The Citizen Developer

The Citizen Developer’s First Challenge: Choosing a Development Platform

It’s safe to say there are currently hundreds of low-code/no-code application development platforms available. By now, it may even be thousands. Plenty of choices. Of course, having so many choices can be as much of a challenge as it is an advantage. How does a fledgling citizen developer even begin to evaluate and select one?

It’s Official: It Has an Acronym
In the IT world, new emerging things become official only when they're assigned an acronym, usually by Gartner, Forrester, or another analyst firm. At the end of last year, Gartner released its Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms (LCAP) evaluation, in which they ranked the current offerings. In this evaluation, the analysts defined LCAPs as "an application platform that is used to rapidly develop and deploy custom applications by abstracting and minimizing or replacing the coding needed in development." And they validated all the software we’ve been talking about in this column.

A Good Starting Point for Selection
Many IT development and operations professionals use Gartner's Magic Quadrants as a starting point for selecting a range of software platforms, and the Magic Quadrant for LCAPs (love that shorthand) lists 17 out of the potential thousands currently on the market. That’s a very helpful reduction, no?

Users of the Magic Quadrants are familiar with the axes of the Quadrant and how the resulting four intersections are labelled. The vertical axis reflects each entrant’s ability to execute, in other words, how effectively their product does what it does. The horizontal axis reflects the completeness of the company’s vision, which drives the development and continuing improvement of the product.

At the bottom left are the "niche players" with both low execution and low vision scores. Above them in the upper left quadrant are the "challengers," vendors that are strong on execution, not so much on vision. On the lower right are the "visionaries," who do have greater vision, but have not yet achieved a sufficient level of execution. The upper right quadrant, the "leaders" quadrant, is the goal position for all entrants, and it's where, according to Gartner, the only the best reside. Strong on vision and execution, these vendors are the ones to follow, and perhaps select when choosing your preferred LCAP platform!

The Leaders
Given the relative youth of the LCAP market, it should come as no surprise that more than half of the entrants are still in the “niche players” quadrant. There are four just outside that quadrant in the challenger and visionary quadrants. However, of the 17 LCAP providers displayed on this Magic Quadrant, there are 5 Leaders that have already established and distinguished themselves. Three of these are familiar names to just about everyone, and the other two are already familiar to the existing community of citizen developers. What’s perhaps most interesting is that it is the unfamiliar pair that have achieved pole position farthest up and farthest to the right.

The three familiar players in the LCAP Leaders quadrant are Microsoft, Salesforce, and ServiceNow, with Microsoft being both highest up and furthest to the right of this group. Higher up in ability to execute is OutSystems, and farthest toward the visionary right is Mendix.

Gartner identifies the chief differentiating characteristic of OutSystems as its "evolutionary" approach to low-code software engineering, which the company says can be used to produce results at any level of complexity. The analysts point to enterprise-class features, robust security, and (no surprise) AI-Augmented development capabilities. They also mention Outsystems' customer success program and its success partnering with global systems integrators, which ensures that new citizen developers receive excellent support, backed up by publicly available customer satisfaction survey scores.

For those who believe in depending on large organizations to support them, Mendix is a subsidiary of Siemens. According to Gartner, the primary market differentiator for Mendix is its combined support for both citizen developers and professional developers. Adopting what has become a very popular strategy for accelerating the expansion of its platform, Mendix has actively targeted independent software vendors (ISV) to add new utilities and composable assets for vertical markets to enhance its platform and made them available in the Mendix Marketplace as App Services and Solutions.

What Are YOUR Criteria?
Especially at this early stage, selecting your LCAP will be challenging. It would be easy enough to identify the objective criteria for selection, but any software development platform is also chosen based on very subjective opinions. As you form your opinion, start by answering the following questions:

  • How easy-to-use is the interface? This is where the software meets the user, so it's very important. Especially to the novice user with no software coding experience, the user interface (UI) is paramount. In simplest terms, you need to really like it and find it easy to use.
  • How clear is the documentation in preparing you to use the platform? If this is your first excursion into low-code/no-code or any other kind of application development, you’re going to want thorough, specific, comprehensive documentation that really helps you learn how to use the platform, so you won’t need to guess.
  • How well does the graphical structure help you define your business processes? This is the heart of the matter. If you can’t figure out how to create a workflow, the rest of the software is useless to you.
  • How terrific is the support available to you? “Terrific” includes how quickly you can gain access to help, how knowledgeable the support people are, how good they are at conveying concepts and instructions to you, how much insight they demonstrate into the fundamental structure of workflows, and how well they avoid making you feel like you’re just not smart.
  • How do you feel about pricing and licensing? True for any kind of software, if you feel the pricing and licensing models are uncomfortable you will never lose that feeling. In fact, it will only get worse over time. Include this criterion in your decision making to avoid buyer’s remorse.

For those who wish to use this Magic Quadrant to get started on your search for your LCAP, here are the 17 competitors who made it, complete with their website URLs:

What Are YOUR Recommendations?
Whether you’re planning to create complete applications yourself, or providing a great jump from the starting point for your professional developers, the right platform can make all the difference. Once you’ve made your decision, we’d love to hear about it. Which platform did you choose, and why? Did you get the results you expected? This is one of the most important decisions all citizen developers will have to make. We love to share your opinion to help everyone make better decisions.


About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.