Executive need to listen

ARTICLE | November 15, 2021 | 4 min read

Low code by the numbers

The state of low code demand, adoption, and growth

By Howard Rabinowitz, Workflow contributor

The promise of low-code software development is a big one: Using visual templates and drag-and-drop tools, people without coding skills can collaborate and build powerful business applications on the fly.

Analysts are on board. Forrester predicted that 75% of enterprise software development would use low-code platforms by the end of 2021. Gartner estimates that by 2024, 80% of all technology products and services will be built by so-called citizen developers.

Perhaps it’s time for a reality check.

“Different people have different definitions of low code, so establishing [forecasts] is a fool’s errand,” says Tom Davenport, professor of IT and management at Babson College. “We do know the pace of adoption is accelerating because it’s very appealing to companies.”

How fast is the low-code train really moving, and what else is it changing in the process? Here’s a look at other facts, numbers, and business context that paint a more realistic picture of low code.


 The benefits of low-code platforms

Gartner defines the marketplace for low-code tools by category, including app development platforms—the largest and fastest-growing sector—as well as robotic process automation tools, business process management suites, and citizen developer platforms.

The popularity of those sectors has led to a steady increase in spending on low-code development platforms. Gartner projects a total outlay of $13.8 billion in 2021, a 22.6% increase from 2020 but still only a fraction of the $517 billion that business spent on enterprise software this year.

A forecast from Research and Markets estimates that the low-code platform market will generate annual revenue of $187 billion by 2030.

The IT skills shortage has continued for more than a decade, exacerbated dramatically by the pandemic. The demand for digital products and services continues to outpace the supply of skilled workers.

Nearly 1 in 3 CIOs say the pandemic increased competition for IT talent, and 1 in 5 say it has created a major “developer drought,” according to a survey by Propeller. The IT talent shortage is at a 15-year high, a recent Manpower survey found, with 69% of employers reporting difficulty filling vacancies.

Finding skilled software developers is also costly and time-consuming. It takes 64 days on average to fill a software developer vacancy, according to Focus GTS. Competition has driven salaries sky high. ZipRecruiter pegs the median annual compensation for a mobile app developer at $102,000, as of June 2021.

“As companies become more digital, they need vast quantities of software,” Davenport says. “Even if you could hire twice as many people, it wouldn’t fulfill demand, so you have to democratize the process.”

With strong demand for new apps and a dearth of skilled developers, no wonder that two-thirds of software projects are delivered behind schedule. Despite working full-speed, many organizations are struggling with an increasing backlog.

Low-code development has been estimated to accelerate builds by 50% to 90%, according to 451 Research. That’s a big spread and hard to verify, but anecdotal evidence supports it. For example, credit agency FICO reports using low-code tools reduced development time by 75% in the ground-up rebuild of its Origination Manager software.

Moreover, nearly half of companies report low code is 40% to 80% faster than traditional software development, according to a 2021 Creatio survey.

Adoption of low-code tools hovers at nearly half of respondents, according to a TechRepublic survey. While awareness of the potential benefits of low code is widespread, most business executives report their companies lack experience to implement it, Creatio reports.

Within industries, financial firms are the furthest ahead in low-code adoption, with 44% citing moderate to very high progress, according to a ServiceNow/ESI survey. The healthcare sector lags farthest behind, with only about a third of such organizations reporting moderate to very high progress, and 41% making no progress.

Among the companies that have adopted low-code development, more than half report moderate to very high value, the ServiceNow/ESI study found.

The TechRepublic survey also noted that early adopters say they’re using low code to automate workflows (17%), create new applications (15%), speed up development time (15%), and automate data collection and reporting (14%).

For all the hype about the rise of citizen developers, only 6% of low-code development is now occurring without any IT involvement. In part, that reflects the reality that even low code has a skill threshold not every non-IT developer can meet.

Still, rapid adoption of low-code tools—and rising pressure on overwhelmed IT teams—is turning IT leaders into believers. In fact, 92% of IT professionals are increasingly comfortable with non-coders assisting app and software development.

“Democratization is a good idea, but you do need certification and governance processes,” notes Davenport. “Even just keeping track of all of the applications that are developed and who built them companywide can be a challenge.”

In addition to easing their workloads, IT professionals see another benefit to adoption of low-code tools: the chance to boost diversity in IT. They believe it could empower workers without a college education (48%) and people of different ages (48%) and races (46%) to break down IT’s social barriers, according to the Mendix study.

When it comes to measuring the ROI of low code, greater productivity and faster development cycles are valuable. But greater fairness and inclusivity might be low code’s biggest promise of all.

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Howard Rabinowitz is a business and technology writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla.