In order to develop customised solutions for the digitalisation, automation and optimisation of processes in corporate departments, programming skills and corresponding IT specialists are usually required, but these are not directly available to every company. An alternative is offered by so-called low-code platforms, which allow software applications to be created without advanced programming skills. The consortium of the it's OWL project "Development and implementation of a holistic approach to the digitalisation of processes in industrial companies using low-code software" (Pro-LowCode), funded by the state of NRW, is also working on such a solution and started at the beginning of March with a duration of two years.
Together with the Technical University (TH) OWL Lemgo, S&N Invent GmbH, HOMAG Kantentechnik GmbH and DENIOS AG as well as the associated partners BarSys - Bartels Systembeschläge GmbH and ISRINGHAUSEN GmbH & Co. KG, the SICP - Software Innovation Campus Paderborn would like to demonstrate technical, organisational and personnel requirements for the application of low-code platforms in industrial companies. In addition, a methodological and software-technical framework is to be developed, which will then be demonstrated prototypically in productive operation at the partner companies.
Due to the digitalisation and optimisation of processes, there is an increasing demand for company-specific software applications in companies. However, companies face a challenge here: in order to take different user requirements into account in standard software, it must be regularly adapted by IT specialists to make it usable for different use cases. But there is a shortage of IT specialists in companies and the existing IT departments are usually working at high capacity. In addition, such a solution is usually cost-intensive and associated with long deployment times.
Programming with the help of software modules
"Low-code platforms offer great potential. They make it possible to create software applications without advanced programming skills using a graphical user interface. For this purpose, prefabricated software modules only have to be assembled by a technical expert, as in the modular principle. The code is then generated automatically in the background. This solution allows employees in departments that know the process requirements within the company best to participate in the software development. Not only can this save costs, but it can also shorten the development cycle," explains Nils Weidmann, research associate at SICP.
Obstacles in the application of low code
But even though low-code programming offers many advantages, there are still various obstacles in its application. For example, low-code platforms are largely unknown in many application companies and the application possibilities and limitations of such platforms have not been researched to a sufficient extent - especially in industrial applications. In addition, potential users lack transparency as to which platform is suitable for which use cases. Another question is how the programmes developed using low code should be integrated into the existing IT systems.
This is where the Pro-LowCode project comes in: "Our project has two major goals: On the one hand, the various possible uses of low-code platforms as well as their technical, organisational and personnel requirements for application in medium-sized industrial companies are to be demonstrated. On the other hand, a methodical and software-technical framework for low-code development in industrial application fields will be developed, which should support the introduction of low-code development in companies. This will enable the rapid integration of a low-code programme into existing IT systems and application landscapes," explains Dr Stefan Sauer, project manager at the SICP.
In order to create the organisational and personal conditions for the use of low-code platforms, the scientists are developing a guideline and a quick check together with experts from the participating industrial companies, which will methodically support the companies in the use of low-code programming and the selection of the right low-code platform. In addition, case studies will be developed and published in which successful low-code solutions from different application areas will be described. An "Open Call" will enable other companies to participate in testing the solutions in their application context during the project period in order to analyse potential applications.