Numerous low-code application platform vendors with different focus areas are emerging in China. Technology and service providers should use this research to evaluate how competitors will impact their targeted segments, as localized solutions drive enterprise application development in China.
The competition for enterprise low-code application platforms (LCAPs) in China is accelerating, with an increasing number of local and global players emerging from different groups competing in different segments.
A key value proposition of China’s enterprise LCAP vendors is their strong localization and customization for addressing the challenges of fragmented local enterprise applications and ecosystems in China.
Global enterprise LCAP vendors’ complete product portfolio and successful cases appeal to international and local enterprises with mature IT development teams aiming to adopt the best global practice.
Technology and service providers offering enterprise LCAP products in China should:
Differentiate product capabilities by focusing on the ability to support different personas (such as professional versuscitizen developers) and balancing product investment.
Adapt products for the Chinese market by addressing local requirements, especially integration and APIs, vertical or business domains, and platform ecosystems.
Strengthen your partner ecosystem by building mutual benefits and proven business value as well as enabling their ability to grow and increasing the breadth and depth of partners’ expertise in industry and business domains.
The competition for enterprise LCAPs in China is accelerating, with an increasing number of local and global players emerging to capitalize on Chinese enterprises’ digital business initiatives. According to Gartner’s , LCAP market revenue in China will grow with a 25.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2021 to 2026.
LCAPs are used to rapidly develop and deploy custom applications by abstracting and minimizing hand coding. At a minimum, an LCAP must include low-code capabilities, such as a model-driven or graphical programming approach with scripting, to develop a complete application consisting of UIs, business logic, workflow and data services.
The enterprise LCAP market in China is gaining attention for its ability to empower professional and citizen developers with greater agility in creating digital solutions for complex IT and business processes. Due to the diversity of enterprises’ IT maturity and business requirements in China, the enterprise LCAP market includes multiple segments served by different specialties.
The vendors competing in the enterprise LCAP market in China are highly diverse. These vendors range from startups to mega cloud-service providers and from no-code-focused to low-code application platform vendors. Currently, there are fewer LCAP vendors targeting professional developers than those offering no-code primarily for citizen developers in China, which is mostly served by startups. The following section details four LCAP vendor segments.
The market of enterprise LCAP includes low-code and no-code platforms. Some vendors offer a low-code platform for different personas — professional and citizen developers. Others offer no-code platforms for citizen developers, which Gartner refers to as citizen automation and development platforms (CADPs). Although each provider type serves a specific market segment with a focus on their core competencies, all of them have the same objective — enabling their clients with faster self-development capabilities. The vendors competing in the enterprise LCAP market in China can be categorized into the following four types:
Low-Code Application Platform: These include low-code application platforms for professional and citizen developers. Examples: Mendix, OutSystems, ClickPaaS, Definesys and NetEase DigitalSail. Global vendors lead the market with their complete product portfolios and successful global use cases. Chief among these vendors are those with industry-specific or business-domain-specific appeal to global and local enterprises, and with mature IT development teams aiming to adopt the best global practices. However, local vendors compete with their strong localization and customization support, especially for some industry-specific or business-domain-specific use cases that require joint collaboration between domain experts and IT. In addition, local vendors often rely on systems integrators (SIs) to build localized solutions.
Citizen Automation and Development Platform: These include no-code application development platforms for citizen developers, such as business users. Examples: FanRuan Software, Mingdao and Huobanyun. This group consists of the largest number of vendors in China that target business unit IT or business users to solve more functional use cases, such as form/office-related automation applications. Comprising numerous startups, this vendor group provides light-weight solutions to address market demand, particularly for many small and midsize businesses lacking IT support in lower-tiered cities.
Enterprise Application and Software: These include CRM and ERP applications. Examples: Salesforces, Kingdee, Yonyou, Neocrm and Landray. This vendor group competes with the advantages of a strong customer base and relationships inherited from their core businesses. They expand their products by offering LCAP with packaged business capabilities and connectors supporting a diverse range of industry- and domain-specific applications and solutions. This vendor group also collaborates with LCAP and CADP vendors to complement solutions for target customers.
Cloud Service Providers: These vendors include a wide range of cloud-native products. Examples: Alibaba Group, Baidu, Microsoft, Tencent and Huawei. These mega cloud service providers seek to strengthen their cloud service offering to expand their sales. Alibaba Group, Huawei and Tencent aim to grow their partner ecosystems with solutions based on their cloud platforms. For example, Alibaba Group has built a CADP developer ecosystem based on their platform, DingTalk YiDA, to support online and mobile approval processes and business integration. Huawei’s LCAP, AppCube, provides connectors to Huawei cloud services and templates for developers to build mini programs on WeLink. Tencent’s CADP, WeDa, provides connectors to integrate with Tencent cloud-based applications and data. WeDa also offers templates through the marketplace for developers to build mini programs based on Tencent’s WeChat platform. Whereas Baidu’s LCAP, AiSuda, targets professional developers and sells to government agencies, institutes, state-owned central enterprises, and large and midsize enterprises across industries.
This competitive analysis provides insights and advice for technology and service providers planning LCAP product strategies for China.Enterprise infrastructure software providers and data and analytics vendors can also use this analysis to evaluate vendors in the enterprise LCAP market for partnership to complement their product solutions or assess the impact to target enterprise customers and their products.
Competitive Situation and Trends
Currently, the LCAP market in China is still in the early stages due to varied product maturity levels, a diversity of players, and enterprises’ various IT maturity levels and business initiatives. The unique nature of the Chinese market is driving the competition dynamic with multiple segments, which pose several key challenges to vendors.
The Chinese Market Poses a Range of Unique Challenges
Fragmentation of Local Applications and Ecosystems
The fragmentation of local applications for consumer and enterprise use in China makes it extremely challenging for enterprises to rapidly develop and deploy custom applications. For example, there are more than 40 local CRM vendors in China. Unlike other regions, mobile apps, communications apps, local cloud services and many other locally made applications contribute to making the Chinese market a highly local-driven ecosystem.
IT and business leaders in China are increasingly demanding LCAPs for rapid application development capability in supporting enterprises’ digital business initiatives. A key competitive advantage for local vendors participating in the enterprise LCAP market involves their strong localizations and customization support to address the fragmented local applications and ecosystems in China. For global vendors entering this market, technology and service providers must adapt products by addressing regional differences, such as integration and APIs, industry- or business-domain-specific requirements and platform ecosystems.
Regulations Compliance Requirements for Global Cloud Service Providers in China
Support for Multicloud and On-Premises Deployment Is Required
The requirement for private cloud and on-premises deployment support is another unique aspect of most enterprises in China. Enterprises may subscribe to SaaS services, but vendors need to support on-premises deployment. This allows enterprises to offload prebuilt applications from vendors’ public cloud to customers’ on-premises or choose license packages, especially for manufacturing industries and large enterprises. Most of the local vendors support public, private, hybrid and on-premises deployment. However, some global vendors are limited in their support of private or on-premises deployment in China, which directly impacts their ability to effectively compete there.
Diversity of Enterprises’ IT Maturity and Business Digitalization
The maturity of enterprises’ IT management and business digitalization in China is particularly diverse. In general, the percentage of enterprises’ IT teams with limited professional developers and a lower level of digitalization is still larger than those with centralized or business IT departments and professional developers. However, due to the large number of enterprises for each type of enterprise persona in China, each segment provides a sizable market for vendors to serve their target customers. This leads to different groups of vendors competing within different market segments.
Different Vendor Groups Competing in the Chinese LCAP Market
Each provider group competes against and collaborates with one another for enterprise customers, depending on how they complement enterprise requirements. As a result, enterprises often have multiple LCAP vendors to serve different purposes. The competition for the enterprise LCAP market consists of these four vendor groups, as they may compete with each other in some overlapping market segments, including enterprises’ IT maturity, business requirements and developer personas (see Figure 1).
Competition by Market Segments
Due to the unique nature of the Chinese market, competition among vendors is further segmented by enterprise customers’ IT maturity and business digitalization levels, use cases, and target developer personas. The IT maturity and business digitalization levels drive enterprise customers’ use case priorities and requirements for LCAPs.
IT Maturity and Business Digitalization Levels:
High: These include large enterprise holding group companies with IT subsidiaries or centralized and business IT departments, advanced IT and business digitalization, and professional developers as primary users. The IT department purchases and uses the LCAP to serve internal business units. In many cases, enterprise LCAP vendors co-create solutions with this type of enterprise to strengthen domain capabilities. An example of one such enterprise is RootCloud under SANY Heavy Industry. This segment is mostly served by LCAP group vendors.
Mid: These include large enterprises with centralized and business IT departments. The IT or business department purchases the enterprise LCAP to support their professional and citizen developers. They may work directly with enterprise LCAP vendors or go through domain expertise, such as consulting services or SIs. Many of these enterprises require industry-specific and business-domain-specific customization support involving collaboration between operation technologies and information technologies. Examples include large manufacturers, healthcare, energy and utilities, real estate, and automotive companies. This segment is mostly served by LCAP and enterprise application and software group vendors.
Entry: These enterprises’ IT maturity and digitalization levels are lowest among the three types of profiles, requiring enterprise LCAP to support citizen developers. In many cases, business units make the purchase and work with vendors. IT may be involved to support if needed. Due to limited IT resources, this type of enterprise may rely on service providers, such as SIs, independent software vendors (ISVs) or cloud service providers. These are typically small to midsize enterprises, as they aim to develop light-weight business functional applications, such as form/office automation-related processes. An example would be a national bank’s branch in a province or city that purchases no-code development platforms (with IT’s permission) to create digital solutions. CADP and cloud service providers target this segment.
Depending on the IT maturity level and initiatives, LCAP vendors tend to serve high- and mid-level IT maturity levels. CADP serves entry to mid-level. Enterprise application and software vendors serve all three levels, while cloud service providers primarily serve entry and some mid-level.
Custom Business Applications: Build and maintain modern enterprise applications and software that require rich user experiences, complex integrations and robust monitoring, and handle large transaction volumes. For example, customization on top of SAP or Oracle for supporting ERP in manufacturing and operations, enterprise assets or financial management. These types of use cases support business functions with an enterprise LCAP for general purposes.
Business Workflow Automation: Automate workflows involving multiple application systems and human actors to accomplish IT operations or business goals. This includes complex processes, simple workflows, document-oriented processes, human task management and case management that require process-modeling, orchestration, integration and decision-modeling capabilities. These types of use cases are often served by vendors specializing in business processes management with integrations and API for local applications.
Industry Digital Solutions: Build industry-specific digital solutions to support both custom business applications and business workflow automation. This use case in particular requires the alignment of IT and operational technologies (OT). Examples include electronics manufacturing service (EMS), industrial Internet of Things (IoT), product life cycle management (PLM) for manufacturing, supply chain, construction or real estate property. This segment is mostly served by LCAP and enterprise applications vendors with vertical or business-domain expertise.
Form/Office Automation Apps: Provides measurable business value by enabling citizen developers to speed up digital solutions. This use case for collaborative work management (CWM) is adopted mostly by enterprises with entry-level IT maturity and digitalization. Examples include building web and mobile forms or office automation (OA) apps, creating reports, and implementing data integrations. This segment is primarily served by CADP, enterprise applications and software, and cloud service providers.
Most enterprises select vendors based on use cases and their requirements. However, along with changing business objectives, enterprises may find that selected vendors are not able to support new initiatives. As a result, enterprises may seek to replace or add another vendor. Thus, enterprises may have multiple LCAP vendors serving different purposes. The competition for LCAPs involves not only acquiring new customers, but also retaining customers to support their future needs for different use cases.
Primary professional developers (within IT or business departments) — served by LCAPs.
Primary citizen developers (business technologists) — served by CADPs (see ).
Fusion team, both professional and citizen developers — served by LCAPs.
Although the vendors competing in the enterprise LCAP market emphasize their ability to support both personas, each vendor still has a primary target persona. However, the competition trend is moving toward supporting fusion teams involving both professional and citizen developers.
Based on the market segment types and vendor groups, competition in the enterprise LCAP market in China is fragmented and overlapping among vendors, as shown in Figure 2.
Table 1 shows a list of representative enterprise LCAP vendors and their competing market segments in China.
How to Address Challenges of Differentiation
The enterprise LCAP market in China is still in the early stages. The products and marketing messaging from different vendors are almost identical, such as no-code/low-code, graphical UI or rapid application development. Vendors are struggling to identify areas of differentiation that they should focus on to compete with rivals. Based on market segmentation and the evolution of enterprises’ IT maturity and business digitalization in China, below are three areas of differentiation vendors should focus on to lead the competition.
Recommendation 1: Support Both Professional and Citizen Developers
At the current stage, most local vendors are primarily focusing on one type of developer persona, professional or citizen, as their product specialty for the target customers. However, global leaders, such as Mendix, OutSystems and Microsoft, each support multiple developer personas to demonstrate their product capabilities and differentiate from local vendors. Therefore, these and other global vendors’ value propositions include their product portfolio and successful cases, which appeal to international and local enterprises with mature IT development teams aiming to adopt the best global practices.
Enterprise use cases for LCAPs change as do their requirements, regardless of the IT maturity level. CADP vendors may risk losing existing customers to LCAP. The same LCAP vendors primarily focused on professional developers may face challenges in growing business when enterprises’ IT departments need CADPs for their business unit to reserve important resources for more important initiatives. The ability to support different personas shows vendors’ product capabilities as one key competitive differentiation. Local vendors need to differentiate by focusing on the ability to support both personas. Balancing product investment will also help vendors avoid being tied to one persona for the long run.
Vendors are increasing investment to support the persona that they have not fully covered to expand their addressable market. Currently, CADPs are gaining traction for enterprises to empower citizen developers. However, LCAPs will place competitive pressure on CADPs due to the limited custom capabilities for more complex processes and advanced applications.
At a minimum, technology and service providers need to prioritize investment in LCAPs and target professional developers while avoiding those products for citizen developers that have already been served by numerous no-code-focused CADP vendors.
Recommendation 2: Adapt Products for the Chinese Market in Three Key Areas
All vendors need to adapt products for the unique Chinese market by addressing regional differences, especially vertical/business-domain solutions, integration and APIs, and platform ecosystems. These three areas reflect Chinese enterprise customers’ localization requirements to address the IT maturity and business digitalization, fragmented local applications and partner ecosystems. Examples include enterprise LCAPs supporting manufacturing or healthcare in compliance with local and global regulations, integration and APIs as well as connectors or iPaaS for local applications, and enterprise LCAPs supporting local developer ecosystems, such as training or AppStore. It is equally important for local vendors to differentiate their competitiveness by prioritizing product investment in these three areas with breadth and depth.
Recommendation 3: Strengthen Partner Ecosystems by Optimizing Mutual Benefits
Including solution partners and channel partners in the partner ecosystem is critical for enterprise LCAP vendors’ go-to-market strategies. Strengthening the ecosystem involves not only increasing the number of partners, but most importantly, building mutual benefits for the partnership. Examples include a marketplace with a proven business model that provides a transparent incentive and profit-sharing based on co-created solutions or cross-sales channel references. Partners are only willing to invest their precious resources in the platform if they are convinced about the return. Vendors’ business viability is also an important consideration for partners. The breadth and depth of partner type by domain or technology specifics are also important to maximize the value of the ecosystems with greater diversity. The typical partner types in China include SIs, ISVs, consulting services, cloud service providers and strategic enterprise customers.
This section presents profiles of representative enterprise LCAP vendors in China. The vendors have been selected as a sample representation of significant players in different areas — maturity of product and portfolios, localization support, or customer base. Vendors are listed in alphabetical order.
Product or Portfolio Overview
Established in 2017, ClickPaaS offers an LCAP composed of hpPaaS and iPaaS that supports professional and citizen developers with graphical UI and modeling for custom application development and complex business processes. Modeling capabilities are the core product differentiator from rivals. The model design adopts a microservices architecture for better scalability.
The platform has a similar design look to Salesforce Lightning, enabling developers familiar with the Salesforce LCAP to easily adopt ClickPaaS quickly. ClickPaaS’ native cloud architecture and distributed design ensure the stability and performance of a multitenancy environment and support private cloud and on-premises deployment.
How This Provider Competes
ClickPaaS began by supporting general-purpose platforms. The major use cases include supporting critical applications and core systems customization, especially for Oracle and SAP. The installed base of these two applications is their target customer. The company has expanded into industry-specific solutions, including civil engineering and construction, logistics, public sector, and banking insurance security. To capitalize on the increasing demand of digitalization from the manufacturing sector, ClickPaaS is expanding its product portfolio into an industrial PLM-supported platform.
Given the company’s experiences in supporting customers outside China, ClickPaaS has a significant portion of customers with overseas operations, such as providing civil engineering services in Asia, as well as e-commerce companies selling overseas. ClickPaaS offers its product through three routes: working directly with first-tier large customers, selling through industrial or domain subject matter experts (such as ISVs or consulting service companies), and selling through SIs that implement and deliver solutions.
Product or Portfolio Overview
Established in 2014 as consulting and implementation for Oracle middleware, DefineSys launched its aPaaS and iPaaS in 2016 and its LCAP, DeCod, in 2020. DeCod provides a full-stack platform based on cloud-native technologies to create complete applications from front-end UI and process orchestration to back-end services. DeFusionlooks to be a one-stop enterprise application integration platform that provides over 200 application connectors, features visualized integration and orchestration, eliminates data silos, and improves IT asset utilization. DefineSys targets large enterprises, centralized business IT as well as professional developers and citizen developers. Major product features include model-driven composable application development, data integrations and iPaaS supporting a diversity of leading applications from China and abroad.
How This Provider Competes
DefineSys’ core competitive advantage is its large enterprise customer base of over 500 customers in China. The company is particularly effective with automotive and manufacturing customers, with most of the leading automotive customers adopting their LCAP. DefineSys expands its market influences through its partner ecosystem — including industrial and domain-specific solutions providers, consulting service providers, strategic channel partners, and the developer community — by providing service certification and developer training.
Product or Portfolio Overview
Well-known in China as the financial ERP vendor of Kingdee SaaS, Kingdee’s LCAP is part of the PaaS product Kingdee Cloud Cosmic. Kingdee’s collection of PBCs plays a core role in supporting the application composition platform and data fabric platform. Kingdee Cloud Cosmic provides access to third-party supplier solutions through API integration and data integration. The composable application experiences and hybrid integration platform supports the architecture of their Cloud Cosmic PaaS. Kingdee dynamic model (KDDM) provides higher productivity application development for general purpose, industry-specific and custom models. The artificial intelligence (AI) platform supports developers with analyzed models, chatbot and optical character recognition (OCR). Kingdee’s other platforms include blockchain, business processes, IoT, data analytics and API integration, among others. Kingdee Cloud Cosmic’s cloud-native architecture also supports public, private and hybrid cloud.
How This Provider Competes
Kingdee inherits much of itscustomer base from ERP customers, while the company’s business viability provides a powerful competitive advantage in addition to their well-established LCAP products. Kingdee Cloud-Cosmic targets large enterprises with high- and mid-level IT maturity levels with centralized business IT and professional developers. Kingdee partners with a wide range of third-party ISVs and SIs to expand customer segments.
Product or Portfolio Overview
Mendix, a Siemens business, first sold its Siemens Low-Code solutions directly to enterprise customers in China in 2019. In 2021, Mendix announced partnership with Tencent, which hosts Mendix in a public cloud development environment. Siemens Low-Code is available as SaaS and supports public, private, on-premises, hybrid and multicloud deployments. Mendix provides custom application development and collaborative app development capabilities for different personas and fusion teams. Mendix Studio targets citizen developers, while Mendix Studio Pro enables professional developers to build enterprise-grade applications. To develop localized solutions, Mendix established their R&D centers in ChengDu and Shanghai in 2019. For example, Mendix supports integration with the Chinese maps app, Amap, Echart graph and Unity 3D. Mendix recently launched a simplified Chinese language version of Siemens Low-Code Platform as well as the local Mendix Marketplace.
How This Provider Competes
Mendix competes in the Chinese enterprise LCAP market by supporting different personas (such as professional and citizen developers and fusion teams) as well as offering localization and its platform ecosystem. For example, Mendix Marketplace provides localized application components and business templates. Mendix sells through its resellers and strategic partners in China. In addition, Tencent sells Mendix solutions as part of its overall cloud service offering, as Mendix also develops products via Tencent platforms. Siemens’ broad customer base in China delivers Mendix resourceful customer leads across industries. Due to Mendix’s numerous global customer success cases, and Siemens’ business viability, the company has attracted leading enterprises, such as SAIC Motor and CIMC Vehicles. To expand its influence, Mendix invests in the developer community by providing training and support.
Product or Portfolio Overview
Microsoft’s LCAP is MicrosoftPower Apps, which includes entitlements for Power Automate and Dataverse. Together, these form part of the Power Platform. Power Platform includes Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual Agents. Microsoft Power Platform, operated by 21Vianet, was formally launched in June 2020 in China, hosted on China’s sovereign cloud. At the current product roll-out phase, there are some feature gaps for Power Apps offerings in China as compared to the global standard offering. For example, AI Builder is not available yet in China. And there are fewer connectors than the global offering, as some global applications like Instagram are also unavailable in the Chinese market. However, custom connectors in Power Apps allow partners or professional developers to build customized data connectors through APIs.
Microsoft’s market differentiation is based on its complete and unified cloud stack across IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. Power Apps connects data on Azure with productivity tools in Microsoft 365 and line-of-business applications in Dynamics 365 as well as third-party applications. The platform is available as a cloud-only offering on MicrosoftAzure. MicrosoftPower Apps provides various enterprise-grade security features, such as a wide range of data-loss-prevention (DLP) policies and data encryption. MicrosoftPower Apps supports collaborative app development, custom business applications and business workflow automation use cases.
How This Provider Competes
Microsoft competes using their strong customer base of MicrosoftAzure, Microsoft 365 and Power Platform providing Microsoft advantages to sell Power Apps and Power Automate to these prospects with the value of integrated and scalable solutions. Microsoft’s key customer types include multinational enterprises and local enterprises going global. Along with an increasing number of Chinese enterprises expanding business overseas, Microsoft’s compliance with security regulations for regions, global partner ecosystems and service support appeal to local enterprises going global. Microsoft provides certification systems and training to support the Power Platform learning path from fundamental to expert. Microsoft’s established developer community strengthens the influences on developers for enterprise LCAP. Microsoft sells directly to the strategic account and indirectly through reseller partners, such as SIs.
Product or Portfolio Overview
OutSystems started selling their OutSystems platform in China in 2018, offering multicloud and on-premises. The product provides broad capabilities to accelerate application development across various stages of the software development life cycle (SDLC). The four major supporting use cases include customer experience transformation, workplace innovation, process automation and application modernization. The support for mobile apps, progressive web app (PWA) as an example, optimizes customers’ mobile experience. OutSystems has various web- and desktop-based integrated development environments (IDEs), AI-based smart development guidance and architecture discovery. The platform provides native continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) and application, infrastructure and security monitoring capabilities. OutSystems’ developers and partner communities in China contribute to its localized solutions for the Chinese market.
How This Provider Competes
OutSystems provides differentiation in addressing business-critical solutions by emphasizing its capabilities to enhance developer productivity for building modern enterprise applications. The company’s go-to-market strategy focuses on growing business from their multinational corporation (MNC) account customers in China and driving references from local enterprise customers. OutSystems’ pricing and offerings in China are consistent with other regions. OutSystems provides training and resources support through OutSystems developer community, WeChat and online events to expand their ecosystem influence. The company relies on various partners, including SIs, consulting services and ISVs, to grow business in China.
References and Methodology
This research is based on both primary and secondary research. The primary research involved a series of briefings from vendors offering different forms of enterprise LCAP, client inquiries with end users of the offered products and services, and research interviews with technology product vendors engaging with service providers as ecosystem partners. The secondary research involved an evaluation of how different providers communicate and position their enterprise LCAP capabilities on their websites and in their marketing materials.
Gartner Recommended Reading