Technology & Innovation

Why supply chain organizations should care about low-code

Written by
Mary Kate McGowan
Jul 27, 2021
12:38 pm
minute read

Part 2: Demystifying the low-code buzzword.

ATLANTA—Low-code can help solve supply chain challenges faster than the industry has ever seen.

“It is truly going to unlock the potential of people working in the supply chain to do amazing work, quickly diagnose issues, and solve problems on their own,” said Jonathan Porter, founder of PorterLogic.

That speed and efficiency sound great, but low-code’s reputation might not lend itself to being the most trusted. In this second installment in our two-part Q&A series, Jonathan digs into what supply chain organizations need to know before they implement low-code solutions.

Demystifying the trend.

Why is low-code a trend right now?

Jonathan: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light several supply chain resilience problems, but people that work in supply chain have been seeing the need for additional flexibility and agility for years. But the pandemic really pushed this into the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Before COVID, we were in an era of supply chain technology I might call “Supply Chain 3.0.” We had adopted new technologies, we were embracing advanced warehouse management systems, and starting to look at things like machine learning and artificial intelligence. But the industry as a whole had really not yet optimized the supply chain tech environment. For example, getting a single warehouse site live on a new WMS can still easily take 8 to 12 months, or more.

But in the last year or two, people are finally starting to see that we really need to move faster, to test more, to have more of a lean startup mentality in the supply chain. Low-code platforms are perfectly poised to add that layer of resilience and agility.

Hold up. What is low-code? Jonathan Porter defines this technology in part one of this Q&A series.

Do you think low-code is more than a trend? Does it have staying power?

Jonathan: I think the technology is finally getting there to let low-code move past just being a buzzword. The concept of low-code has been around for a while—15 or 20 years at least—but only recently have we started calling the technology “low-code”. Visual drag-and-drop editors have existed in the past, but the problem was they were traditionally rather limited in functionality, plus they were often buggy, hard to use and just didn't quite accomplish what you really needed them to.

As a result, the whole low-code concept has a bit of a stigma around it, and I think that's what made it a buzzword. As the industry found out, many of the earlier no-code/low-code solutions would allow you to automate repetitive tasks, such as onboarding or vacation requests, and that's a great start. Those tools can definitely save time. But when you're talking about trying to replicate advanced processes in the warehouse, there is an intricate level of detail required that most low-code platforms just weren’t designed to handle.

But the technology has now progressed to the point where you can truly replicate a custom-coded solution. You can now have a full-code solution in a low-code environment. That’s where I think that the industry is going to really take advantage, because we’re now seeing what we can accomplish and realizing the benefits of speed and agility that come with low-code.

Is low-code a viable solution for supply chain companies?

Jonathan: Absolutely, especially when paired with cloud-native technologies. With cloud solutions becoming the norm now in supply chain, you really can see powerful capabilities that were just simply not possible before.

Low-code is here to stay. I think the industry has seen enough success stories to be comfortable with the technology. And there are now platforms available that are specifically tailored to what a supply chain organization needs, to solve the unique challenges that come from operating in a modern supply chain.

How to get started with low-code.

What do people need to know about low-code?

Jonathan: People need to know it is worth looking at the new low-code technologies. If you’ve looked at low-code in the past and written it off as not practical, it is time to take a second look into what is possible in the low-code space as it relates to your supply chain.

Another thing is the speed of solving problems and deploying features with low-code is something your supply chain organization has never seen before. It is truly going to unlock the potential of people working in the supply chain to do amazing work, quickly diagnose issues, and solve problems on their own. These low-code technologies—because of the ease of use and modern design—will allow your organization to be supercharged in a way that was never possible before.

How can a supply chain company get started with low-code?

Jonathan: Some platforms make it very easy to trial the solution at a very low risk to you—and not just from a financial standpoint, but from an operational risk standpoint as well. Systems that are designed to integrate and layer onto your existing systems don’t require you to move your data, and they don’t require you to replace your core underlying systems or change your IT infrastructure.

You can model a single process in low-code and see if the technology will really work for your organization. And if it doesn't work for whatever reason, you haven't changed your entire system. You can simply turn off the low-code and go back to the way you were doing it before. Nothing is lost.

So start small. You can model a scenario over a few days and see what happens. This kind of testing won’t take weeks or months -- this often takes just days. So you can trial a new solution and get feedback almost in real-time.

I know this sounds crazy to most supply chain professionals. We're used to year-long implementations, with months of software vendors working on coding and testing - but it's a new world out there. I think companies will see the benefit of using low-code, because it is traditionally almost infeasible to test a new solution like this in a real supply chain environment. For that reason, companies can be hesitant to try new systems, but that's the unique beauty of low-code: the ability to integrate directly and layer on top of existing systems, so you can try things at very low risk.

Before we wrap this up, do you have any more tips to share?

Jonathan: When you're getting into your digital transformation and your low-code journey, one of the biggest tips I have is to find a single solution that can solve as many of your problems in a single place. There are an incredible number of software tools out there, and it’s often possible to piece together capabilities with multiple systems. But one way low-code can go awry is when you have too many layers and too many systems trying to interact and work together. Instead of making your life easier, you’ve actually made it harder to debug and troubleshoot when you get too many systems trying to work together. So that’s my advice, find a solution that has all the pieces you’re looking for in a single place, and your organization can be well on the way to transforming what’s possible.

Don’t miss out. Dive deeper into low-code in part one of this Q&A series.

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