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Those low-code tools devs love so much? They'll grow 20% in 2023, says Gartner

Oh joy. Effect on software development inevitable, but it's clearly not devs' replacement, says analyst

The global market for low-code development technologies is set to grow nearly 20 percent from 2022, to reach $26.9 billion in 2023, according to a forecast from Gartner.

The IT research firm sees "hyperautomation and composable business initiatives" as drivers accelerating the adoption of low-code technologies between now and 2026.

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The "hyper-automation" bucket of projects includes citizen automation development platforms (CADP), the fastest growing in the party, at 30 percent growth forecast for 2023. Typical use cases of CADP include automating workflows, building web-based forms, bridging data and content across multiple software-as-a-service applications and creating reports and data visualisations, Gartner said.

The steep growth among low-code and automation tools contrasts with the wider IT market. For example, software generally is expected to grow at 11.3 percent, datacenter systems at 3.4 percent, and IT services at 7.9 percent.

'There was the feeling they'd seen the movie before, in rapid application development, in 4GL tools...'

While there had been strong growth in low-code tools prior to 2020, it was during the first couple of years of the pandemic that businesses finally overcame some resistance among IT professionals to the broad-based introduction of low-code tools, said Jason Wong, Gartner distinguished VP analyst.

"Before the pandemic, this was already a trend, and I would say that IT was long going along with it for particular types of initiatives, but they were still sceptical. There was the feeling they'd seen the movie before, in rapid application development, in 4GL tools. IT was still a little bit sceptical of the broader use of low code development and in particular, the business driving it forward. But with the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, that really shook things up that showed that this is inevitable," he said.

Wong argued that necessary changes to customer experience and employee experience demanded by remote working and trading had driven the demand to enhance applications with specific tools and features, developed using a low-code approach. Users were reaching for whatever tools they already had – most likely, Microsoft Power Apps.

Recent years have seen an injection of low-code tools into mainstream application environments, with recent announcements from AWS and SAP. Oracle has also been building more automation with its platform, and has a low-code initiative dubbed Apex. Workflow specialist ServiceNow has also backed the trend.

Roles will change

Although they will not replace professional devs, business users with low-code tools are likely to cause some changes in IT professional roles.

"It's probably the biggest misconception that low code is going for the jobs of developers. It's not about replacing en masse all these different jobs but rescaling and retraining your employees.

"The same goes for software developers. These are still highly coveted jobs. And there's still a really strong need for applying your most technical seasoned developers, in particular, to build great custom digital products, but even in that scenario, low code as a movement is an inevitable force in computing will impact software development," Wong said.

However, organizations still struggle to find the right approach to starting a low-code strategy and drawing up consistent rules governing where and when to apply the technology, he added.

"There's not a single market around low code: more and more tools are adding low code capabilities to their tools. So, the question is, what is the entry point?

"We're also trying to help clients understand ... what the ceiling is for some of these tools. You have to know when to connect to pro-code environments. These tools inherently have some kind of ceiling; when a project calls for some unique capability that is not configurable within the low code environment, you have to write code.

"You really need to understand what that point is. Whenever you introduce code, that is introducing potential brittleness and technical debt, and it's about managing that technical debt layer," Wong said. ®

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