Low-Code App Development: Salesforce, OutSystems, Appian Riding High On Latest Forrester Wave

Riding The Low-Code Wave

Application development is challenging, but solution providers increasingly find themselves in scenarios where a successful engagement depends on the ability to deliver custom functionality.

While hiring software engineers isn't realistic for many in the channel, solution providers can now turn to several innovative vendors that deliver platforms enabling them to build apps with limited coding skills.

These low-code platforms, often delivered as cloud services, put in the hands of partners visual, declarative development tools in lieu of programming interfaces.

The latest Forrester Wave, based on a survey conducted by Forrester Research between July and August of 41 application development and delivery professionals, rates several of those low-code platforms.

In the Leaders category were Appian, Kony, Mendix, OutSystems and Salesforce. Those companies offer their customers the "broadest and deepest platforms," said Forrester.

K2 and ServiceNow came in as "Strong Performers," while AgilePoint and Bizagi differentiated themselves well enough to show up in the Contenders category.

Leader: OutSystems

This software company founded in Portugal was a pioneer in the low-code market, and still has "big ambitions" for its platform, said Forrester.

OutSystems is expanding that platform to facilitate development of new types of business applications, Forrester noted, including those incorporating sensor and real-time data, and artificial intelligence. It's also investing to support a wide range of business application use cases.

"OutSystems has a very mature and rich public cloud service, including an extensive sharing marketplace and developer community," Forrester added.

While the company is following a good strategy, Forrester wonders how OutSystems will maintain the ease of access to its technology, a trait that drove its success, in the face of seven-figure enterprise deals.

The report also noted that one of OutSystems' weaknesses, to some degree, is its partner ecosystem.

Leader: Appian

This year, the Reston, Va.-based platform vendor completed its "pivot to low-code," Forrester said, and then became the first low-code platform vendor to have an initial public offering.

That capped a decade-long journey that saw Appian go from selling portals, to business process management tools, to its low-code platform.

The platform has been improved to provide greater cost visibility and access. The challenge now is to translate those upgrades into more customers, Forrester says, noting Appian reported only 330 enterprise customers by the end of June.

"Appian's features are broad across the board, and the company's process and data management features are particularly deep," Forrester said. It also offers tools "to make initial forays into AI applications."

Appian has funded extensive security certifications of its cloud service, but falls short on customer control over platform scaling, the report noted.

Leader: Mendix

This Boston-based company "is firing on all cylinders and about to accelerate its distribution," Forrester said.

Mendix is well-known to developers, and "continues to innovate in new use cases and deepen its features across the board."

The company recently made a wise decision in basing its environment on Cloud Foundry. That led to SAP, a distributor of the popular Platform-as-a-Service, teaming with Mendix in the first partnership of a low-code platform and one of the world's four largest enterprise software vendors. The SAP deal should accelerate Mendix's rapid growth.

"The platform's user experience (UX) and content/collaboration services tooling, its development-team support and administration tooling, and its cloud service and developer community are all outstanding," Forrester said.

Mendix also offers leading artificial intelligence and machine-learning development features. The company does show weakness in cloud security certifications, and in the breadth of its partner roster, Forrester said.

Leader: Salesforce

The San Francisco-based CRM giant is also "the market's gorilla" for application development platforms, with a portfolio consisting of Force.com, Heroku and Lightning.

In the past, the multiplicity of platforms under the Salesforce umbrella confused customers. But Salesforce is now closer to offering a unified developer experience than it has been in years, with inclusion of Sales Cloud and Service Cloud applications across its low-code platforms, and integration of Lightning UX, according to Forrester.

"Salesforce's cloud services are very mature and used at scale, and the vendor's AppExchange marketplace and Trailhead developer learning program set the standard for those services among low-code platform vendors," Forrester noted.

But Salesforce has experienced some pain in evolving its 15-year-old development technology into the mobile era, the report said.

Another weakness is Salesforce's choice to rely on partners for many features. The strategic flaw is particularly apparent when it comes to integration and development-process support, Forrest said.

Leader: Kony

Kony leads the way in mobile application development. But the Austin, Texas-based company has graduated from being a mobile-first platform to a general-purpose low-code platform.

Over the past two years, Kony invested in the product features, marketing, and developer support programs needed to complete that evolution. All the while, its mobile heritage imbues a distinctive design experience and strong user interface development features.

"Now the vendor must re-educate customers about who it is," Forrester said.

Kony benefits from a mature public cloud service. Its main weakness is the immaturity of its commercial marketplace.

But Forrester said we should "expect the marketplace to bloom during the next year."

Strong Performer: ServiceNow

ServiceNow has taken "a big leap forward" when it comes to its development platform, "and more is coming," noted Forrester.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based cloud software heavyweight still falls short of the Leaders category, landing in the second-tier of Strong Performers in Forrester's Wave.

A large base of enterprise customers makes ServiceNow a widely considered option among customers evaluating low-code platforms. The company's latest release, Now Platform, remedies some shortcomings that set it back in prior Wave reports, including an over-reliance on scripting and low awareness among developers.

"The platform opportunity is as big as Salesforce's," noted Forrester.

"Equally important, the vendor's road map calls for adding within months real-time data processing, predictive analytics, ML, and event-based applications."

ServiceNow is particularly strong in facilitating IoT applications. It has a solid road map for artificial intelligence and advanced analytics, and a marketplace that's gotten off to a quick start over the last year, according to Forrester.

Strong Performer: K2

K2 landed in the Strong Performer category, and continues to accelerate its transition to cloud.

The Seattle-based company has strong credentials when it comes to low-code and business process automation, and boasts more than 3,500 enterprise customers around the world.

"K2's goal is to automate the breadth and scale of enterprise processes -- without limits," Forrester said.

Mobile and web interface design capabilities complement the vendor's strength around data management, reporting and analysis.

But "to keep pace in this market and to deliver on its ambitions," K2 would benefit by more-rapidly implementing capabilities to develop Internet of Things and artificial intelligence apps, Forrester said.

K2's cloud security certifications and low-code commercial model are weaker than those of the vendors in the Leaders category of the Wave. Those gaps look like they'll be addressed soon, making the platform more valuable to customers.

Contender: AgilePoint

Landing in the third-tier Contender category of the Forrester Wave, AgilePoint benefits from quality product engineering and a focus on Microsoft's ecosystem. The Mountain View, Calif.-based vendor is currently moving upmarket from midsize customers to large enterprise deals.

Just five years ago, AgilePoint sold a SharePoint add-on for workflow to small and medium-size enterprises. Now, the company is a general-purpose low-code platform that's considered by large enterprises.

While it continues to focus on customers in the Microsoft ecosystem, it "isn't constrained by its Microsoft roots," noted Forrester.

"An important next step for AgilePoint is to create a worldwide developer community and supporting sharing marketplace to support that community," Forrester said.

Contender: Bizagi

Bizagi's heritage as a business process automation vendor delivers "strong process features and a low-code business model" that landed it in the Contender category of the Forrester Wave.

Well-developed process and case management features allowed the London-based company to springboard into the low-code market. Bizagi continues to nurture a large community site, but recently added a usage-based pricing model and its first public cloud service.

The vendor is rapidly expanding sales and support worldwide. But the transformation from business process management to low-code platform provider is incomplete.

Bizagi needs to accelerate its migration to the cloud with its own security certifications and a web version of the free modeler that has gained it such a large community, Forrester said.

It would also benefit by doing more with machine learning and IoT, and by closing gaps in administration and application support.