New Background Section: Low Code in Industry

14.12.2020

There is a whole industry of IT and service providers for whom Low Code (LC) is the main business. Numerous providers of standard software and corresponding system integrators are also discovering this topic as a new area of business, thus opening new solution possibilities for their customers. As is so often the case, the topic did not originate in industry, but in other parts of the economy and in the public sector. But it has reached the industry and especially the PLM environment.

First results of google search 'low code pictures'(Screenshot of the first hits of the Google search "low code pictures" on 12/14/2020).

The trend is by no means limited to PLM. But its impact is great in this environment as well, because there are many problems here that users and providers alike cannot solve in the old way of programming or cannot solve quickly enough. For this purpose, PLMportal / Die Digitalisierer will now offer a new section in the 'Background', which will take a closer look at the potential and the market as well as the application fields of Low Code.

Many processes in engineering and subsequent processes in industry are highly complex. Many tools have emerged for project management, workflow organization, collaboration within and between individual teams of a company, but also with partners and suppliers, and have facilitated numerous work steps. One of the most comprehensive approaches is called Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), which, by its very nature, is intended to provide and keep up to date all data from all departments on a product throughout its entire lifecycle for all parties involved. Other hardly fewer comprehensive approaches are Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) in software development and Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) for order processing and other business processes.

All these tools and approaches are based on the kind of software and programming methods developed in the 1970s through the 1990s. They require software specialists who understand how to develop and test source code in a high-level programming language such as C++ or Java. Computer scientists have been among the most sought-after professionals for several years. They are in short supply in very many areas and application fields. This is one of the problems with conventional IT.

The second problem: Even if the systems run and are marketed under the term standard software – in most of them extensions, customizations, special configurations and additional developments are still necessary and the order of the day. This customizing means that when updates are made to new versions, the customizations, interfaces, and additions must also be considered in-house. This also overtaxes the IT staff and the associated budget in many companies.

But even if software specialists were available in abundance, that would not change the third problem: The digital transformation of business and industry demands a myriad of new approaches, tools and digital networking functions that are needed immediately, not in weeks, months, or years. The pace of development that was sufficient in the 1990s is no longer sufficient for this. In this increasingly fast-paced environment, if the solutions are not there fast enough, it can often mean they're too late.

That – and, of course, today's computing and storage capacities – are the reasons that have led to new approaches and a variety of new tools that don't rely on computer scientists at all for their use. 'Citizen Developer' is the still relatively new buzzword that declares ordinary citizens to be potential developers, so to speak. Without studies or courses of several weeks in programming, without knowledge of a special programming language, without a compiler, which must be mastered in addition to the programming language to convert the high-level language programs into machine-readable ones.

The new low-code tools – the term was coined by Forrester Research in 2014 – work largely with a graphical interface in which blocks stand for application or task, while the relationships and data flows are represented by lines or arrows. In fact, they are so easy to use that almost anyone can become a 'programmer' with them.

Mostly, it is about simple, small applications that are needed in the short term and for which none of the systems implemented in the company has a function. While the user assembles the small programming blocks, the corresponding source code is automatically generated in the background, based, for example, on existing libraries of frequently required functions. Nobody would reinvent a digital switch for on/off and program it in a high-level language. Something like that exists and is tested and used so often with such tools that it offers a much greater security for the 'programmer'.

Low Code can also be used to augment large systems of standard software. Before the system is changed, adapted, or extended, a function is fast tinkered, which can be started either by the standard software, or which uses reverse functions of the standard software.

Both application possibilities are of course just as common in all industrial processes as they are in insurance companies, banks, telecom and other service companies or institutions. Even in the immediate environment of PLM and engineering, speakers all over the country make fun of the fact that the most important data in many companies can still be found in tables or text systems, even two decades after the start of PLM.

The new way of programming without writing source code will massively change both the IT landscape in companies and, even more so, the applications in industrial value creation processes. Without wishing to join the chorus of prophets, it is an open secret that billions in revenue are to be made here in industry as well.

The changes may be manifold, and IT providers must face up to them. Because, of course, they mean that a solution is no longer sought in the old system for every new challenge. The question then arises as to how well the provider can keep up with the new methods, and how well the conventional business can be combined with the new. The fear of cannibalizing one's own IT sales can lead to talking down the issue and coming up with one's own offers in this direction too late.

Low Code is not the new way to develop PLM systems. Nor is it a replacement for PLM, ALM or ERP and all the other established applications. It is not a miracle cure that now solves all the problems that seemed unsolvable before. But it is already finding its place in industrial environments as well.

That is why there is now a section in the 'Background' of PLMportal / Die Digitalisierer dedicated to it. Providers of software and services are invited, as are users and solution seekers, to present their positions on this topic. In the end, there should be a small market overview showing the range and use of Low Code in industrial value creation.

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