ERP vendors are increasingly allowing their customers to create applications or make changes to a wide variety of applications and workflows with just a few steps. These low-code/no-code platforms allow regular ERP users to become power users.
This fast-growing trend has many benefits and can add tremendous functionality and efficiency to applications and workflows. Employees can feel empowered. Moreover, they often think of insightful updates to workflows that an ERP vendor hasn’t considered.
This citizen-development trend is a big factor in Acumatica’s growing user community, which the cloud ERP company relies on heavily for product updates. And it’s a big factor in Acumatica’s overall growth—over 10,000 customers now, which the Seattle-based company talked about at its recent user conference in Las Vegas. (New Acumatica CEO John Case addresses the crowd at the conference, nearby.) The company had about 8,000 customers in mid-2021.
Users of modern ERP systems demand these development toolkits, because they’ve moved beyond mere dashboards, Ali Jani, Acumatica’s chief product officer, told us at the conference.
Problems Can Develop
Citizen developers using low-code/no-code platforms are, in essence, given the keys to the kingdom. In most instances—when they create less-complicated applications or fairly easy additions to existing applications or workflows—this is not a problem. But big problems can occur. The tools have become so easy to use that citizen developers may not appreciate the code that they are creating behind the scenes or the business logic they are changing.
Changes to the business logic of an ERP system can create big problems. Or if a citizen developer makes changes to a critical part of a workflow (changes in unit quantity, price, or the approval process, for instance), that can also create issues. ERP systems are not forgiving and don’t have an “undo” button, Jani said.
Furthermore, ERP implementation partners are not always keen on a customer making a ton of low-code/no-code changes. They see that it easily results in a communications gap, especially with a cloud ERP company such as Acumatica, which releases hundreds of product updates every year. One of Acumatica’s bi-annual releases can run to 150 pages of release notes. This can be hard to digest, according to a VAR we spoke to. He would prefer release notes of 50 pages, tops.
Finally, pro developers may feel that low-code/no-code solutions limit their control over the application and its design, leading to subpar results. Many developers feel that these low-code/no-code platforms can easily result in lower-quality applications and processes.
Four Steps Needed
To embrace the growing trend toward low-code/no code while not endangering business logic, here are four things ERP vendors (and Acumatica specifically) are doing about this:
- Protect the business. While low-code/no-code can be empowering and useful, ERP vendors need to create more gates and warnings to block inexperienced citizen developers from inadvertently making changes to business logic. The keys to the kingdom could use more protection.
- Train citizen developers. The dangers of low-code/no-code platforms should be made more clear, and more training of citizen developers is needed. At the same time, the different levels of citizen developers need to be explained and enforced. Acumatica has made a decent start here, classifying users from regular user to citizen developer to trusted developer to pro developer. But much more needs to be done.
- Solicit feedback. Acumatica and other ERP vendors need to listen to their customers more, although this is not a black-and-white issue. Grey areas are replete. To be fair, Acumatica does talk to its customers, a lot. It gets many development ideas from its robust user community. But oftentimes customers are not good at articulating what they want. That is where the low-code/no-code movement, used wisely, can fill in gaps. When power users get it right and add key functionality and communicate it with the user community, Acumatica quite frequently adopts those changes into an upcoming release.
- Manage the pace of change. Acumatica and other ERP vendors could slow down on all the releases it does every year. The company should spend more time fully explaining the releases it has An almost constant refrain from ERP customers and VARs is that they can’t keep up with all the updates.
Used Wisely, the Trend Will Drive More Adoption
New CEO Case, a former Acumatica customer, seems to agree that the release schedule might be a bit much to digest. He said the user summit was not about a lot of fancy new ideas—no Apple Watch functionality was mentioned this year—but in strengthening and deepening Acumatica’s existing industry verticals. This back-to-basics movement is bolstered by the news that Acumatica is not considering adding any new industry verticals at this time.
Overall, though, Acumatica’s low-code/no-code application development practices have been well-received by its customers. The platform has enabled them to efficiently develop custom applications and workflow updates, and it has empowered business users to take a more active role in the development process. If Acumatica can install more governors in key applications and improve training, these benefits are likely to continue to drive customer adoption and satisfaction going forward.
Photo credit: Tom Dunlap