Low-code/no-code tools are proliferating.​
Photo: Lewis Kang'ethe Ngugi/Unsplash

Low-code/no-code tools are everywhere. Can they really deliver?

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Monday: the low-code era has arrived, New Relic gets a new CEO and Confluent taps a Salesforce vet as revenue chief.

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The Big Story

Let the low-code/no-code flow

Low-code/no-code tools are everywhere these days. The market is increasingly saturated with providers, many making the same claim that their tools can help companies link applications, build new interfaces and inject automation into everyday business processes — with the customer's current staff, not an army of experienced programmers.

While that may be true to an extent, the functionality is going to vary by provider. And so will the results. (This is where I am obligated to also point out that there is a big difference between low-code and no-code, which my colleague Tom Krazit artfully unpacked.) Still, providers of all stripes see a massive opportunity.

  • Platform companies like Salesforce and ServiceNow, for example, are increasingly adding in low-code/no-code development features.
  • Salesforce just rolled out a new drag-and-drop interface called Dynamic Interactions, but right now it's only useful for basic situations, like linking together a map with a list of companies. (Maybe we'll finally solve that traveling salesperson problem?)
  • Meanwhile, ServiceNow introduced Creator Workflows in March. According to CEO Bill McDermott, it's already a popular feature in the company's biggest deals.
  • "The reason that this opportunity is so smoking-hot right now is there just aren't enough developers to build the applications that the enterprises need to transform their business," he told investors earlier this month.

While those offerings may help companies build new applications, rivals say they are limited to the information available within those systems, which ultimately makes the tools not as powerful as more sophisticated integration offerings from Informatica, Boomi, Workato and others.

  • Of course, the capabilities increase as users wade deeper into the Salesforce or ServiceNow universes. And both vendors are also expanding their integrations with other software tools. ServiceNow, for example, says it has "thousands of pre-built integration actions to over 150 of the most common enterprise systems."
  • But few companies are likely to use just one of those vendors exclusively — or even just those 150 that ServiceNow partners with — which forces organizations to look to other options.
  • Those providers "don't try to challenge for the top of the pyramid ... and the top is a long way from the bottom," said Appian CEO Matt Calkins. "They make a small investment and they claim their share of the bottom."
  • RPA providers like UiPath and Automation Anywhere also make bold claims about the tech's capability to integrate apps, though most competitors say RPA is not robust enough on its own to handle anything beyond minor use cases.
  • "I haven't seen RPA vendors today that solve anywhere near the amount of complexity on connecting to everything that's in enterprises today," Boomi CEO Chris McNabb told Protocol.

But the battle extends beyond just low-code/no-code vendors. Integration platform as a service, or iPaaS, vendors see those companies as just scratching the surface of what is possible.

  • "What we see in the low-code development platform standpoint, that's a bunch of folks that are building apps against a single database," said Informatica Chief Product Officer Jitesh Ghai. "That is one dimension and they have their value. When customers come to us, it's because they're doing something more comprehensive."
  • In the view of Informatica and other iPaaS providers, the real value not only comes from linking the disparate applications and data sources together, but also monitoring the information that flows through the new connections for quality, consistency and other factors. That's increasingly important as organizations embrace the notion of a data-driven enterprise.
  • "To do this right, the governance layer becomes very important," Workato co-founder Gautham Viswanathan told Protocol.
  • And the iPaaS space is heating up. Startups like Workato and Zapier — which is valued at $5 billion per PitchBook after largely eschewing any venture capital money — are growing fast.

Ultimately, it seems there is plenty of appetite for these tools. Vendors should be able to carve out their own niches within that. And most companies are in the very early stages of trying to become data-driven, which presents a huge market opportunity ahead.

That very opportunity is driving a lot of marketing hype. The noise tends to disguise the reality that some low-code platforms would need to improve quite significantly to be able to handle the more complex use cases, and that seems unlikely. That isn't to say they don't play a critical role, especially in introducing non-developers to crucial enterprise technology that can otherwise be intimidating to newcomers. But it'll take savvy leadership by CIOs and other tech leaders to bypass the fluff and figure out the right vendor combination to successfully execute on their broader automation vision.

— Joe Williams


"The time of reckoning between business and data value is now. Everywhere you turn, you hear about how companies are becoming data driven. Ask executives how they measure the health of their business, and they will list metrics based on data. But what does it all mean?"

Learn more

This Week On Protocol

Passing the torch: New Relic founder Lew Cirne stepped down as CEO and ceded control to chief product officer Bill Staples, an industry veteran who previously had stints at Adobe and Microsoft.

Coming Up

May 17: RSA kicks off with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins giving the keynote.

May 18: Google I/O begins.

May 19: Cisco reports earnings.

Around the Enterprise


"The time of reckoning between business and data value is now. Everywhere you turn, you hear about how companies are becoming data driven. Ask executives how they measure the health of their business, and they will list metrics based on data. But what does it all mean?"

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Thursday.

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