Business person creating an application using a low-code development platform
Business person creating an application using a low-code development platform PHOTO: Unsplash

Last month when Forrester Research released its annual survey on the low-code ecosystem it made a very important nod to an emerging trend in this marketplace: it divided its research into two separate reports with one devoted to low-code tools for the IT developer. The other? It was entirely dedicated to low-code for the business professional user.

The low-code market, which has been studied by Forrester for only three years, originally began as a toolset for developers that served as an alternative to coding, according to Forrester Research Analyst John Rymer. Within the last year or so, it had become apparent that other users were adopting these tools as well —  that is, non-tech employees who were frustrated for one reason or another with their software, or lack thereof.

“I would talk to vendors’ customers and it was clear that some of these vendors were selling to business people.” What’s more, those particular vendors —  he cited QuickBase, Nintex and Caspio as examples — had very distinct go-to-market strategies and applications. “Their product design was very different than an OutSystems for example,”  a low-code platform aimed at IT professionals.

A Disruptive Shift Driven By Multiple Needs

“We’ve been seeing this shift in the market for many years,” John Carione,  Quick Base’s strategy and product marketing leader told CMSWire. Low-code for business professionals has been much more disruptive than its counterpart in the IT world. “This is a new resource in the line of business, where users can come from any area of operation — marketing, finance, supply chain, contracts and so on. There are a lot of different functional groups and business units that are using low-code.”

There are many reasons for business users’ adoption of low code, according to Carione. Among them: Organizations are challenged with growing IT backlogs and they can’t keep up; there is a dearth of IT development talent — or at least a dearth of affordable talent; users want a solution that is perfectly fitted to their specific circumstances; the time savings are immense when you are not waiting for IT to get to your particular problem.

Another reason is the plethora of point solutions in the enterprise, Carione continued. Using one platform as a base allows a company to roll out these point solutions to business users quickly and built-to-spec.

How Low-Code is Being Used

The uses of low-code, at least by business users, is as varied as the types of employees that have adopted low code, Rymer said. Administrative apps are one popular use case; so are data tracking and reporting, case studies have shown.

Much depends on the actual low-code application as their capabilities vary across the board. [See Forrester’s list of popular low-code applications below]. Some are well suited for enterprise use; some are good for only basic tasks. Some have an elaborate toolset well designed for data-management; others don’t even have a process designer. For many companies such distinctions are lost, if only because the need for low-code has gotten so great. “The need to produce more software is so intense that a lot of companies are actually willing to consider the radical idea that they don’t have to code to get what they need,” Rymer said. “This has always been a controversial idea,” he added, but less so lately.

Below are some of the top low-code applications highlighted in Forrester’s New Wave report.

Quick Base

Quick Base, Forrester’s top selection in its report, was selected for its well-designed tools and automation and strong data management capabilities. Forrester did also note that Quick Base’s mobile UX is cumbersome or “clunky” as it doesn’t yet offer responsive design. Also, there is no process designer, which means users must work with data triggers and notifications.

MatsSoft

With strong UX development, data management, and application development support features, MatsSoft is a solid platform for data-intensive and process apps. However, Forrester says that its Business Process Model and Notation, or BPMN, tools and startup experience are only average with the former too complex and the latter uninspiring.

Caspio

Caspio’s strengths are its data management, web experiences and reporting features. It doesn’t have a process designer; users must link actions on forms using the triggers on the roadmap.

Microsoft

According to the Forrester data, Microsoft has the broadest strategy of the apps it studied but that its product dependencies are a weak spot. It says that PowerApps and Flow are strong, standalone tools but some features either require use of another product — such as SharePoint, Power BI — or are on the road map. Another plus about PowerApps and Flow is that they help users extend Office 365, Dynamics 365, OneDrive, and SharePoint 2016, which are included.

Nintex

Nintex’s process tools are among the best of those companies studied in this Forrester report — they are described as rich and flexible, equipped with responsive design, and having built-in integration. One drawback to the platform is that it only has basic data management features. According to Forrester, platform extensions and tools for more sophisticated data management are on the vendor’s roadmap. Nintex also integrates well with Office 365 and SharePoint, Forrester said.

FlowForma

FlowForma has robust process tools. It also offers a good startup experience, in which users answer questions during the form design process to define the data. In addition, the process designer includes integration. Forrester said FlowForma may not meet all companies’ data-management needs as data models are implied from forms and the reporting is only on processes. It also is dependent on Microsoft SharePoint for document storage and user management.

FileMaker

FileMaker is a strong foundation for data-intensive applications while offering strong reporting and publishing tools. Its drawbacks include a lack of process modeling — users define processes through linking forms — but REST integration is on the roadmap, according to Forrester.

KiSSFLOW

KiSSFLOW’s strength is that it combines forms/UX creation, data and process definitions, integration, and reporting into one single experience, Forrester said. However, its data operations and workflow are limited, making the application best suited for department and team apps as opposed to enterprise use cases. Forrester also noted that anyone using Excel and email for their processes will find automation easier with KISSFLOW.

Zudy

Although Zudy is late to the self-service cloud platform, the product is well priced and has a unique Q&A interface that allows for a quick start and then deeper dive into the configurations, Forrester said. It is well suited for users that need new business services and operational apps.

Pulpstream

Pulpstream has a mobile UX modeler that Forrester described as rich and flexible and that can leverage native device features. Process modeling takes place only through form actions — that is, customers define actions on a form within a stream. Forrester said it is most ideally suited for automating field-operations processes.