Citizen App Developers – Low Code, No Code & IoT: Kintone Corp.


In a throwback to the French Revolution, the apps development world is increasingly experiencing the rise of “Citizen” Developers. This quaint phrase embodies a market trend that involves the growing demand for increasingly rapid and simplified application development, by an array of businesses.

Kintone Corporation, (a subsidiary of Cybozu, Inc., a successful Japanese collaboration and productivity software supplier) is a global marketer of a rapid application development platform, referred to as “Low Code, No Code” apps development.

Why Is “Low Code, No Code” Expanding?

We spoke recently with Dave Landa, COO of Kintone. While he pointed out that there had been interest in rapid app development several years ago, he explained that he believes there are three new trends driving increased market interest in “Low Code, No Code” today.

1. Cloud
Cloud enables offering aPaaS (application platform as a service) and gives the customer easier access to the rapid development tool set.

2. Product Enhancements
He states, “We’ve built in a lot of services and features, in addition to the basic elements of drag and drop and spreadsheet conversion.” These include features such as: Process management; Notifications; Access and permissions controls; Analytics and charting.

3. Digital Evolution and Millenials
He points out that, “We are well into the digital age and the new generation, in particular millenials, are comfortable building things and want to find the tools to do things quickly.” The digital evolution includes the emphasis on mobile – “so many apps for business processes are built ‘mobile first,’ with the presumption that they will be used by remote users on the move,” Landa adds.

Kintone, which was launched in 2011, has achieved over 4000 clients, with 140,000 individual users. It has been used to develop over 300,000 apps.

How Does Low Code, No Code Work?

Landa has described the basics of Kintone’s Low Code, No Code service as offering: a) a template library; b) an Excel spreadsheet conversion tool; or c) the ability to “start from scratch” using a “drag and drop UI.” The user can layer on other pre-built elements offered by Kintone, such as: notification triggers, analytics dashboards, automated workflow requirements and more.

The objective is to turn important information that may exist in dispersed spreadsheets, emails, or other static documents into collaboration and productivity tools accessible through basic user-developed applications, requiring a minimum of coding skill – or none at all.

Kintone also offers additional tools to users through partnerships with other providers. Kintone’s Open API allows an application to be integrated through Zapier with many other web-based apps, such as Gmail, Evernote, Google Calendar. Other integration partners include Box and Zendesk (customer support.)

The apps developed by Kintone users can be utilized on various media, including fixed and mobile devices and systems.

Low Code, No Code for IoT Apps

An area of considerable interest to Kintone is the need for agile apps development for the IoT. As Landa explains, he sees vast amounts of data originating from sensors and regards the applications layer as critical to capturing, aggregating and analyzing data to make it actionable and to display it in visual formats.

He points to the solar energy industry as an example. “There’s data coming in from sensors all across the country, in different formats; it needs to be organized and directed to the right people.” He’s spoken about a “network of connected individuals” who will need to support the IoT and act on findings in many cases. He’s used the moniker, “M2M2H” where the Ms are machines and the H is humans, since the information derived from M2M will, in many cases require either Human analysis or intervention.

We asked whether rapid development apps were suited to addressing IoT issues, or whether the complexity of the IoT and large investments in it required more traditional types of apps development. Landa pointed out that LOB personnel need solutions and the traditional development groups can’t keep up with the rapid rate of IoT expansion. He said that interest in agile apps development for IoT was often being driven, by the business analysts who were working with IoT use cases.

Landa says that they have a handful of IoT-related clients. He mentions Pacific Solar, a Fresno-based solar energy system provider.

While Landa is enthusiastic about the potential market for IoT apps, he told us it was too early to determine how big a part of Kintone’s business might be IoT-based. He said it would depend upon decisions about resource allocation, because they also had a very large opportunity in enterprise apps, but he thought the IoT segment could easily become 20-30% of the business without deflecting them from the enterprise segment.

Kintone Business Strategy

Kintone’s parent, Cybozu, historically had served largely SMB accounts, however, Landa stated that had changed in the past year and a half and they now were attracting more enterprise clients. Similarly, Kintone, in the U.S. started with primarily mid-market sized clients. In 2016 they have initiated some larger enterprises, however, Landa points out, “Our customer is typically a LOB within the larger corporate structure.”

The company states that its primary verticals have been: Construction, Retail and Non-profits. Landa adds that they have been broadening their focus and are “opportunistic” in addressing new areas, as they find interesting use cases. While the company’s emphasis is on the Low Code, No Code platform, Landa explained that they also receive a considerable part of their revenue from custom services, helping clients with their solutions. “Use cases are unique,” he observes.

With respect to retail, we asked whether they had any clients where they were also gathering data from beacons, as part of the solution. He stated that they had not to date, but were in some discussions with retailers that involved IoT use cases. He said that the area, including beacons, was “definitely an interesting space.”

Their typical pricing for their app platform is: $24 per team member per month, with a five person minimum ($120 per month). For non-profits they offer a $150 annual plan for up to 50 team members.

Regarding IP, the development of the underlying platform is done at the Japanese parent company. The Kintone subsidiary does develop and offer specific services for clients.

Outlook for The Cloud

Landa had been a panelist in a wide-ranging discussion of the overall status of the Cloud in enterprises, at the recent Cloud & @Things Conference in New York. We asked him about his overview of where Cloud development was in the marketplace. He stated that today there was a trend among larger enterprises to move towards a hybrid situation with some use of public clouds, however, with many core corporate functions being served from private on-premises clouds.

However, he felt that over time public clouds would offer superior security and other capabilities that would compel increasing use by enterprises. He stated that, “With many IT departments dealing with stripped down resources, it would be harder and harder for them to manage core infrastructure in-house.”

Our Take

As far as large enterprises are concerned, the rise of citizen developers and the popularity of Low Code, No Code, are part of the continuing dispersion of technology control from entrenched IT departments to other areas of the companies, including LOBs. This trend – which is going to continue inexorably – is part of an even bigger development rooted around the continuing convergence of cloud computing and mobile.

As we stated in our “Future Of The Mobile Cloud” study in 2012:

“Computing assets will no longer be the domain of the enterprise and government. Large scale computing will become the domain of every business and we are heading to the world of large scale computing being the domain of the individual as well.”

The ability for smaller businesses or individuals to “build your own business application” in the cloud, using Low Code, No Code aPaaS is an important element of this transition. Based on estimates from Forrester Research, (see: “The Forrester Wave: Low-Code Development Platforms, Q2 2016”) this area probably represents a market in the billions of dollars today, and growing strongly.

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