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Tuesday, 14 September 2021 17:25

The rise of low-code tools and why manufacturers and distributors should take notice

By Darren Edwards, head of product operations at Syspro
Syspro head of product operations Darren Edwards Syspro head of product operations Darren Edwards

GUEST OPINION: While manufacturers and distributors continue to recover from the ongoing pandemic, many have learnt a valuable lesson around the importance of agility to remain resilient. The biggest takeaway has been the realisation that technology is a vital component in remaining connected with customers and suppliers in real-time.

According to Syspro’s recent research survey, which did a deep dive into the immediate impact of the pandemic, 46% of businesses felt that their systems lacked the insights that were needed to respond to the change and 36% said that business continuity was a major issue. As a result, 23% of businesses stated that they expected to lose customers through the inability to supply enough products or services.

In contrast, businesses that embarked on digital initiatives such as eCommerce, digital supply chains and remote working, could continue to trade effectively during the pandemic. To connect directly with customers, many opted to integrate into external technology platforms. To do this, manufacturers didn’t want to necessarily hire an expensive external specialist resource, with no guarantee of future availability. Instead, they looked to utilise low-code or no-code solutions.

Business solutions made simple

Low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools are designed to make it easy for non-technical people to design, build, and launch software applications quickly. They use pre-built visual programming interfaces that allow solutions to business problems to be created faster than could be accomplished with traditional software development.

Low-code tools are different to no-code applications. Low-code solutions are aimed at users with some low-code development experience, like basic scripting, so that systems facilitators needing to quickly build business solutions applications, can utilise a graphical development environment with simple links to databases, web services, or APIs. Low-code apps as mentioned, can require some scripting Whereas No-code solutions, introduce a complete visual drag-and-drop interface, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) user interface development tools and built-in data visualisations.

LCNC solutions are much more than industry buzzwords. According to Gartner, by 2024, 80% of tech products and services will be built by people who are not technology professionals. This is particularly ideal for manufacturers, with little or no technical expertise who don’t necessarily understand C# programming or SQL database management.

LCNC in a manufacturing or distribution environment

A benefit of giving employees the power to make operational improvements through LCNC is that they understand the business need and unique business pain points. With the agility and speed that comes with LCNC solutions, manufacturers and distributors can also resolve internal business challenges as well as leverage external opportunities.

Using LCNC to address internal business challenges

• Manufacturers and distributors can leverage LCNC solutions when they would like to change a business process or interaction either by restricting it, making more flexible or extending it. By having more control, businesses can streamline operations and automate workflows. A good example is a ML rules engine, that can use data to run probabilities and make suggestions on how to improve the business.

• Businesses can improve operational efficiencies by reducing organisational siloes. This is because LCNC is visual by nature, and can be optimized across mobile platforms, helping employees to have a clear idea of resource availability.

• The use of LCNC solutions can also help alleviate the growing technology skills gap within the sector. Employees can now perform as ‘citizen developers’, which captures collective expertise, while placing problem-solving tools in the hands of business users.

Leveraging external opportunities

• LCNC is ideal when a manufacturer wants to connect to another system or even an IoT device which is external to the core systems of a business. For example, a business may want to connect to an external shipping or freight solution.

• The use of LCNC solutions can also enable manufacturers and distributors to innovate through the ability to rapidly develop new applications. For example, some manufacturers were able to use solutions such as WordPress during the pandemic to create eCommerce sites, to sell their products directly to the end-customer.

Where ERP fits into the LCNC picture

For manufacturers and distributors, an ERP solution remains at the heart of the business, a single source of truth that connects disparate systems and a central data point. With the growth of LCNC solutions, it is therefore vital to select an ERP platform that allows for low or no code tailoring and customisation and has the right connectors available to leverage the wide array of LCNC solutions available.

The ERP market is seeing a shift to enable more customisations. In fact, according to Gartner, “ERP is shifting to enterprise applications complemented by an ecosystem that includes new capabilities for application platforms, integration and low-code/no-code development. Gartner refers to this new era of ERP as ‘enterprise business capabilities’ which facilitates the rapid development and adoption of new applications and capabilities."

While supply chain disruptions will remain a reality for manufacturers and distributors, the good news is that there are ways to remove the complexity of deploying new technology solutions, with reduced turnaround time and less reliance on external resources. When integrated into a central ERP platform, LCNC solutions can not only improve operational efficiency and access to real-time data, but it can also allow for innovation through new business models and even new routes to market.

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