Many IT professionals and developers are aware that new software projects often run behind schedule. According to McKinsey analysis, 70 percent of digital projects fall short or fail. Another study from Carnegie Mellon University confirms that three-quarters of the development effort is due to communication barriers between business and IT. The big problem is, more than ever, time. Today, software development is all about speed and the way applications are built.
Almost every software developer knows how to quickly build applications for corporate IT or individual departments, and at the same time knows how to deal with resource constraints and opaque feedback loops. Segmented thinking and lack of communication between specialized departments and the IT department negate the huge potential of collaborative software development. This is where low-code platforms can help by involving civilian developers in the development process.
This is an important factor in the success of low-code, because the participation of experts without programming knowledge solves two fundamental problems that IT departments of companies face every day: a lack of qualified specialists in the field of software development, as well as barriers to communication and understanding regarding processes. to be digitized. Not without reason, Forrester analysts suggest that by 2021, 75% of all business software will be developed with low code. Such forecasts show that low-code application platforms are becoming an increasingly important part of the enterprise technology stack.
The highlight of low-code is speed
Reducing low code to its basic principle, this visual development model-based approach allows you to develop applications up to 10 times faster than traditional software development by greatly reducing the need for programming. Reducing time to market for a new product helps organizations of all sizes move quickly to digitize their business processes and quickly adapt to far-reaching market changes while maintaining cost savings.
The following example from Siemens Global Business Services (Siemens GBS) shows how quickly even large corporations with complex and often rigid, low-code IT infrastructures can improve the experience of their employees by streamlining and simplifying processes. Siemens Global Business Services is Siemens AG’s internal IT value center that focuses primarily on innovation, automation and process simplification and supports numerous Siemens business units and external customers with digital solutions.
In the past, many tasks and processes were combined to create a synergistic effect and were outsourced. For example, the office in Bangalore handles most of the accounting inquiries and has previously had to resort to a large number of different systems. This structure created a strong desire for change: the main goal was to improve the user experience for customers and employees.
Therefore, it was necessary to create user-centric applications that, for example, would guarantee smoother and more efficient workflows and reduce frequent switching between applications to perform different tasks, eliminate manual and redundant processes, and provide greater transparency.
In February 2020, Siemens GBS tried to solve these problems with low code and launched a pilot project in the field of logistics. A small, purpose-built team of two developers, a Scrum Master and a Product Owner, began building the first low-code application: a new tool that logs complaints about the movement of goods on their way from Siemens factories to a customer location.
If Siemens sells a product, an invoice is sent with the time of sale, price and delivery date. If the product is delivered late, or does not meet procurement standards, the buyer can file a complaint. The task of Siemens GBS is to find out what went wrong with the delivery, for example, how many hours the delivery was delayed. Then the possibility of filing complaints is analyzed and the price of the product is recalculated.
Thanks to low-code, GBS was able to deploy an application that centralized all complaints in just six weeks. Claims managers in Siemens departments can now view, filter and share complaint information with freight forwarders. The impact of this first project was enormous: the time spent by complaints managers on analyzing data and communicating with freight forwarders was reduced by 67 percent. In addition, the solution was built four times faster than originally anticipated, saving millions of dollars in costs and delivering a 2,400% ROI.
History of low-code
But where does the low code come from? The term “low code” was introduced in 2014 by the then vice president of the American analytical company Forrester Research, John Reimer. The term encompassed various areas of development that minimize manual programming in software development. If you want to start from the beginning, fourth generation programming languages, the so-called 4GLs of the 80s and 90s, should be mentioned here.
The goal is to write functions, or entire applications, with as few lines of code as possible. The term Rapid Application Development (RAD) was later used to refer to a similar approach. With RAD, developers were able to visually assemble their desktop applications in development environments such as Delphi back in the 1990s. However, this did not make software development much easier, since Java code was still used here. This meant that specialists from areas such as marketing or sales were still excluded from development.
Application-specific scripting languages only provide 4GL input. The actual 4GL language is used to define the system, which in turn interprets the specific scripting language. Using parser generators, it is possible to define a separate scripting language for each target.
Scripts created in this way can be converted into third generation high-level language source code. An application-specific scripting language facilitates the definition of a specific model for a specific topic and thus provides a framework for developing model-driven or model-driven software.
Low code, high value
As a direct successor to the fourth generation of programming languages and rapid application development, low-code platforms make programming easier. When developing software in a low-code environment, applications are created using graphical interfaces that allow components to be programmed without coding knowledge. Simply put, you can think of it all as a modular principle, or like playing Lego: components are reusable functions from which applications are ultimately modeled.
“Digital building blocks” can be connected in any order, while, for example, in Mendix Low-Code, artificial intelligence gives clues to the logical arrangement. However, this does not mean that this way of programming internally limits the creation of applications to the functions of standard modules. Specific functions can be added at any time using scripts, or classic high-level languages.
In addition to saving time, a model-driven development approach on low-code platforms offers a number of other benefits. Automatic provisioning combined with a cloud architecture provides immediate availability and offers support for larger deployments.
Here, the Mendix platform offers another advantage, which is that the developed applications can be used not only as web applications. This is possible thanks to the use of the React-Native framework. It offers a direct native mobile approach for mobile app development to cover the entire ecosystem in companies.
Another big benefit is that with Low-Code, a simple and effective process automation solution is available that, unlike previous approaches, maps the entire development lifecycle, including continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD). The reusability of components, and therefore productivity, can be further enhanced with low-code development platforms.
Low-code platforms offer tools ranging from ready-to-use templates, widgets, and plugins to ready-made components that can be used over and over again. Thus, there is no need to reinvent the wheel for every application that needs to be developed. Developers can collect the necessary modules from previous projects and use them to create a new application. This saves you time and resources.
Probably the biggest benefit for companies and IT departments lies in the collaborative approach of low-code platforms. Whereas before all digital competencies were concentrated in the IT department, today companies must think and act in digital categories in order to remain competitive. Ideally, IT departments are no longer just service providers in their organization, but become helpers that allow specialized departments to help themselves.
With the help of low-code platforms, IT departments can provide experts from non-programming departments (Citizen Devoloper – civilian developers) with the tools to develop applications and, if necessary, support them in development.
At the same time, IT ensures that quality and safety standards are met through a low-code platform and structures interdepartmental cooperation. The platforms ensure that feedback loops remain transparent and understandable so that applications are not developed beyond the needs of specialized departments.
This not only saves time, but also money. Citizen developers also have an advantage over IT: they have a better understanding of the business processes to be digitized and know exactly where needs and problems should be in their dedicated department.
This results in a flexible dynamic that spans the entire company and greatly speeds up digitization. This dynamic is organized and controlled in so-called application factories, which offer a framework for low-coding organizational adaptation.
With this guide, professional developers can focus on complex programming work on code, while civilian developers use low-code tools to quickly digitize business processes and make their real work in a specialized department even more efficient. And if the civilian developer doesn’t get along with the existing digital building blocks, the IT professional will have plenty of time to create a new digital element on a low-code platform.
This approach is also very successful at Siemens AG. In the meantime, more than 1000 experts have become Rapid Application Developers with a certification level for civilian developers. Various business units and operating units discovered the App Factory Framework and created over 100 low-code applications in one year.
What works for business also works in production. A key goal of digital transformation in industry is factory automation, which is often slowed down by the physical and systemic distance between operations technology (OT) in distributed manufacturing facilities and IT organizations that are typically located at company headquarters. Low-code platforms also offer factory operators the opportunity to overcome limitations by developing custom applications. For example, building local edge applications to collect and evaluate real-time data.
Company developers, domain engineers, and factory workers can create applications without programming knowledge and extensive IT support. However, it is important that the activation, extension and personalization of data from the underlying systems is guaranteed. Inconsistent legacy systems that contain data in different formats and support complex physical models often get in the way of developers and engineers when it comes to securely accessing the data they need.
To help companies discover, understand, use, and process data across the organization and use it in software development, business intelligence, and other data-intensive applications, extensive, low-code platforms offer appropriate data interfaces. With such solutions, there is no longer a laborious search for the right data and appropriate owners, complex processes regarding the consideration of API calls and access security.
With the ever-increasing number of networked systems in factories, the amount of data generated is also skyrocketing. While this data can mostly be used and processed in the cloud, there are also reasons such as cost-effectiveness, data protection, reliability, or simply latency that favor in-place processing and analysis.
Custom edge applications can not only perform these tasks, but also include other applications such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, or data analysis. All this is used, for example, in preventive maintenance, asset management or quality assurance.
For example, when building the Industrial Edge, Siemens relies on the infrastructure that can do it. It is based on low code, with which it is relatively easy to develop corresponding applications. The data created during the production process is transferred to the peripheral device and processed there depending on the previously developed and installed edge applications.
These applications are managed through a central infrastructure and provided with updates and workflow engines. Applications range from connectivity applications to data processing and user interface dashboards to complex augmented reality applications for individual machines and their current operating parameters.