Appian is one of the most popular low-code platforms on the market today. Founded in 1999, it’s also one of the older players in this space.
Perhaps more than any of its competitors, Appian is highly focused on enabling teams to automate manual processes, without necessarily having previous development experience.
On top of this, it offers all of the same kinds of functionality that we see with other platforms in this space - like a visual interface builder, data management tools, and other features for speeding up internal app development.
Despite its popularity, Appian isn’t the ideal solution for every team.
Today, we’re checking out the top Appian alternatives you should know about. But, this isn’t just another tools round-up. We’re also going to give a full account of the decision points you’ll need to consider when choosing a low-code tool.
Specifically, we’re going to cover:
- What is Appian?
- Who uses Appian?
- Why would you want an Appian alternative?
- 5 Appian alternatives
- Appian vs Budibase
- How to choose an Appian alternative
Let’s jump in.
What is Appian?
As we hinted at already, Appian is a low-code platform with a particular focus on empowering teams to automate menial administrative tasks.
Like most low-code tools, there’s a visual interface for building custom automations from pre-built elements. But, there’s plenty more besides this.
Specifically, Appian provides dedicated tools for process mining and modeling, RPA, machine learning, performance monitoring, analytics, continuous improvement, and more.
In addition to this, it’s also a powerful solution for building user-facing applications on top of a variety of data assets. It connects with SQL databases and REST APIs - as well as offering its own internal database if you want to start from scratch.
Appian is available as a self-hosted solution or a cloud-based platform.
Who uses Appian?
Appian is primarily aimed at business-level users who need to improve internal processes, but lack the technical skills of an actual developer.
This can include other colleagues within IT teams, but for the most part, it’s used by non-technical users in on-the-ground departments. For instance, departmental leaders, business technologists, project managers, analysts, or other job roles.
So, there is scope for adding custom code - but this isn’t needed quite as often as some more developer-focused alternatives.
In terms of core use cases, there are a few things to be aware of.
First of all, we already know that Appian skews heavily towards automation solutions. For example, basic data management tasks, like validation, cleansing, synchronization, and more.
Secondly, we have user-facing applications related to the same kinds of processes and workflows.
So, tools like forms, portals, and admin panels are all used for interacting with data assets. Appian enables teams to output these kinds of simple apps quickly, without having to rely on internal development resources.
Why would you want an Appian alternative?
As with any platform, there are key areas where Appian falls short. Depending on its requirements, some of these may make it unviable for you.
There’s an inherent tradeoff with low-code development between the flexibility offered to technical users - and how easily non-technical colleagues are able to output solutions. In other words, Appian may be too technical for some users and not technical enough for others.
While Appian can be self-hosted, some users complain that releases to this version of the product don’t keep pace with its cloud-based counterpart. This is frustrating, as we may have to sacrifice functionality to deploy the platform to our own infrastructure.
Support for external databases in Appian also lags behind some of its key competitors. For example, there are no dedicated connectors for NoSQL databases - so we’re reliant on REST requests or third-party plug-ins if we want to query unstructured data.
Appian also falls behind newer alternatives for user experience. For example, onboarding can be delayed due to manual processes for getting a cloud license - whereas we can sign up to other platforms more or less instantly.
Pricing is a little bit unpredictable. Billing is on a per-user basis - but Appian distinguishes between users depending on how often they use the platform. This means that it could be a very expensive option for mission-critical applications or even regular usage.
We might find that an alternative platform offers the same value more cost-effectively.
Lastly, Appian is a closed-source solution. So, security teams are unable to audit its source-code before hosting it on their internal infrastructure or connecting it to production databases.
5 Appian Alternatives
Now that we have a clear picture of what Appian is, what it offers, and where it could fall short, we can survey the wider market.
It’s important to note once again that individual platforms within the low-code market are optimized for distinct user personas in different kinds of organizations - from developers in major enterprises - to non-techincal users in small teams.
We’re checking out a range of tools from across this spectrum. Our picks are:
|Per user +
|Per creator +
|Per creator +
|Flat fee +
|Per app +
|Custom Data Sources
|Via Power Automate
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
Here’s a quick breakdown of what each offers:
Now, let’s check each of them out in turn.
Budibase is the open-source, low-code platform that turns data into action. Our mission is to empower busy IT teams to ship professional internal tools on top of any kind of existing data.
With extensive database connectivity, intuitive developer experiences, vast scope for customization, optional self-hosting, and advanced security features, there’s never been a better way to output solutions at pace.
Budibase is centered around fast, easy experiences for handling external data. We offer dedicated connectors for a huge range of SQL and NoSQL databases, Airtable, Google Sheets, REST APIs, and more.
We also have a built-in low-code database with full support for CSV uploads - along with dedicated CLI tools for building custom data sources.
You can even build your own custom components or import community contributions - for added extensibility.
Budibase is also ideally suited to eliminating menial tasks through automation. We offer a flowchart-based editor for combining, configuring, and managing a library of built-in triggers and actions.
Our platform also integrates with a wide range of external tools, using WebHooks, Zapier, REST APIs, and more. We even offer our own platform API, along with free external SSO.
Budibase is aimed at busy IT teams that need to output workflow applications at pace. Solutions architects, support engineers, data specialists, product owners, project managers, and more choose our platform to build incredible internal tools in a fraction of the time.
It’s the ideal tool for building forms, approvals apps, portals, admin panels, dashboards, directories, and much more.
Best of all, Budibase empowers teams to build custom low-code solutions on top of just about any kind of existing data.
We even offer auto-generated CRUD UIs, a library of customizable templates, powerful design tools, and optional custom code across our platform.
Budibase bills on a per-user basis - but we distinguish between the colleagues who create apps and the ones who use them. Build as many apps as you want in our free tier for five users in the cloud or twenty users, if you self-host.
We even offer free SSO across all plans.
Premium licenses cost $50 per creator per month and $5 for end users - giving a highly cost-effective way to scale your usage as your needs grow and change.
We also offer custom pricing for enterprises, with enhanced security controls, audit logging, air-gapped deployments, and more.
Retool is one of the biggest names in the low-code space. Like Budibase, it’s aimed at improving the way teams output custom internal tools. However, the difference is that Retool is optimized for professional developers, rather than other IT colleagues.
As such, it offers extensive customization options - but does so at the expense of usability for less technical users, potentially including most typical Appian users.
A huge part of Retool’s popularity can be explained by its intuitive, flexible user interface. It provides a clean, accessible drag-and-drop interface for arranging, styling, and configuring a large range of built-in UI components.
Retool is also a strong offering for workflow automation, although it lacks some of the more advanced capabilities of Appian in this regard. Its flow-based editor offers branching logic and extensive scope for custom scripting.
There’s an extensive range of native database connectors, making Retool an attractive option for businesses that need to build internal tools based on a variety of internal data assets.
As an Appian alternative, Retool’s big downside is the relatively high technical skills barrier. Since it’s a developer-focused tool, we’re more likely to need to use custom code in any given use case.
Retool is also a relatively expensive option, which place it outside the reach of teams who want to experiment with low-code for the first time.
Lastly, it has suffered reputational problems in terms of security after a large-scale data breach in 2023. This is potentially problematic for a tool that’s intended to work with mission-critical production databases.
Retool is billed on a four-tier model - Free, Team, Business, and Enterprise. Like Budibase, it also distinguishes between developers and end-users within its pricing.
However, each tier also imposes other usage-based limitations. For example, each of the standard paid tiers places restrictions on the number of automation runs we can have per month, which has the potential to push us to a more expensive license.
SSO and custom branding are restricted to the Enterprise tier, with custom pricing.
OutSystems is another Appian alternative that mainly targets developers. So, we have some of the most powerful capabilities around customization and extensibility - although it may be beyond the skills of less technical users.
It’s also highly enterprise-centric. As such, it offers a range of tools for larger development teams, including for testing, monitoring, user management, and other related tasks.
OutSystems really shines on extensibility. It offers support for external code libraries, frameworks, and SDKs. If you have the development skills, the possibilities are huge. It also offers an extensive marketplace for community contributions.
There are also features aimed at providing more advanced developer experiences - more in line with traditional SDLCs. For instance, version control, modular code, and flows for multi-platform development.
More recently OutSystems has launched a suite of tools leveraging generative AI for writing, testing, and monitoring code. Although, it’s still best if you have the development experience to know how the code in your applications actually works.
The big downside here is usability. Put simply, OutSystems will be too complex for the vast majority of non-developers. Even for experienced coders, there’s a steep learning curve, so it’s not ideal for everyone.
OutSystems is available as a self-hosted or cloud-based solution. However, installation flows for self-hosting are more complex than many other options. The cloud platform also imposes additional limitations and feature restrictions.
As we’ll see in a second, pricing is not exactly transparent - which can make it difficult to predict costs as we scale.
Unlike most other Appian alternatives, OutSystems bills on a per-application basis. We can build a single application in a testing environment for free. Beyond this, we’ll need to pay a flat fee of $1,513 per month, plus additional costs.
OutSystems uses a concept called Application Objects (AOs) to bill based on usage. This includes things like data connections, automation runs, and other basic building blocks of your applications.
Custom enterprise pricing is also required for self-hosting or external SSO.
PowerApps is Microsoft’s offering in the low-code market. It’s also one of the oldest and most ubiquitous tools in this space. As you might expect, it’s particularly popular with businesses that are already heavily embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem.
However, it also presents limitations compared to some of the other Appian alternatives on the market today.
Microsoft go to great lengths to make it easy to get up and running with PowerApps. There’s a huge range of templates and sample applications to help get you started with all sorts of common use cases.
Front-end data manipulation is performed using Power Fx - which is a bit like a suped-up version of traditional spreadsheet formulae, providing an accessible experience for most business-level users.
PowerApps also offers close integration with other Microsoft platforms, including the dataverse, SQL Server, Dynamics, PowerBI, Office, and more.
PowerApps is not always well-regarded for usability. In fact, it presents a particularly steep learning curve compared to more modern Appian alternatives like Budibase or Retool.
Although Power Fx is intuitive in one way - it’s also very syntactically strict. On top of this, error messaging isn’t always very precise or specific. So, it can be hard to figure out why something isn’t working.
Lastly, PowerApps requires us to use other Microsoft platforms to access certain functionality. Automations are built in Power Automate, which is billed separately - while connecting to external databases is most easily done via the Dataverse.
PowerApps offers one of the simplest pricing models in the low-code space. All users are billed at $20 per month, with no distinction between colleagues who create solutions vs end users.
However, there are other service limitations. For example, with regard to the data we can connect via the Dataverse.
We’d also be billed separately if we wanted to use related tools like Power Automate or AI Builder.
Lastly, we have Mendix. Again, this is one of the older players in the space. It’s a developer-focused platform that’s built for teams in large enterprises.
So, there’s a range of capabilities targeted at these kinds of teams. At the same time, experiences may not be particularly well optimized for other kinds of users - especially smaller teams or less technical colleagues.
Mendix offers extensive capabilities for specialist development teams. It’s built around a visual IDE, with built-in version control, testing functionality, substantive code editing, and generative AI tools.
Extensibility is another big selling point. Mendix is one of the few Appian alternatives that offers a dedicated SDK. Users can build their own extensions, reusable modules, components, and other functionality.
Mendix also benefits from a large, active developer community. So, there’s a wealth of resources out there, including tutorials, tips, community contributions, and more.
However, Mendix is also one of the most inaccessible platforms on the market in terms of usability for non-technical colleagues. In fact, we’ll need some coding skills for most projects and use cases.
One key example of this is design customization. We need to use custom CSS for anything but the most basic design tasks, whereas most competitors offer much more native customization.
Many users also complain that Mendix’s UI is comparatively dated more generally.
Mendix is one of the pricier low-code platforms out there. It offers different licensing structures depending on whether you want to build multiple applications or just one.
For multi-app licenses, there are three tiers - Free, Standard, and Premium. The free tier includes unlimited apps and users but limits us to a proprietary environment.
Paid multi-app licenses start from $2,000 per month for five users - plus additional per-user fees.
Appian vs Budibase
Now that we’ve seen a range of options from across the low-code market, it’s time to dive deeper into how Budibase and Appian stack up against each other.
Both platforms seek to provide teams with a faster, easier way to output internal tools.
But equally, they take a slightly different approach to achieving this. Appian largely targets business-level users whereas Budibase is optimized for non-developers within IT teams.
Here’s how they compare.
Appian offers a built-in database alongside support for external relational databases and API connections. This makes it a relatively attractive option for creating workflow applications and automations based on existing business data.
However, only relational databases in certain hosts are supported and we’ll need to install the appropriate drivers ourselves.
Budibase provides vastly superior experiences for handling external data.
We offer dedicated connectors for a range of SQL and NoSQL databases, as well as Airtable, Google Sheets, REST APIs, and more. We also have a built-in low-code database and a dedicated CLI for building your own data sources.
We even offer a spreadsheet-like interface for performing CRUD operations on supported data sources, either in Budibase’s back end or as a user-facing UI component.
Appian’s UI builder offers a wide range of configurable components - as well as generative AI tools to build custom interfaces for a range of use cases. However, the builder itself feels a little dated and lacks scope for adding custom code.
Budibase is the fast, flexible way to build all kinds of workflow applications.
We also offer autogenerated CRUD screens and forms, custom conditionality rules, mobile responsiveness, in-app theming, and more.
Appian offers an SDK for building custom extensions, as well as a range of proprietary plug-ins that are accessible via the Appian Suite API.
At the same time, there’s a disconnect between this kind of extensibility and Appian’s target user persona. That is, building extensions via their SDK would require relatively high development skills for a platform aimed at business-level users.
Budibase offers dedicated CLI tools for building custom components and data sources.
Or, you can import community contributions from our plug-ins repo and start leveraging existing extensions across your low-code development projects.
Management, administration, and hosting
Appian is available as either a self-hosted solution or a cloud-based platform. However, users with free licenses are limited to the cloud offering. However, some users complain that self-hosted releases do not keep pace with the cloud offering.
Self-hosted installations also require a relatively high amount of configuration compared to some alternatives.
Budibase’s cloud and self-hosted versions have significantly more feature parity. We also offer fast, easy installation for self-hosted licenses using Kubernetes, Docker, Digital Ocean, Portainer, Podman, and more.
Our pricing model distinguishes between creators and end-users for easy scalability. We even offer free SSO across all pricing tiers.
How to choose an Appian alternative
Lastly, it’s important to reemphasise that each platform in the low-code space targets distinct user personas and organizations. Therefore, we need to be realistic that no single platform can be fully optimized for every use case.
Instead, we need a framework for deciding which of the platforms we’ve seen today is right for us.
Here are the key decision points you’ll want to consider.
On paper, pricing seems like it should be a relatively simple variable to assess. But, in reality, it can be very difficult to compare like-with-like.
Almost every platform we’ve seen bills on a per-user basis.
However, there’s a lot of variation within this - including whether or not vendors distinguish between different types of users, as well as how different feature restrictions and usage limits are imposed across pricing tiers.
Therefore, one platform might be high cost-effective in certain situations, but excessively costly in others.
Here’s an example scenario of what each of the Appian alternatives we’ve seen will cost for different user and app volumes, assuming we need unlimited automations and for all of our users to access the platform at least once per week.
|2 creators + 50 users
|3 creators + 100 users
|5 creators + 200 users
|6 creators + 1000 users
**Appian provides a $66 discount for any user who accesses an application less than four times in a given month, so licensing costs may be considerably lower for infrequent usage.
*Appian provides a $66 discount for any user who accesses an application less than four times in a given month, so licensing costs may be considerably lower for infrequent usage.
**OutSystems impose limits on Application Objects, which must be purchased on top of stated license fees. The number of these required to build a particular use case is unpredictable.
Scalability is how easily we can expand our usage of a given platform - including how costs will increase as our needs grow and change.
There are two elements to this. The first is pricing. The second is each platforms actual ability to accommodate increased usage from a technical point of view.
On the pricing front, the issue stems from the fact that various platforms impose distinct usage limits and feature restrictions across their license tiers.
On the technical front, we’re dealing with issues like performance, external data support, and functionality for dealing with larger use cases - including things like SSO or audit logging.
The important thing is to factor in how these will impace our long-term usage of any given platform.
Open-source vs closed-source
Open-source technology is a top priority for many businesses - especially enterprises and other large organizations.
For these kinds of companies, it’s important to be able to audit the source ode of any platforms that will interact with production data, internal infrastructure, or mission-critical processes.
Closed-source technologies might require additional mitigations and policies, creating extra costs.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Appian alternatives we’ve seen today sit in this regard.
|Open-source vs Closed-source
We’ve seen extensively that vendors in the low-code space are aimed at different kinds of users - especially with regard to their level of technical skills and expertise.
Some platforms like Appian are largely aimed at business-level users. Others, like OutSystems, are full-on developer tools.
In between, we have a range of options that empower users of varying technical abilities to handle data, manage processes, and output internal tools.
Here’s one way of breaking down the platforms we’ve seen today.
|Technical level - Target users
|Medium - IT teams
|Medium - IT teams
|High - Engineers
|High - Engineers
|High - Engineers
|Medium - IT teams
Lastly, extensibility is the degree to which we can add new capabilities to a platform. This can either mean building additional elements ourselves or integrating with other existing tools to add functionality.
There are some aspects to this that most platforms have in common - like connecting to external platforms via API requests.
However, some platforms take extensibility much further than others. For instance, some of the tools that we’ve seen offer dedicated SDKs, some leverage custom plug-ins, and others offer little scope to add additional functionality.
Here’s a summary of what each of our Appian alternatives offers.
|Custom Data Sources
|REST API connector
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|ISO27001 SOC 2
|OIDC Auth support