New software has made the design of apps that streamline processes more accessible ©Getty Images
New software has made the design of apps that streamline processes more accessible ©Getty Images

Tech briefing: learn what low-code can do for procurement

Named “the most disruptive trend of 2021” by Forbes, is low-code more than a transient tool and what does it mean for procurement? 

Low-code, no-code, click development and point-and-click development are just a few of the names applied to the software platform that’s been a boon to businesses affected by the challenges of 2020. In the past, software developers operated in a murky world, one only truly understood by similarly trained individuals.

But low-code’s simplicity and its ease of use is empowering a new wave of software ‘assemblers’ to create their own applications. Using such software, even a CFO with no tech background could completely overhaul a company’s payroll system – it’s as easy as drag and drop.

While the term low-code was coined in 2014, in six short years the application has revolutionised the way software developers and companies around the world function. Forrester Research predicted the low-code market would reach $15bn by the close of 2020 and that it will grow 40% annually, topping $21bn by 2022.

How does it work?

Traditionally, computer programmers are engaged writing line upon line of code to create a computer program or application, defining everything from basic rules and functionality to style and response. You need to know what you’re doing; you need to know your APIs from your ASCII and your loops from your endless loops. With low-code, it’s a more modular approach.

The lines of code are already embedded in visual blocks that users, known as citizen developers, can see. So all they need to do is build it, by dragging and dropping blocks of code into place to construct the app they want. According to a recent Forrester Total economic impact study, low-code enables developers to create programmes 10 times quicker and with 70% fewer resources compared to conventional methods.

Although the history of low-code platforms is embedded in Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools such as Excel and Microsoft Access, unlike RAD, citizen developers need no prior knowledge of developing apps; they just need the vision to understand what they want their programme to achieve.

Playing with giants

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is one of the leaders in the low-code market; its Power Apps and Power Platform systems are capable of deploying apps in under a month. In 2019, Microsoft added AI Builder to the package allowing for machine learning capabilities. Meanwhile, Microsoft Flow automates workflows between apps and services to enable synchronisation of files, data collection and approval processes. According to Forrester, Microsoft’s system has led to a 74% reduction in app development costs.

But the low-code market is highly competitive. Gartner believes low-code platforms will account for 65% of all app development in the next four years, which explains why Microsoft has stiff competition from an array of developers, including Appian, DWKit, Kissflow, OutSystems and SalesForce.

Developers want convenience

Enabling anyone to create a computer programme may give rise to the idea that low-code will threaten the jobs of skilled coders and developers, but the growth of the system is largely down to a gaping hole where trained software developers should be. Combine that with the fact that in such a digitally advanced age when companies are continually analysing their capabilities and seeking customised solutions to stay ahead of competitors, trained tech developers simply can’t keep up with demand.

A study by Nuxeo, The ‘low-code’ imperative, found developers are pushing for wider adoption. In the study, 35% of developers cited simplification as the key business benefit of low-code, while 41% wanted more than half of their organisation’s app processes to be based on low-code by 2022. Essentially, developers are able to skip over the tedious elements of build, such as infrastructure and implementation of patterns, and focus on the fun part that requires their knowledge and expertise – the part no one else can do.

Procurement applications

Low-code applications tend to fall into three key categories: legacy migration, improved operational efficiency, and mobile and brand-new services. From a procurement and supply chain standpoint, improved operational efficiency is a no-brainer. For example, many SMEs find a disconnect between the company’s rudimentary e-commerce site and the order processing system. With the right person and a few clicks, low-code can produce an app to integrate processes, cut administration times and streamline the system.

According to Nick Ford, VP of product marketing at low-code software platform Mendix: “With low-code apps, logistics managers can create a system where apps can communicate with each other as and when necessary to better track the huge volumes of data the logistics industry provides day in and day out”.

Mendix recently worked with a lease management company to build an application that would centralise its procurement and supply chain information, ensure data is stored correctly and provide instant updates. “It now takes the company minutes instead of months to update the application,” says Ford. 

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