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BI vendors jump into low-code/no-code tools for developers

A spate of BI vendors included easy-to-use tools for developers in their recent updates, perhaps marking the start of a new trend in the analytics software market.

With analytics software vendors seeking to provide ease of use from setup through insight, a spate of recent platform updates has included low-code/no-code tools for application developers.

In November, Looker rolled out Looker 7, parts of which were a ready-made development framework and an in-product marketplace for add-ons, and Yellowfin debuted Yellowfin 9, which featured tools entitled Dashboard Canvas and Dashboard Code Mode aimed at allowing developers to customize their organizations' applications.

In addition, Sisense's latest update included embedded capabilities to help customers create enterprise-grade applications.

Low-code/no-code tools aim to simplify the process of developing customized applications, eliminating much of the cumbersome coding work for IT departments. In addition, they have the potential to enable end users to create some rudimentary applications of their own, empowering them to become citizen developers.

"BI vendors are starting to target developers -- really it's another audience for their tools," said Wayne Eckerson, founder and principal consultant of Eckerson Group in Hingham, Mass. "It goes hand in hand with embedded analytics where companies want to embed charts and self-service analytics into other applications or use the tool to create custom apps."

Meanwhile, Brad Scarff, CTO at Australia-based Yellowfin, theorized that the recent flurry of low-code/no-code tools for developers coming from BI vendors is a reflection of a confluence of circumstances, one of them the increased sophistication of ordinary business users.

"The surge in popularity of this concept may be driven by a number of factors," Scarff said. "For example, increasing sophistication and technical abilities of traditional business users coupled with the increasing prevalence of coding and data subjects on degree curricula, growing demands for new applications with limited resources to meet them, and the accessibility and ease of use of cloud-based computing platforms."

Yellowfin introduced its low-code/no-code for developers to serve its diversified customer base, which includes both business users and software development companies that use Yellowfin for the analytics components in their platforms, Scarff added.

"We saw an opportunity to blend these two worlds together in order to give greater power and flexibility to enterprises and enable improved productivity and integration options for software companies," he said.

Yellowfin, along with Looker and Sisense, included low-code/no-code tools for developers in its most recent platform update.
Yellowfin is an early adapter to the trend among BI vendors to include low-code/no-code tools for developers in its platform, doing so in its November 2019 update.

Despite the recent flurry of low-code/no-code tools for developers designed by BI vendors, such capabilities aren't new. Broad-based technology companies, including Salesforce and Microsoft whose breadth spans well beyond just business intelligence, already offer low-code/no-code tools for developers.

Salesforce Lightning is a low-code tool for developers that was first released in 2014, and Microsoft, which sells the popular Power BI analytics platform, unveiled its PowerApps low-code/no-code tool two years later.

However, Looker 7, Yellowfin 9 and Sisense's recent update, represent a new arena for BI vendors.

"They are clearly following the low-code/no-code trend that will enhance their analytic application development and embedded analytics application development capabilities," said Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research. "They are fairly early to join the trend among BI and analytics vendors."

BI vendors are starting to target developers -- really it's another audience for their tools. It goes hand in hand with embedded analytics where companies want to embed charts and self-service analytics into other applications or use the tool to create custom apps.
Wayne EckersonFounder and principal consultant, Eckerson Group

Henschen added that while early among BI vendors, their low-code/no-code tools are nevertheless a reaction.

"What Yellowfin, Looker and Sisense are responding to are bigger, broader vendors -- like Salesforce and Microsoft, in particular -- leading the way to low-code/no-code capabilities," he said. "Power BI moves, in particular, are a wake-up call."

Beyond ease of use, the rise of low-code/no-code tools that foster application development could represent another step in the evolution of self-service analytics capabilities.

Self-service business intelligence became a reality largely because of vendors such as Tableau and Qlik, which developed BI platforms that reduced the need for data scientists to understand and analyze data and led to the evolution of citizen data scientists.

Now, just as citizen data scientists are complementary to trained data scientists, low-code/no-code tools for customized application development -- while still necessitating expertise in all but the most rudimentary application development -- reduce the complexity of designing and implementing enterprise-grade applications and provide an entry point for business users into the development world.

"We've always tried to make BI, analytics, data, AI easier to use, which means being able to do stuff on your own that used to require a technical expert -- someone from IT or a developer," Eckerson said. "Vendors have been targeting one capability after another for self-service: report creation, data exploration, visual analysis, data integration, predictive modeling and now custom development."

Henschen, however, disagreed with the notion that low-code/no-code tools for developers might lead to self-service application development. He sees the tools as a means for builders of applications to better serve the business users rather than for the business users to eventually design their own applications.

"This is not self-service, which has been associated with self-service to reports and dashboards," he said. "This is about injecting more concise analytics in-context into applications where people do work, make decisions and complete transactions rather than just explore and analyze data."

Similarly, Amir Orad, CEO of Sisense, sees the low-code/no-code tools for developers as a complement to self-service analysis rather than a way for self-service users to expand their capabilities beyond data analysis and into application development.

Data sets, he pointed out, are only getting bigger and more complex, making application development a critical way to derive meaning from data.

"Users will be able to get their self-service better," he said. "In an era of complex data, [users and developers] must interact."

So, now a first wave of BI vendors is moving toward providing the capabilities that allow for the interaction between developers and data analysts under one platform. And with the trend on the rise, it's likely that low-code/no-code tools for developers from other BI vendors will follow.

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