Technology & Innovation

How low-code can transform the supply chain, Part 1

Written by
Mary Kate McGowan
Jul 13, 2021
3:58 am
minute read

Part 1: Let’s dig into how low-code can increase the supply chain’s agility and resilience.

ATLANTA—Creating custom code to update your supply chain software every time the market changes is no longer feasible given the modern business landscape.

“Custom code simply takes too long and too much effort to develop, maintain and change. It can easily take months to make a software change in traditional code,” said Jonathan Porter, founder of PorterLogic. “Low-code solutions allow that process to happen at a much more rapid pace.”

Low-code is part of the supply chain’s future. In an industry all about efficiency, low-code solutions epitomize building, executing and improving processes quickly, cost-effectively and without great effort. That sounds great and all, but what is low-code? And does it actually work?

To kick off this two-part series diving into low-code, we sat down with our founder Jonathan who defines what low-code is and explains how it works.

What Is Low-Code?

Let’s start by making sure everyone is on the same page. Define "low-code".

Jonathan: Low-code tools are platforms that allow you to build solutions that previously required coding. As technology has advanced, a variety of platforms and pseudo-code languages have been developed that allow you to build scripts, tools, and even entire applications without traditional code. With low-code, development happens faster, requiring less time and effort.

In low-code, you're typically using a drag-and-drop style editor instead of writing actual code. You can iterate quickly and even make changes to a process every day if you’d like to continually optimize your operations. This quick testing was not possible before low-code, because it was simply infeasible for traditional code to be designed, developed, and tested that quickly. Now with low-code, all it takes is dragging a few blocks and clicking a few buttons, and you can update your software to work the way you need it to.

What are the differences between low-code and no code?

Jonathan: The distinguishing factor between low-code and no-code is typically the amount of technical experience required. While both are usually far less technical than traditional code, low-code platforms may require certain pseudo-code to be written in the system, or there may be other slightly technical tasks like editing message formats. Low-code systems are often still heavy on the drag-and-drop, but typically utilize slightly more technical aspects to achieve a broader range of functionality. Low-code has the advantage of more capabilities over no-code, but the trade off is in the technical aspect.

No-code, by contrast, is typically only drag-and-drop style editors. You gain ease of use, and generally speaking a wider user base can be comfortable in no-code systems, but you will often be more constrained in what is possible to be built by purely no-code platforms.

Why should people be using low-code solutions in the supply chain? What are the benefits?

Jonathan: One of the major benefits with low-code is the speed of the design, development, and test cycle. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we who work in the supply chain realized there needed to be more resilience in our logistics operations. We needed more agility because business landscapes just change so fast.

Traditionally, supply chain software has been very rigid, very inflexible. But in today’s business landscape, Amazon can launch a new service in a week, which can completely disrupt and change the way you need your supply chain systems to work. More often than not, those challenges were solved with custom-developed software. Whether that was add-ons or modifications to your core systems, or completely custom-built business applications, custom code typically helped handle these business requirements.

But creating custom code for every unique business process is just infeasible given the modern business landscape. It simply takes too long and too much effort to develop, maintain and change. And in a world where cloud is becoming the norm for supply chain systems, these traditional custom-built modifications are going away. Modern SaaS applications have a wealth of benefits, but typically cannot be customized to your businesses unique needs. That’s where low-code platforms shine.

Low-code also lowers the barrier for software development, allowing citizen developers and non-technical resources to create the tools they need by eliminating the requirement of knowing the syntax of code. Most businesspeople know what they want their system to do. The barrier is being able to translate that want into code. That's where these visual tools and drag-and-drop editors come into play. Low-code let’s anyone, internal resources and consultants alike, make their software work for them.

Is low-code more than just a short-lived trend? Find out in part two of this Q&A series.

How does it work?

What’s a concrete example of how low-code works in the supply chain?

Jonathan: I'm going to use the foodservice industry as an example here, but you could extrapolate this example to manufacturing, retail and other sectors.

Many of the business requirements related to the warehousing and distribution of food products are extremely specific. For example, certain items cannot be stored near each other to avoid cross contamination (I’m talking individual bay and level requirements).

There’s also the challenge of multiple temperature zones, as certain products must only be stored in certain parts of the warehouse, but then brought together in a single order and loaded in the specific position on the truck appropriately based on their temperature requirements.

Additionally, how certain products like shellfish and other meats are received can require an incredible magnitude of information that must be captured when brought into a warehouse (country of origin, catchweight, the list goes on).

These are all good examples of where low-code could solve a problem. Instead of spending months designing the requirements to meet these challenges, to then convey those requirements to a developer for them to code, to then hire a consultant to test and deploy the system, a low-code tool could allow a citizen developer who knows the requirements to immediately input those requirements into a system that will automatically produce the desired outcome.

Low-code speeds up that timeline, and you could deploy a solution that captured all that shellfish information in a fraction of the time that it would take to traditionally develop.

What could a company be doing with that time saved?

Jonathan: I've seen so many hours spent fighting fires in a supply chain support environment - whether that's servers going down, or just the system not behaving as expected. Using low-code platforms can help a company refocus some of its team’s energy onto more value-added projects. Instead of constantly battling your systems, low-code platforms allow you to tackle the projects you want to do - and the projects that were never possible before because your team never had the time.

How can low-code systems transform the supply chain in the next five years?

Jonathan: In five years’ time, your supply chain organization could have a new level of independence. Without the handcuffs of traditional custom code, you will have implemented more projects than you could have before, you will have tested and iterated more quickly on the challenges facing your business, and you will have accomplished projects that have been in your backlog for years. Low-code tools can help future-proof your supply chain, and allow you to gain a new level of resilience to handle whatever the world decides to throw at you next.

Are you ready to explore how your supply chain company can get started with low-code? Read part two of this Q&A series with our founder Jonathan Porter.

Want the latest supply chain insights? When you subscribe to PorterLogic’s newsletter, you’ll get a bimonthly analysis and rundown of the supply chain’s latest trends and challenges in your inbox. 

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