The advent of ‘low code’ technology could be an ‘inflexion point’ – a point of major change – in the whole universe of software, said George Karaplis, senior associate with IG Icon Investments
Perhaps we are under-estimating the impact which ‘low code’ technology could have on the software industry, said George Karaplis, senior associate with IG Icon Investments.
He was speaking at the Oct 29 Athens conference “Software for Domain Experts” download the full report
Mr Karaplis is a senior associate and Investment adviser to I.G. Investments, a private investment and consulting firm. He has served as Chairman and board member of Netia ( Poland), general manager in Group Suez’s water division and chief financial officer and vice president of international investments for the Hellenic Telecom Organization. He worked for 15 years in Canada and the US in various management positions.
In recent years there has been something of an acceleration in the use of ‘low code’ tools, which enable the rapid building of applications with minimum hard coding, he said.
Forrester Research recently published a study saying they are mostly used in customer facing applications at the moment.
Roughly speaking, you build applications by making a diagram of your process in your software, and then the ‘low code’ tool creates the code automatically.
An analysis by Capgemini found that the average time to build a ‘function point’ in low code is 2.5 hours, compared to 10.6 hours for Java and 15.5 hours for C#.
Using ‘low code’ also means that tools can be developed and changed faster, he said. “This is very important in environments where markets and customer requirements are often changing.”
Mr Karaplis is an investor in a company which builds software for African markets, which will work over low bandwidth mobile and satellite communications.
The company started using low code tools 3 months ago. “The development that took place is incredible,” he said. “We were fighting for a year to build an app, and all of a sudden in one month it happens.”
Mr Karaplis envisages that software developers could also develop templates and libraries, which could be re-used in different software applications, speeding up programming time in the same way.
Consider a shoe manufacturer who has custom built sales software for managing transactions with retail outlets, and the manufacturer starts selling in a new territory where it is customary for manufacturers to sell to distributors, who then resell to retail outlets.
Instead of the software requiring extensive manual coding work to incorporate the distributor, it would be possible to just upload templates of ‘low code’ and the change in the software would be implemented, he suggested.
In another example, Mr Karaplis was working for a large company (as an employee) and was asked to arrange IT support for the company’s 45 subsidiaries around the world. He signed a large contract with a supplier to provide it, and the company spent 6 months “going to countries and supposedly building things,” he said.
But then Mr Karaplis found that all the subsidiary companies had been developing their own IT projects on the side, which was feeding data into the main corporate IT system. The locally built software was proving much more capable at coping with local requirements, including tax and regulations.
But in future, companies might use ‘low code’ to build different tools for their subsidiary companies much faster, which all feeds into a larger system.
Low code tools could also make it easier to facilitate data sharing between departments of a large company.
Low code tools might also help change company structures, so you can have small teams developing and using their own software, he said.
Small company business models
Low code could be very valuable for small software companies. “It’s a cheap and relatively inexpensive way to develop a platform,” he said.
A possible business model is that domain experts can work for, or set up, a small company and put together a software tool to do something useful, perhaps working together with programmers. “They take their brains, they put it in a model,” he said.
However it can be difficult for small software companies to sell to large company customers. It may be worthwhile creating umbrella organisation with a number of small software companies serving a certain sector (such as banking). This means you appear to the buyer as a company selling a whole portfolio of products, he suggested.
When selling to big companies, you often face a ‘herd mentality’ problem where buyers only want to buy software someone else is using.
Another challenge is the organisation’s dreaded IT department, who will often be the people who make the final decision whether the company will use your software. “IT departments can be your friends or your enemies,” he said.
The best way to make friends with the IT department is to develop software tools which will improve the company’s relationship with outside customers, because that way the impact of the software will be felt much faster through the whole company. Or you can provide tools which enable the IT department to respond to request from the company’s sales force or marketing staff.
Selling to IT departments can be a long process. “They have to look at the application, test it, then they have to go and get money. You’re talking to 6-9 months a year,” he said.
And also bear in mind that for the company to take benefit from your product, they may need to stop using something they are currently using – and this could lead you to make enemies of people who are invested in the current software, he said.
When asked how Greece could do more to support its software industry, Mr Karaplis said that there could be more co-operation between industry and universities. “We don’t have that here,” he said.
Greece also makes a very low amount of investment in research, ranked 154 in the world, he said. Uganda spends a similar amount of its GDP on research as Greece, 0.6 per cent, he said.