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The UK’s App Development Headache

By Nick Pike, VP UK and Ireland, OutSystems

When you’re working in a dynamic sector like app development, there’s no shortage of startling statistics to keep you on your toes.

I recently read that there are now close to 300,000 people employed in the app development economy in the UK—around the same number as were working in coal mining in the 1970s.

While coal-mining powered the first industrial revolution, today app development is fuelling the fourth industrial revolution, an era in which the ability to compete and the speed of application development are inseparable.

In our fifth annual survey on The State of Application Development, 3,500 IT professionals provided their perspectives on their challenges, their priorities, and industry innovation in 2018. Worryingly, our analysis of UK responses uncovered three converging trends that threaten to put the brakes on digital transformation.

Relentless Demand

If development teams in the UK are feeling under pressure, it’s not surprising. Business demand for apps in the UK is higher than the global average, with 45% of UK IT professionals stating they will develop more than 10 apps in 2018.

This voracious appetite is causing a predictable headache for UK businesses. Sixty-one percent of UK organizations report a backlog in app development, with 17% having more than ten apps behind schedule. Half of UK respondents said it was taking five months or more to deliver a market-ready app. In addition, businesses seem to be more accepting of these delays than their global counterparts. Perhaps they’re resigned to the UK’s oft-cited low-productivity?

Talent is Scarce

UK businesses are crying out for modern developer talent. Sixty-seven percent of organizations had hired web or mobile developers in the past year, with 87% reporting difficulties in recruiting the right talent. This compares with an average of 80% of businesses reporting such challenges globally. It seems UK businesses are feeling the “developer skills drought” most keenly.

 Investment in Customer-Centric Tools Is Low

Our research showed that the most critical apps scheduled for delivery in 2018 are mostly customers and business partners, rather than internal business apps. However, compared to their global counterparts, UK respondents appear to be investing less in practices that support customer-centric development. UK investments in customer journey mapping, design thinking, and lean UX were roughly 50% lower than the global average. This shortfall risks undermining the ability of UK businesses to deliver compelling, customer-focused apps successfully.

In combination, these three factors should be sounding alarm bells for UK businesses. When high demand meets scarcity of talent and lack of investment, the likely outcome is an “app development crunch.” Expect to see delivery times lengthen, the quality of apps to diminish, and digital transformation initiatives to falter. Moreover, expect rising stress levels of UK-based developer teams, who are supposed to deliver even more apps despite mounting backlogs.

Time for an App Dev Aspirin

Demand for apps is not going to drop any time soon, and it’s impossible to create experienced developers overnight. So, to relieve the UK’s app development headache, businesses are going to have to work smarter with existing resources.

Part of the answer lies in agile development and DevOps tools and approaches. However, according to our research, businesses have not yet reached a maturity level with either DevOps or agile to show consistent, measurable results.

When asked to assess their adoption of agile using this 5 stage maturity model, the average response was just 2.6


When asked to assess their adoption of DevOps using this 5 stage maturity model, the average response was just 2.4


The above assessments of agile and DevOps adoption suggest something else is needed or the app development headache is just going to get worse.

Thirty-four percent of our survey respondents said they were already using various low-code platforms, and we were keen to find out whether there was a measurable advantage for their agile and DevOps maturity, as well as several other performance measures.

Compared to those who were not, respondents who were using low-code were:

  • 21% more likely to describe their organization as happy or somewhat happy with the speed of application development
  • 15% more likely to deliver applications in four months or less
  • Less than half as likely to report app delivery times of 12 months or more
  • 15% more likely to describe their agile maturity as level 3, 4, or 5
  • 10% more likely to describe their DevOps maturity as level 3, 4, or 5
  • Nearly three times more likely to say they have no app dev backlog
  • Two-and-a-half times less likely to have a backlog of over ten applications waiting for development
  • Three times more likely to describe citizen development as tightly governed

Despite the significant benefits of low-code adoption, the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world. Only 24% of UK organizations use rapid application development platforms, compared with 34% globally.

Low-Code: More Lifestyle Than Aspirin

All of which has me somewhat regretting the headache and aspirin analogy above. But, then again, if you had been suffering headaches for some time, a change of lifestyle rather than drugs may be the answer. Deal with the cause, not the symptom.

So, if your application development backlog is causing your business a headache, my advice is; take a look at the root cause. As the findings above suggest (you can go deeper into all the findings here), low-code could relieve a significant amount of stress, and help your business escape the “app crunch.”