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The Emerging Role of Low Code in Supply Chain Technology

Low Code in Supply Chain Technology

The complex nature of supplier relationships and the rapidly changing market and regulatory conditions mean that low code – and implementing low code supplier management platforms – is critical for domain experts to be able to react to the latest developments in the best way for the organization. 

As Craig Penk, previously Director, P2P Procurement Strategy and Process at Baker Hughes, explains, “What’s nice about being in a low-code environment is being able to address any gaps as we find them, without significantly impacting the business.” 

In this article, we will discuss what low code is, how it works, the advantages of low code, and the reasons why it is gathering traction as a preferred approach. 

What is a low code platform?

A low code platform allows users to create custom applications using a visual interface, rather than writing code by hand. Platforms that use low code will often include pre-built components and templates that can be easily and efficiently assembled to build custom applications. 

A key advantage for organizations is that users do not require computer programming skills or technical expertise, allowing a wide range of stakeholders to be directly involved and influence the process.  

Speaking about low code, Dr Elouise Epstein comments, “We have to get familiar with this. Because remember the complexity of my spider map? We won’t see that because we will basically create workflows, drag and drop workflows, and all that complexity will get managed on the backend, managed through the tool.” 

“It brings much more capability to the end user, much more quickly. And so, what I will state clearly (but what is often left unsaid) is: we don’t need IT anymore. IT can put in the core system and be done. We don’t need to rely on them again. And so, when you think about the procurement architecture, all of that sits within the fabric and it gives us tools like this that allow us to run our operations without ever having to deal with IT.”  

What are the advantages of a low code platform for Procurement and Supply Chain?

For those involved in the procurement or supply chain sector, low code software can be used to create custom applications to support various business processes. 

It enables business users to assemble individual tasks and rules into an end-to-end process, or workflow, without the need to go through a complete change request cycle with a third-party vendor, or the IT department. Low code instead allows users to define the process steps, approvals, sequences, and conditions in a visual way: 

low code process workflow
Low Code Process Workflow

Supplier workflows, which may relate to onboarding, performance management, risk, compliance, or sustainability, among others, sit at the core of any supplier management initiative. They ensure that relationships with suppliers are smooth and that enterprises achieve desired outcomes.

There are benefits to this approach, including:

  • Efficient and streamlined development
  • Greater flexibility
  • Reduced costs
  • Better user experience
  • Better integration

Efficient & streamlined development

As low code platforms allow users to create and modify applications directly, without coding or broader technical skills, they reduce the time taken for development work and avoid excessive costs for the organization.  

This approach ensures that enterprises can quickly and efficiently build customized solutions that are in line with the specific needs of the business.

Greater flexibility

Companies must be able to react to both expected and unexpected changes in the market in a streamlined way. Due to its building block nature, a low code platform is highly flexible in this way.

In the fast-changing landscape of supply chain management, this is especially important. It means that organizations can remain agile when confronted by these changes in the market. Organizations can customize and modify applications and programs when required, without being reliant on third parties to action requests.

Reduced costs

As well as enjoying greater efficiency and flexibility, organizations that opt for low code platforms also enjoy reduced costs, due to being able to action any customizations themselves and not having to rely on external developers to implement these requests.

Improved buyer and supplier experiences

Users of low code software have the advantage of being able to design workflows or applications via an easy-to-use interface, making it easier for non-technical stakeholders, or ‘citizen developers’ to use the software.

This helps to increase the internal adoption of the software within the organization. It is just as easy to create a workflow in the platform as it is to set up a manual workaround – and far easier to administer once launched.

It also enhances the supplier experience, as it means that more processes can be executed within the platform, rather than having to be done as separate and potentially duplicate requests via email or other means. 

Easier to maintain

The question of how to maintain highly tailored solutions is part of any discussion on whether an enterprise should build custom software themselves or buy pre-built, off-the-shelf software. Let’s quickly address the key areas of that debate to provide the context for how low code fits into the evaluation.

The ‘build vs. buy’ consideration is as old as enterprise technology itself, and organizations have, of course, well-established methodologies to help project teams assess their options and weigh up the advantages and drawbacks of each approach. ​

At one end of the scale, the complex nature of supplier relationships means that some enterprises opt to build an application that fits their requirements. However, this can be a slow and expensive process. It is almost always a big commitment with high risk attached. Ongoing operations, support and the need for a roadmap mean constant investment will be needed, and the security challenges for self-built software will have to be managed in-house.

At the other end of the scale, off-the-shelf software may frequently not offer the level of customization that is required, as all enterprises’ needs are hugely different and complex, and this can result in unsatisfactory compromises. There is occasionally the option to customize off-the-shelf software, if the software provider supports this. However, this then means that an enterprise is running a forked version of an application, which can lead to difficulties when it comes to maintenance and upgrades.

On the other hand, because low code works like a series of building blocks that can be assembled to create fully functioning applications, it adds another option to the discussion: configuration. The low code approach offers the advantages of both build and buy options but removes the disadvantages of the enterprise either having to either build and maintain the system itself or having to accept lower levels of flexibility.

How low code is changing the supply chain and procurement software landscape

This huge advantage is one of the main reasons why low code options are gathering momentum. Low code “has become an extraordinarily disruptive page in the enterprise digital story,” according to Jason Bloomberg, renowned expert and author on disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. 

Unfortunately, up until now, the procurement sphere has remained dominated by hard-coded applications that require an organization to align itself with how the software is engineered, as opposed to the software aligning to how the organization needs it to work.

However, this is changing. In a rapidly growing segment of large to very large enterprises, configurability is becoming a key factor in vendor selection (followed by user experience and integration capabilities) and an ever-increasing number of organizations are understanding the numerous advantages that low code platforms offer, as have been outlined here.

What organizations can benefit most from low code?

Common traits among the very large enterprises are high levels of business complexity, underpinned by global manufacturing and huge customer footprints, along with a highly complex ERP and ProcureTech landscape and, frequently, de-centralized data.

Even so, and just like smaller and less complex companies, very large enterprises also want to achieve global governance and process harmonization, in areas such as supplier master data and information management. It is in this context that low code is rapidly becoming a favored choice. It is part of a natural cycle experienced by large organizations having tried to fit into hard-coded applications but failing (often multiple times over), which has resulted in much frustration, time and money wasted.

Low code’s role in the future of Procurement

For the growing number of millennials and younger generations taking up work in large corporations, their first experience with enterprise software and business processes is a shock and a far cry from the B2C applications they are used to using in their personal lives – and this will become increasingly unacceptable.

Low code, meanwhile, promises not only to enable enterprises to operate more as aligned, flexible and connected entities, but to make work itself more efficient and fun. This latter point will be particularly important in times where big businesses must compete harder than ever before against cooler, smaller and more agile technology companies and start-ups.

Article Updated: May 2023

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