KS Industries LP (KSI) has used an array of enterprise software solutions over the course of its 57-year history. But the company, which provides engineering and construction services to businesses in the energy sector, never had much success with them. KSI field workers often found the enterprise solutions too complex or too rigid, according to a TrackVia case study. The company eventually reverted to using paper forms and checklists, but they were often out of date or inaccurate.
KSI needed a solution, but enterprise software was not the answer, so the company recently chose to move to a low-code mobile app. Using the new solution, collected field data can be reviewed and analyzed in real-time; jobs, tasks and assignments can be reassigned through automated workflow notifications; and assets can be rescheduled easily.
Because KSI chose a low-code solution, the company says it can now add new data fields or change process procedures instantly without having to reprogram software or hire an app developer.
KSI is not alone. As businesses work to digitally transform, some IT leaders are finding enterprise software no longer meets their evolving needs, particularly when it comes to usability.
The downside of enterprise software
For all its advantages, enterprise software, even when delivered via the cloud, can present challenges. Enterprise software often requires a business to change the way they work to accommodate software. In other words, while moving from on-premise to off-premise software addressed some of traditional software’s distribution and pricing challenges, it did little to address the needs of the people who use the software to for work.
More than 80% of executives said they had to change the way they work to match the way their software works, according to a new of more than 500 executives from TrackVia. A majority of the respondents also said they "fear the limitations of their software programs have negatively affected their company’s growth."
For some, low-code platforms, which allow users to create customized applications with a minimum of hand-coding, setup and deployment, are filling the gap.
"With low-code and cloud, custom development is much less risky than it once was. You can tackle custom applications, and deliver them at a much lower risk profile and much faster than you could in the heydays of Java, .NET, and C#."
Vice president and principal analyst at Forrester
"The main reason cloud computing is growing so fast is that people are looking for much more modern and much more flexible software and they're looking to deliver that software faster than they have in the past," said John R. Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. "Low-code plays into that."
In the past, people shied away from custom software development because it tended to be slow and risky, but that equation has changed.
"With low-code and cloud, custom development is much less risky than it once was," said Rymer. "You can tackle custom applications, and deliver them at a much lower risk profile and much faster than you could in the heydays of Java, .NET, and C#, etc."
Much of the demand for low-code is driven by the fact that expectations have changed when it comes to customization and configuration.
"While you used to have to work the way the software worked, people now want software to work the way they work," said Charles Var, vice president of marketing at TrackVia.
Low code applications can allow a company to build about 90% of a new app without any new code whatsoever using a drag-and-drop approach. The remaining 10%, which may require customization or third party integrations, can then be performed using a more traditional approach.
Citizen developers and security
The same trends that are driving the need for low-code solutions are also driving the emergence of so-called "citizen developers," employees who attempt to code new enterprise applications themselves. But while that can help alleviate the burden on IT departments, it can also present security concerns.
More than three in four business and IT leaders believe citizen developers need to use an enterprise low-code platform to mitigate risks, according to a recent survey conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Appian.
"Central IT must accelerate its response to digital transformation," said Matt Calkins, co-founder and CEO of Appian, in a announcement. "Low-code development is that accelerator. It also provides the additional benefit of bringing the citizen development movement under the governance of IT to ensure security, data integrity and operational efficiencies are being met."
Bendigo & Adelaide Bank, the fourth-largest bank in Australia, used the low-code Appian Platform to roll out 25 Tier 1 enterprise applications in 18 months, according to Appian.
"We're now seeing things prototyped and taken to market in a matter of hours or days instead of things sitting in a pipeline waiting to be prioritized and ultimately getting delivered 12 months down the track," said Andrew Watts, executive for Customer Improvement at Bendigo & Adelaide Bank.
The end of enterprise software?
Despite the rise of low-code, Rymer says he does not see traditional enterprise software — the type of programs companies like SAP and Oracle built their business on — going away, though he believes those companies do need to make their solutions more flexible to ensure their survival.
"Some of these companies are starting to introduce some low-code features, but they still have a big business in these back-office applications that is slowly chugging along," said Rymer. "It’s not going way, but it’s not growing. These intermediate operational applications are where the growth is."
And while traditional enterprise software manufacturers are trying to figure out how to make their software more configurable, that's difficult because it's simply not the way those programs were initially designed.
"It’s hard to say whether or not they will be able to do it and how fast they can do it, but I think [businesses] are eventually going to have to incorporate these low-code platforms as part of their portfolio."
Vice president of marketing at TrackVia
"Businesses want to be able to configure software immediately and as they evolve," said Var. "No business is static, processes change all the time, so the ability to adjust and adapt is important."
The challenge is that is difficult to do and it’s a different approach to how software was traditionally developed. Some of the larger, more traditional companies like Oracle, SAP and even some newer businesses like Salesforce and Google are acquiring low-code companies or investing in low-code systems to help get them there.
"It’s hard to say whether or not they will be able to do it and how fast they can do it, but I think they are eventually going to have to incorporate these low-code platforms as part of their portfolio," said Var.