UPDATED 08:00 EDT / SEPTEMBER 01 2020

Tetris blocks building low-code APPS

Mendix low-code platform gets data catalog and automation enhancements

Low-code application development tools provider Mendix Inc. today released the latest version of its namesake platform and introduced data cataloging features specific to development in its environment.

Enhancements in version 9 provide improved access to data from across a business, tools to vary user experiences by the type of device being used and automation features that guide developers to optimal results.

Mendix, which was acquired by Siemens AG two years ago, is one of a raft of players in the market for software development tools that don’t require extensive programming expertise to use. Forrester Research Inc. has forecast that the low-code market will grow 40% annually to $21.2 billion by 2022 and Gartner Inc. estimates low-code tools will be used for 65% of all application developed in 2024.

Mendix has been expanding beyond its roots in industrial automation into the general-purpose development market with what it calls an “all-in-one low-code platform.” The idea is to apply the same principles of model-driven development to adjacent domains like data integration and multi-experience presentation, said Sheryl Koenigsberg, head of global product marketing. “Everything you need for development – the editor, workflow, artificial intelligence and multi-experience – all come from a single platform,” she said.

Developer-specific data catalog

One outcome of that product line expansion is the Data Hub, which was first outlined a year ago and is now formally available as a separately priced product. The hub is essentially a data catalog that’s tightly integrated with the Mendix development platform and designed to abstract and automate the data integration process for developers.

“The hub is a centralized catalog that developers can search to figure out what data they need and don’t need to worry about how to connect to it,” Koenigsberg said. “What’s different is that it’s integrated with our integrated development environment. It’s a search tool with the ability to drag and drop the entity into a data model.”

The hub is not intended to be a general-purpose data catalog but is initially to be used solely within the context of the Mendix development environment. “At least initially, it’s not robust enough that you’d use it without the development platform,” Koenigsberg said.

The hub will initially connect to data from Mendix applications, Siemens’s Teamcenter, SAP SE data sources and data exposed by the Open Data Protocol. That’s a set of practices for building and consuming Representational State Transfer or REST application programming interfaces.

Another enhancement in Mendix 9 is a workflow editor that provides what the company calls “intelligent automation.” Developers can start with one of many included workflow templates and adapt it to their use. End-users can access workflow tasks within their application and all workflow tasks can be managed by a central task manager. A variety of pre-configured dashboards are also included that can be used to track and manage workflows.

The feature was inspired in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has encouraged customers to “digitize everything they’re doing,” Koenigsberg said. The workflow editors and extensions enable them to “model processes and add things like multi-experience user interfaces or bring in AI services from [external sources] to help make decisions about what goes into the workflow.”

One code base for mobile apps

Development of mobile applications is strengthened in this release as well with the ability for developers to build Progressive Web Apps, which are applications that work on any device with the same code base. The capability enables, for example, a lightweight app for insurance adjusters and a “heavy” offline native mobile app for remote insurance inspectors to be deployed using the same application model and back-end logic.

A new Performance Assist capability in Mendix 9 analyzes applications as they’re being built against known best practices. “It looks at how your application has been created, compares it to known performance best practices and refactors your application to match them,” Konigsberg said. “It helps professional developers fix things that create technical debt and citizen developers building things that are performant.”

The announcements are being made today at Mendix World, a two-day conference devoted to low-code development. Mendix 9 is an automatic upgrade for subscribers. The Data Hub will be separately priced. Mendix did not provide pricing details.

Image: Pixabay

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