutionary as these changes are, it's often easy to overlook what is possibly the most important aspect of this shift - the rise of low-code platforms and a fundamental change in how organisations define, develop, deliver, and maintain applications.
Why does this matter? We're witnessing a crisis point in the market, one where the demands for digital transformation in the enterprise have far exceeded the capacity of IT teams to deliver. Hence the rise in low-code development as IT starts to re-think, re-tool and re-engineer how technology gets delivered.
We see that this low-code drive is being fueled by three critical aspects:
1. Mobile development is crippling IT teams. Building and delivering enterprise-grade mobile apps requires a complex set of technical skills and is an exercise in extreme change. Gartner has estimated that by 2020, the demand for enterprise mobile applications will be five times greater than the supply of available developers and that by 2019, one in every three mobile projects will fail.
2. Expectations from the business are accelerating. Understandably business units want their apps immediately as they face extreme competition and need to get to market quickly. But, the need for speed is at an all-time high and many CIOs realise it can be their greatest competitive advantage.
3. IT is hitting a productivity wall. Traditional tools and methodologies are falling short in today's digital era making the days of the big-bang software project dead. Right now IT teams are struggling with huge backlogs and resource challenges and need a faster, better way to deliver apps.
At OutSystems, we've seen that these issues are propelling innovative companies to embrace low-code platforms as a central part of their digital transformation strategy. As a result they're rapidly building complex enterprise apps that deliver real competitive advantage. This rapid time to customer value is why Forrester predicts the low-code market will exceed $15 billion by 2020.
So let's look at the three key indicators that show the low-code market is poised for incredible growth.
The first sign that the low-code market is ready to rise is the rapid growth of technology providers. In Q4 2016, Google announced a "low-code" type of solution and although this is exciting, it's also clear that hot tech markets attract a wide variety of providers and posers.
It's no surprise that things are getting a little confusing. In fact, more low-code platform choices might sound appealing, but a closer look reveals that many products are a far cry from what most enterprises need. Right now what is needed is more clarity around the definition of low-code development.
Forrester defines low-code platforms as "platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment". In its 2016 report on the low-code landscape, 'Vendor Landscape: The Fractured, Fertile Terrain Of Low-Code Application Platforms', Forrester does an excellent job of outlining five subcategories for low-code offerings based on functionality and scenario flexibility. These categories range from database, which create small departmental apps with limited scope, scale and security, all the way to general purpose low-code platforms that can address everything from complex mobile applications to mission-critical core systems. In the middle range are request handling, process, and mobile-only low-code offerings.
Although I really like the Forrester explanation, I'd like to offer another perspective to help readers understand the low-code landscape based on the heritage of the platforms in it. I would categorise as follows:
1. Niche: Vendors who are focused on a specific app-dev challenge. For example, a better way to capture and store data or a simpler way to define business processes. This is where you'll find vendors like QuickBase, Appian and AgilePoint.
2. Ecosystem: Vendors whose motivation is to provide a low-code solution to create greater value within their primary ecosystems. The giant vendors here include Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and now Google.
3. Purpose-built: Platforms architected from the very beginning to address any kind of custom application development needed with a low-code approach. This is where OutSystems lives.
The problem with niche players and those focused on their own ecosystem is that, inevitably, a time comes when the solution built with the platform needs to be evolved in a direction that isn't supported. At this point, organisations are forced to abandon their low-code strategy and resort to traditional hand coding. The benefits of low-code are lost quickly when the platform can't support real enterprise use cases.
The second proof point that the market is ready to blossom is the incredible results customers are seeing with the technology. Consider a few examples of what companies are doing with low-code platforms.
Take FICO for example. They had a two-year development project that failed. In just six months with half the team, they rewrote and delivered a brand new origination system and got it to market three times faster using the OutSystems low-code platform.
Worcestershire County Council deployed a low-code platform to help deliver online government services with more efficient operations. In just one year, it built 53 apps, delivering an ROI of £367,547 or 442 percent. Looking ahead, WCC is on track to save £2.8m over three years.
The third major sign that the low-code market is ready for mainstream is ecosystem growth. The companies whose primary businesses are application development and digital transformation are building out their centres of excellence to include low-code development.
So where does that leave us for 2017?
The pain and strain on IT organisations has never been greater. But innovative companies are charting a new course and breaking the sound barriers of adoption that once held them back. By the end of 2017, I predict an increasing number of mobile apps will have been built with low-code platforms. Also, disruption will become more intense. For example, look for apps that can be run from a person's wrist. Low-code platforms are becoming a formidable way for organisations to meet the challenges associated with digital disruption.