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Quickbase CIO talks low-code roadmap, MCF Tech acquisition

Quickbase CIO Deb Gildersleeve discusses the growing use of low-code platforms, its recent services acquisition, and what's on the company's roadmap for 2022.

Low-code application platforms provide some relief to understaffed IT departments by allowing them to move resources into the hands of business users.

It's one of the reasons use of low-code development tools increased sharply during the pandemic. Low-code platform provider Quickbase, for example, touts the ability of remote workers to quickly move from siloed spreadsheets and paper-based processes to more centralized and connected systems. The platform requires little training, and even non-technical employees can use it to build applications with simple drag and drop clicks.

"Quickbase frees up skilled resources by putting the high-value output into the hands of non-technical staff," said Paul Nashawaty, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Quickbase is not unique here; all major SaaS vendors provide low-code development, and there are a number of low-code integration vendors, including OutSystems, Appian, Progress Software, Mendix, Kintone, Newgen and a number of others. Quickbase CIO Deb Gildersleeve said her company stands out in its ability to quickly stand up complex processes, and its usability for a wide range of users, from non-technical to traditional developers.

Sharpening that market differentiation, Quickbase acquired on Jan. 5 MCF Technology Solutions, a service provider that offers vertical-specific application templates built on Quickbase. The deal will allow Quickbase to support more customers as they build out complex processes and applications using the low-code platform. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

In this Q&A, Gildersleeve discusses the growing use of low-code platforms and what's on the company's roadmap for 2022.

Quickbase describes itself as a no-code platform. Tell me about that positioning vs. "low code" app development. Is this just marketing, or is there truly a technical difference?

Deb Gildersleeve, CIO, QuickbaseDeb Gildersleeve

Deb Gildersleeve: We're a little bit of both. From a no-code perspective, you could have a business technologist, not just an IT generalist or a business user, go in and create an application themselves without needing to know much about code at all.

From a low-code perspective, taking that to the next level, there is some code behind it that you could use to make a more complex system out of our tooling.

Does that mean users are able to do some tinkering with the code if they need to?

You can go in and tinker with the code. It's not coding in the way that your classically trained programmer codes, but there are more specialized ways of doing things behind the scenes. There is a little bit of code behind it that if you wanted to do something more complex, as the IT generalist, you could. If you want to get into more complexity -- if this field is this, do this kind of coding -- you can do that as well. It's not like you're coding in Java, but you're coding in a language that allows for some manipulation of the data or to do things in certain instances, that sort of thing.

But if you are a business user, you can build a form, you can build an application. It's pretty much plug and play.

In an ESG survey of 2022 IT spending priorities, 30% of 706 respondents said they plan to use low-code/no-code processes "extensively" this year. Organizations that develop cloud-native apps lean on low code at a higher rate, with 44% saying they use it extensively. What do you see as the driver here?

There are a lot of reasons why you're seeing that that sort of uptake. You've got companies building cloud-native applications, but they probably still have a number of systems that sit on-premises. So you need some sort of broker in between, or maybe there's some functionality in their on-premises application that can't readily transfer to the cloud version of that application, so they're using low code to build out those processes.

We're now in a hybrid working environment, and processes that might have required somebody to walk over from one desk to another are much better served with a low-code application that everybody has access to.
Deb GildersleeveCIO, Quickbase

Also, there is the resourcing issue that has been happening since before the pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated it to a certain extent. We're now in a hybrid working environment, and processes that might have required somebody to walk over from one desk to another are much better served with a low-code application that everybody has access to. We're still seeing some paper-based processes that were in place pre-pandemic, and low code is a good place for those processes to go. It allows a business user to automate and get data into the cloud, as opposed to it sitting on their machines.

We recently spoke with an AT&T business executive about their experience with Quickbase. They used it along with robotic process automation to quickly transition to a remote workforce during the pandemic. Can you speak to the prevalence of RPA integration with your platform?

We do see more and more of that because a lot of companies that use low code also use RPA … RPA may be moving the data behind the scenes, and Quickbase might be the landing spot for it.

Tell me about the pandemic's effect on Quickbase, from a customer adoption perspective.

The customers that were with us prior to the pandemic, they were able to use Quickbase to set up some of the new applications that we now have for things like checking COVID symptoms before somebody goes into an office -- keeping track of your workforce in a different way. There weren't off-the-shelf version of these things. They were able to build them out very quickly.

For the new customers that came in, they'd found all these different processes that weren't on IT's radar. People were sharing a spreadsheet or sending something by email, and when people leave organizations, it's like, "Oh, wait a second, where does this data now sit? How do we get that more centralized for the work environment of today?" That's what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, and that hybrid work environment is going to continue.

Online reviewers have positive feedback about Quickbase, but one area of complaint is the rigidity of table relationships, which can make it difficult to integrate apps across the business. Is that something you are aware of, and is there a plan to address it?

We're constantly looking at the platform and making improvements to it. But one of the things with low code sometimes is that while it's really easy to stand up, if you are going to try and create some table relationships, there's a little bit more planning that probably needs to go into some of that. I think it's a combination of education and continued upgrading of the system to get to that sweet spot.

For IT buyers, price is often a tiebreaker. The most common area of complaint is Quickbase's licensing model and cost. Reviewers say it isn't accessible for startups, and the free version is too limited. What can you say about Quickbase's pricing model?

We do have a number of startups and companies that are using Quickbase. It's a cost-versus-value kind of discussion in terms of the price of entry, which they might see it as higher, [but] they really get the benefit when they build out multiple applications. If they were to go buy a point solution, they get well past our pricing pretty quickly.

What's on the 2022 roadmap that you can share?

We're constantly updating our feature set, and there are a lot of different things that we're working on. We continue to work on our governance, features that are part of the product that we are continuing to build out -- our form capabilities, and things like that. Those are some of the big areas for us.

We acquired one of our service providers, MCF Tech. We've had a relationship with them for a long time. With them, we're looking to grow our service offerings and to better meet market demand around that. Building an infrastructure and some of the more complex projects we can manage within Quickbase, this [acquisition] is going to help us really accelerate that as the world accelerates this big infrastructure project.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

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