Google Cloud Platform kicked off 2020 with the acquisition of AppSheet, a low-code application development platform. Given Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s experience and history at Oracle it’s really no surprise Google is turning its attention to tools for building business applications. Different parts of the Google Cloud portfolio have not always seemed a natural fit, beyond financial reporting – G Suite and Google Cloud are very very different businesses: but AppSheet gives Google a productivity narrative for discussions with enterprise customers in either or both of camps. Google has a massive customer base of G Suite users. Finding ways to get Docs customers excited about other Google Cloud infrastructure and platform services should be job one for the company. AppSheet is just such an opportunity. This week Alphabet began breaking out its Google Cloud revenues for the first time- $2.6bn for the quarter; that’s the financial context.
As a bridge, or portfolio duct tape acquisition, AppSheet also helps to sell Google’s Apigee API management platform, as a process integration play. Apigee can be used to expose and manage APIs and data services, which can then be consumed using AppSheet’s spreadsheet design metaphor. The industry is frankly crying out for a solid serverless integration play, as I wrote recently in my post on TriggerMesh’s funding round. On the integration with low-code side, AppSheet offers Dropbox, Salesforce, SAP, ServiceNow integrations out of the box. Integration with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is coming. Low-code is all about integration with existing apps.
AppSheet has won customers in the situational app space for factory floor automation. Front line workers is one area where Google Docs is particularly strong. Digital skills are lacking, but domain experience is absolutely crucial for many reasons: not just productivity and automation, but also health and safety. The application development story often starts with the line of business here. Start simple, and then scale from there. Adoption by non technical users has certainly not been a strength for Google Cloud, outside G Suite, up until this point. One obvious question regarding the AppSheet acquisition is about portfolio rationalisation. Google Cloud AppMaker is an existing low-code platform built on Google Docs. I expect this overlap to come out in the wash however, it’s not a huge problem at this point.
Further context for the deal – the industry is seeing a fair bit of activity in the burgeoning low-code/no-code space. Skills shortages remain a key blocker on IT adoption and or much hyped Digital Transformation initiatives. Google sees low-code as an opportunity to drive more workloads to Google Cloud Platform.
Selling to and through business users, Google is explicitly leaning into a narrative around “Citizen Developers”, rather than focusing on low-code augmenting the skillsets of professional developers (for example Betty Blocks or Neptune Software).
Outsystems is achieving critical mass in terms of both revenue and developer adoption numbers. Salesforce is pushing low-code tools running on its Lightning platform. Microsoft has completely retooled its Power Apps platform and will be making a strong marketing and ecosystem push through 2020. One really nice idea with PowerApps is the marketplace idea – business users creating PowerApps are likely to want design help or custom code integration help to extend their apps. Microsoft plans to build “match-making” into its ecosystem model.
This balance regarding using low-code and no-code tools to augment developer teams, or bypass them, is one of the questions about this market and how to position tools. AppSheet was originally intended as a platform to make apps as easy to develop as spreadsheets. The entire software industry effectively competes with spreadsheets in the hands, or rather on the laptops, of business users. Behind every great business process is an excel spreadsheet!
Excel is the lingua franca of most business users. A new generation of spreadsheet-esque tools has emerged to help this user constituency channel their spreadsheet knowledge into more built-for-purpose software. These tools have primarily focused on productivity and collaboration use cases. Software like AirTable and Smartsheet are examples of companies that built upon the user’s familiarity with the spreadsheet while adding more powerful functionality and pre-built application templates. Rather than forcing users to learn a new system, these tools can act as the ultra-familiar and flexible spreadsheet with added features.
Low-code tools are nothing new – Lotus Notes or Visual Basic were an earlier take on the idea. But in terms of the industry’s tendency to implement, re-implement, rinse and repeat, it’s no surprise Cloud companies would be moving ahead with tools for business users at this point. The new platforms need new tools for business users to do their own thing. It would be surprising if Amazon Web Services doesn’t deliver some kind of low-code tooling with the next 12-18 months. Microsoft, as we have said, has a strong play around Power Apps. But AppSheet is a solid tuck in acquisition by Google Cloud. It should be a good opportunity for customer engagement discussions.
disclosure: Microsoft, Neptune Software and Salesforce are all RedMonk clients, but this research is not commissioned by our clients.
Additional analysis and writing by Rachel Stephens.