These days, software developers are among the most wanted experts in the IT industry. But do we still need them?
Businesses need business applications, there is no doubt about it. Just like we never question whether a company needs financial and accounting systems, the business case for applications is equally obvious. Applications make business more efficient, since nobody even considers running their company using just paper documentation.
The immense popularity of mobile devices, which give access to a multitude of applications among which almost everybody can find something for themselves, shapes the expectations of users in the office. After becoming familiar with technical support in their private lives, they expect exactly the same thing in their everyday work. For example, if they have an app on their phones that easily helps them with their own shopping, why wouldn’t they want similar apps to make their work lives more efficient?
What is equally important is management’s expectation that all their employees’ actions be transparent and that they manage their workflows in such a way as to make management and data collection easier and more efficient. Only then will they be able to properly implement decisions and optimize their business processes, efficiently adapting them to changes occurring in the company and in the general market.
Tailor-made business applications
The fact that we need business apps is painfully obvious. However, not all apps are created equal. In the context of traditional accounting or warehouse management software, we are mostly dealing with standard tasks that are similar across most companies and departments, especially if within a single sector or industry. This field is already full of applications dedicated to specific industries and company types, so the only thing that needs to be done is adaptation to implement and manage the desired processes.
This is not the full picture, however, since every company also has a rather significant number of so-called business processes, which are often managed using e-mails or Excel spreadsheets. The collected data is used to create various studies, cases and reports. More and more entrepreneurs are thinking about the ways to deal with all of that in order to facilitate both their employees’ work and their management’s time. What makes this issue really significant is the fact that more often than not, these processes, unsupported by any tools, determine the competitiveness of a business and play an important role in building added value.
Realizing this creates a business need for developing dedicated business applications. Why develop instead of buying? Because with the increasing specificity of your processes and the competitive edge they give you, the probability of finding a ready-made solution grows ever smaller.
The ever-growing number of companies we are working with realize that even though efficient accounting allows them to lower their operational costs, their competitive advantage is decided by the way they carry out their most important business processes. Therefore, supporting these processes with business applications becomes a key goal for the entire organization. We tell our IT teams to look for the right solutions and tools, but more often than not, it turns out that ready-made answers that suit your expectations simply do not exist. That is when companies start considering developing their own custom, tailor-made solutions.
Business applications without coding
Up until recently, the only way to create a specialized application was to hire a developer. You had to write it yourself, regardless of whether you decided to go with the in-house model and maintain your own internal IT department made up of any number of developers (FinTech companies have developer to employee ratios as high as 20-30%) or contract an external software house that provided their own developers and created custom applications.
Today it is possible to build applications without involving any software developers and it is becoming a viable alternative not only in the case of simple tools, but also more advanced solutions, which is critical from the business standpoint. The idea behind so-called no-code or low-code platforms is to enable users to create complete applications, while limiting actual coding as much as possible. In practice, this often times make coding unnecessary. These platforms enable you to create application logic, calculations and forms, as well as establish the rules of task handovers between users and design a user-friendly UI. Systems built this way are most often available via web browsers and mobile devices. They can be easily integrated with other IT solutions used in the company, such as ERP, accounting and HRM systems, messengers or e-mail. They can also deal with document digitization and text recognition.
Working with a no-code platform relies on using a graphical user interface instead of code. The user operates using building block-like elements to develop a fully operational business application. Its interface and logic is based on a drag & drop methodology, while offering a great degree of configurability. Knowledge of programming languages is not needed to build or change an application built in one of these platforms. If you have to modify an application for a given process, instead of going through thousands of lines of code, you simply move some blocks around...
Time and budget matters
These kinds of Rapid Application Development (RAD)-class solutions, based on no-code and low-code principles, did not appear overnight. It has been known for a long time now that developing applications using code ensures absolute flexibility. With enough developers, time and budget you can build anything you want or need. It was observed 30 years ago that in business, time is more often than not a serious constraint and budgets are rarely unlimited. With every passing year, the time and cost of launching a given solution become even more critical. The faster the launch, the quicker comes the ROI and, more importantly, the competitive edge.
This is why the first low-code platforms started popping up in the market 30 years ago. It was business that identified the need to support of more and more applications, while also covering and supporting more and more processes necessary for a company’s operations. At the same time, the current pace of life and work showed that thinking about just delivering a solution was not enough, especially when it supports processes that evolve and are constantly being improved. We know that the most important thing of all is how quickly we can implement changes, develop and modify our applications to deliver what business needs at any given time. This is why no-code/low-code platforms, which at first were treated just as curiosities, became the best way forward for companies that want to create business applications designed to change and adapt by their very nature. What’s more, they can create these applications without coding, and without developers.
The end of endless recruitment
It can be seen both internationally as well as in the Polish market, that employers are having increasing problems finding good developers. For many companies operating outside the IT industry, finding somebody with good technological skills is nothing short of a miracle. Even the top software houses recruit people who are industry newbies or even college freshmen. A large number of Polish developers are snagged up by international companies as outsourcing partners, sucking them out of the job market. This shows the challenges a company faces when they want to hire talented people to work for them.
The risk of not finding the right people is very serious. The issue is not only with the implementation and delivery of IT projects, but also with maintenance and adaptation to changing business needs. As a result, if a company invests in a traditional, custom-developed application today, they need to be able to keep their developer on the payroll, preferably with a back-up as well. This becomes more infeasible every year.
Hiring external software houses does not solve this problem either. Transferring that risk to a supplier, who will be responsible for delivering the product to the company, creates an illusory sense of security. Software houses deal with the exact same problems in the job market as everyone else. Therefore, if your supplier is forced to hire a developer with a higher salary, it is your company that will have to cover the costs. All we gain from this approach is the fact that the supplier takes the burden of recruitment off our shoulders, but the risk of increasing cost remains. Contractual penalties for suppliers for not delivering the project due to lack of resources do not solve the problem, they only serve to demonstrate that fault lies outside the company.
Business with a muzzle
Back in the day, low-code and no-code platforms served simply as a way to lower the cost of developing applications. In reality, they were used for building simple software solutions. Today, we are observing the quickly rising demand for simplicity when it comes to software maintenance, allowing for easy modifications without the need to rely on developers who are becoming more and more scarce on the job market.
A business that wants to move to the next level of operational efficiency using business applications also needs to take into consideration the curb effect, which remains the most significant risk to implementing business applications. The issue here is that a company that takes the step to turn a process into a business application needs to have the ability to implement changes on an ongoing basis. When a developer quits (regardless of whether in-house or one hired by a third party), implementing necessary changes in code can begin to take longer, for instance because it requires learning and understanding its structure, or becomes outright impossible. The company then ends up in a really unfavourable position. The implemented solution starts stifling business development instead of supporting it. Users would like to work in the new way, but the old application cannot support it. By doing so, we are curbing the company.
No-code = no limitations
Today, even the most advanced business applications can be developed using Rapid Application Development platforms based on low-code and no-code principles. These platforms respond to all the fears and issues business owners face related to creating custom business applications:
- They let you build applications faster than ever before.
- They allow you to make instant modifications to your existing solutions.
- They lower the risk associated with staff turnover.
Thanks to no-code platforms, even users with a lower degree of technological skills and experience can effectively build, develop and modify business applications after just 2 weeks of training.
This has been confirmed by CEDC, the leader of the vodka market in Poland and producer of brands like Żubrówka, Soplica, Bols Platinum, Absolwent and Żytniówka. The company started their journey by implementing a universal document workflow, focused on product indexes, contracts, invoices, vacation requests and task assignment.
Today, using a RAD-type platform they not only made their onboarding process much more efficient, but they also implemented a system to support production where every single element of an end product (its bottle, contents, label and cap) has its own serial number. The system is used for approving new products, preparing cost estimates and managing graphic design. The very same platform also supports the employees responsible for sensory tests of the finished products.
The GPEC Group, leader of the heating industry in the Polish region of Pomerania, used their RAD platform to manage dozens of processes. These include universal solutions applicable to almost any enterprise,like:
- IT workflows (incident reporting, change management, assessment and approval, including change significance and risk, testing support),
- HR processes (setting goals, development interviews, assessment), managing consents to processing of personal data, GDPR/RODO, internal consultations (legal and tax matters),
- customer service (requests, inquiries and complaints),
- managing fixed assets.
The RAD platform allowed the company to develop industry-specific tools directly related to GPEC’s business model, such as managing heating substations, as well as investment projects (requests for connecting to networks, construction projects, construction logs, planned shutdowns, monitoring construction projects).
Südzucker, producer of the Cukier Królewski brand of sugar, also takes advantage of their RAD platform in a powerful way. At first, the company’s goal was to implement a registry system and another one for managing equipment and services used by the company’s employees. The company started with the digitization of processes including collecting data regarding mobile phones, SIM cards, computers, IT equipment, company vehicles, access to the company’s IT systems and credit cards. Next, workflows supporting the overall human capital management were introduced, like a training management system, cafeteria system and employee assessment system. The same platform allowed the company to build an internal auction system, offering unused assets to employees at bargain prices. At the same time, Südzucker uses the platform to support industry-specific tasks, including a solution for managing a tank truck washing process. Thanks to implementing RAD-based solutions, the company is able to better tackle tasks that had to be done manually in the past.
Developers in retreat?
The growing popularity of no-code solutions as application platforms in companies does not make software developers obsolete, but it certainly changes their role and position within a company’s ecosystem.
Automation gives developers more interesting perspectives, as well as new areas to be creative. The less time they need to spend building typical business applications, the more time they have for creating industry-specific, specialized solutions, algorithms, novel management of information and system architecture and pure innovation. There is little doubt today that everything that can be achieved without coding should be, and that developers shouldn’t work on things that don’t require their skills.
RAD solutions based on no-code principle do not eliminate the need for developers, but in fact supports them in pursuing other goals and objectives.
Originally published at: Reseller News (in Polish).