In my series of cloud war blog posts, I’ve covered why the war among the top three cloud vendors is so ugly, the fight for industry cloud, and edge-to-cloud. Chapter 4 is about low-code application platforms. And none of the top cloud vendors – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure (Azure), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) – want to be left behind.
What is a low-code platform?
Simply put, a platform provides the run time environment for applications. The platform takes care of applications’ lifecycle as well as other aspects around security, monitoring, reliability, etc. A low-code platform, as the name suggests, makes all of this simple so that applications can be built rapidly. It generally relies on a drag and drop interface to build applications, and the background is hidden. This setup makes it easy to automate workflows, create user-facing applications, and build the middle layer. Indeed, the key reason low-code platforms have become so popular is that they enable non-coders to build applications – almost like mirroring the good old What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) platforms of the HTML age.
What makes cloud vendors so interested in this?
Cloud vendors realize their infrastructure-as-a-service has become so commoditized that clients can easily switch away, as I discussed in my blog, Multi-cloud Interoperability: Embrace Cloud Native, Beware of Native Cloud. Therefore, these vendors need to have other service offerings to make their propositions more compelling for solving business problems. It also means creating offerings that will drive better stickiness to their cloud platform. And as we all know, nothing drives stickiness better than an application built over a platform. This understanding implies that cloud vendors have to move from infrastructure offerings to platform services. However, building applications on a traditional platform is not an easy task. With talent in short supply, necessary financial investments, and rapid changes in business demand, enterprises struggle to build applications on time and within budget.
Enter low-code platforms. This is where cloud vendors, which already host a significant amount of data for their clients, become interested. A low-code platform that runs on their cloud not only enables clients to build applications more quickly, but also helps create stickiness because low-code platforms are notorious for “non interoperability” – it’s very difficult to migrate from one to another. But this isn’t just about stickiness. It’s one more initiative in the journey toward owning enterprises’ technology spend by building a cohesive suite of services. In GCP’s case, it’s realizing that its API-centric assets offer a goldmine by stitching together applications. For example, Apigee helps in exposing APIs from different sources and platforms. Then GCP’s AppSheet, which it acquired last year, can use the data exposed by the APIs to build business applications. Microsoft, on the other hand, is focusing on its Power platform to build its low-code client base. Combine that with GitHub and GitLab, which have become the default code stores for modern programming, and there’s no end to the innovation that developers or business leaders can create. AWS is still playing catch-up, but its launch of Honeycode has business written all over it.
What should other vendors and enterprises do?
Much like the other cloud wars around grabbing workload migration, deploying and building applications on specific cloud platforms, and the fight for industry cloud, the low-code battle will intensify. Leading vendors such as Mendix and OutSystems will need to think creatively about their value propositions around partnerships with mega vendors, API management, automation, and integration. Most vendors support deployment on cloud hyperscalers and now – with a competing offering – they need to tread carefully. Larger vendors like Pega (Infinity Platform,) Salesforce (Lightning Platform,) and ServiceNow (Now Platform) will need to support the development capabilities of different user personas, add more muscle to their application marketplaces, generate more citizen developer support, and create better integration. The start-up activity in low-code is also at a fever pitch, and it will be interesting to see how it shapes up with the mega cloud vendors’ increasing appetite in this area. We covered this in an earlier research initiatives, Rapid Application Development Platform Trailblazers: Top 14 Start-ups in Low-code Platforms – Taking the Code Out of Coding.
Enterprises are still figuring out their cloud transformation journeys. This additional complexity further exacerbates their problems. Many enterprises make their infrastructure teams lead the cloud journey. But these teams don’t necessarily understand platform services – much less low-code platforms – very well. So, enterprises will need to upskill their architects, developers, DevOps, and SRE teams to ensure they understand the impact to their roles and responsibilities.
Moreover, as low-code platforms give more freedom to citizen developers within an enterprise, tools and shadow IT groups can proliferate very quickly. Therefore, enterprises will have to balance the freedom of quick development with defined processes and oversight. Businesses should be encouraged to build simpler applications, but complex business applications should be channeled to established build processes.
Low-code platforms can provide meaningful value if applied right. They can also wreak havoc in an enterprise environment. Enterprises are already struggling with the amount of their cloud spend and how to make sense of the spend. Cloud vendors introducing low-code platform offerings into their cloud service mix is going to make their task even more difficult.
What has your experience been with low-code platforms? Please share with me at [email protected].