This article is part of a VB special issue. Read the full series here: The CIO agenda: The 2023 roadmap for IT leaders.

CIOs today are quick to pursue low-code/no-code platforms to democratize app development, enabling line-of-business teams to create the apps they need. The intuitively designed, declarative drag-and-drop interfaces core to leading platforms from Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow and other vendors lead to quick initial adoption and pilot projects. 

Already-overwhelmed IT teams welcome the chance to delegate development to business units that are showing a strong interest in learning low-code and no-code development. Facing a severe ongoing labor shortage, CIOs are looking to low-code and no-code platforms to ease the workloads in their departments. 

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the global shortage of software engineers may reach 85.2 million by 2030. More than four out of five businesses cannot attract or retain their software developers or engineers. In response, the average company obviated the need for hiring two IT developers by using low-code/no-code tools, which generated an estimated $4.4 million increase in business value over three years.  

Continual innovations keep the market growing  

Low-code/no-code platforms are meeting enterprises’ need to create new apps in response to evolving customer, market, operations and regulatory needs. According to Gartner, the market for low-code development technologies is projected to grow to $44.5 billion by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate of 19%.

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By 2026, adoption of low-code development technologies by large and midsize organizations will accelerate, thanks to several factors, including the demand for faster application delivery with low engineering input, continued tech talent shortages and a growing hybrid or borderless workforce. Democratization, hyperautomation and composable business initiatives will also be key drivers accelerating the adoption of low-code technologies over the next three years.

Meanwhile, Gartner estimates that 41% of employees in an enterprise are business technologists who report outside of IT and create analytics and app capabilities for internal or external business use. Low-code platforms have become a crucial element of successful hyperautomation

Thirteen percent of business technologists state that low-code development tools are among the top three tools they have used most frequently, and in large quantities, to support automation efforts in the past year. Enterprises are also adopting application composition technologies that allow fusion teams to create composable applications. Low-code platforms are critical because they allow for greater composability of application services, functionality and capabilities.

Gartner also predicts that 50% of all new low-code clients will come from business buyers outside the IT organization by 2025. And Microsoft anticipates that of the 500 million apps it expects will be created over the next five years, 450 million will be designed on low-code/no-code platforms.  

For these platforms to deliver the full market potential they’re projected to, the following six areas need to see continual innovation over the next three to five years:

  • Designing and incorporating AI and machine learning capabilities to enable in-app intelligence and the rebuilding of components.
  • Constructing low-code platforms that allow for real-time iteration, thus reducing the overall development cycle.
  • Implementing a consistent infrastructure and architectural strategy that seamlessly integrates with devops workflows.
  • Improving the ability to scale and support data-centric and process-centric development cycles.
  • Increasing the focus in API development on improving integration with on-premises and cloud-based data.
  • Ensuring that the same code line can support multiple personas, including frameworks, app templates and tools.

Digital transformation projects stress-test platforms’ scale and usability 

CIOs tell VentureBeat that projects aimed at digitally transforming selling, service and customer success strategies dominate their roadmaps today. How quickly new digitally-driven revenue initiatives can get online is an increasingly popular metric in CIOs’ compensation and bonus plans this year.

Many CIOs and their teams are turning to low-code platforms to keep up with project plans and roadmaps. Every IT department ideally wants to avoid the slow progress and complexities of full-stack development. Ongoing improvements in low-code platforms that allow for the creation of custom applications with minimal manual coding are critical to their increasing adoption.

Digital transformation projects are ideal for stress-testing low-code and no-code platforms. CIOs and their teams are finding that low-code platforms have the potential to accelerate app development by a factor of 10. Achieving that level of performance gain is predicated on having an excellent training and development program for business analysts and other citizen developers who create apps to support an enterprise’s line-of-business division reporting and analysis.

“With low code, innovative apps can be delivered 10 times faster, and organizations can turn on a dime, adapting their systems at the speed of business,” said Paulo Rosado, CEO at OutSystems. “Low code provides a real and proven way for organizations to develop new digital solutions much faster and leapfrog their competitors.” 

Another aspect of the digital transformation stress test on low-code/no-code platforms is that these platforms need a consistent, simple, scalable app governance process. When governance varies by platform, it’s nearly impossible to scale an enterprise app corporate-wide without extensive customization and expense.

CIOs are also finding that platforms can grow beyond initial budgets quickly as their hidden costs become apparent. These include getting beyond the limited process workflow support that further challenges an app’s ability to scale enterprise-wide.

Nearly every CIO VentureBeat spoke with said they currently have several low-code platforms, each assigned to a different business unit or division based on unique development needs. Each business unit contends that the low-code platform they have adopted is ideal for their personas. Yet the low-code platform leaders promise they can serve all personas needed for a single database. CIOs are left to manage a diverse and growing base of low-code and no-code platforms to ensure the autonomy of business units that want the freedom to build their apps on their own, often accelerated, schedules.   

How low code/no code will evolve this year   

Straightforward digital transformation projects are emerging as the crucible needed for low-code/no-code platforms to continue becoming enterprise-ready. Look for these platforms to expand their capabilities to include broader API integration support, more advanced AI/ML services and improved support for multiple workflow scenarios.

Low-code/no-code platform providers are also focusing on cloud-native scalability to support larger enterprise deployments. Many are working toward providing more in-depth governance and collaboration tools to support cross-functional teams composed of business analysts, citizen developers and devops teams, including IT developers.

Another goal is to compose applications from multiple API and service types, so low-code/no-code platforms can address a broader range of enterprise application requirements — leading enterprises to choose them as a core application program for the long term.

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