Low-code platforms want to make software writing faster – for amateurs, but also for professionals. They allow apps to be clicked together with the mouse. But not everyone is enthusiastic about that.
“Do it yourself” is a great principle when it comes to doing manual work. With software it is rather difficult to do something yourself. One of the providers who want to make this possible is Mendix. The Boston-based company has developed a cloud-based platform for professionals and people who are not so good with technology, but need quick solutions – do-it-yourself applications.
In technical terms, the principle behind this is called low-code, a multi-billion dollar market in which Mendix competes at the very front with Salesforce, ServiceNow, OutSystems and Appian. Put simply, the developers do not write individual lines of code as programming commands, but use standardized software components that they model visually.
All reports on the current situation in Germany and worldwide as well as the most important news of the day – twice a day with SZ Espresso. Our Newsletter brings you up to date in the morning and evening. Free registration: sz.de/espresso. In our News app (download here) you can also subscribe to the espresso or breaking news as a push message.
Customers can use the Mendix platform to develop their own apps. There are two versions for this: “Studio” for people without programming experience, “Studio Pro” for professionals. The two systems lead through the development in individual steps: What question should the app user ask? What data does he have to enter? What follows if the user answers “yes”; where will he go if he answers “no”? The individual points are drawn and placed as a box with the mouse and arranged on a surface like a tree that branches out further.
An assistant based on artificial intelligence suggests which step could come next – the company promises a hit rate of 90 percent. In the app store, the low coder can integrate applications such as Google Maps, or create your own so-called widgets. The end result is provided either in the customer’s own cloud or in the Mendix cloud. The advantages of the method: lower costs, fewer personnel, faster results.
Founder and CEO Derek Roos explains that the Mendix ecosystem is a network in which more than 100,000 developers and partners such as IBM and SAP are involved worldwide. The platform itself is commercial, but “open in the sense that everyone can contribute” – based on the open source platform Cloud Foundry.
The Dutchman built the company together with Derckjan Kruit because – as is so often the case with founders – he himself had frustrating experiences with software development. Programmers often worked old school: they code what the customer says. However, the customer, mostly an IT layperson, did not know exactly what he needed or what was even possible. In addition, it often took months for a result to be presented.
From the idea to the app in just a few steps
Roos says the low-code method is ten times faster than the conventional way. “If you can convert an idea into an app almost immediately, almost as if you were painting a picture – customers can say: this is what I don’t want to. ” But all of this does not mean that every creative team should now develop a small program away from IT. For security reasons, it is extremely important for large companies with a large technical infrastructure to integrate new systems and programs.
Low-code critics fear that this approach will not result in scalable or truly business-critical applications. Roos explains that the approach should not be used to replace software experts, but to promote collaboration with them: professional IT people provide the technical, low-coder the logical-thematic. For the latter, it is enough if you understand the visual structure and master the “drag and drop” principle. Roos’ contact persons for cooperation are the IT and digital managers in companies. According to the company, 4000 customers are already working with the platform.
Roos and Kruit founded their company in Rotterdam in 2005. In the first few years, they were almost alone on the market. The concept sounded “too good to be true”, so finding investors and customers was difficult. The business only picked up speed after six years.
At that time, the founders took the step across the Atlantic to the American west coast. “The cloud business is global and if you want to be number 1 in a global market, you have to be in the United States,” said Roos. Boston is a good second place after Silicon Valley: Universities like MIT, Harvard and Yale nearby, just six hours from Europe.
Then in 2018 an industry giant got involved: IT company Siemens paid $ 730 million (600 million euros) for the takeover of Mendix. The German company wants to enable industrial customers to develop faster applications for the networked factory, the Internet of Things.
Not much has changed internally, the team continues to work relatively independently of the German mother. However, the business has grown considerably, says Roos: “We are now entering markets that we have never entered before.” The company is also financially secure and can concentrate on scaling further: more employees, new locations.