There are very few open and shut subjects in information technology and the always-thorny issue of technical debt (clunky code that results from quick-fix software engineering moves that fail to integrate into the wider fabric of system operations for the longer term) remains one of the perennial subjects that we continually draw our attention to.
Indeed, ERP Today itself tabled this analysis to question whether the rise of low-code/no-code with drive or fix technical debt in the ERP space specifically.
Keen to add more to this debate before the year is out is Bruno Lopes in his role as chief product officer at Aurachain – a company known for its low-code technologies that focus on enterprise process applications with supporting operations management intelligence.
Jumbo jet jugular juggling
Lopes says that we’ve all seen horror stories about millions going to waste on failed ERP replacement projects.
“They fail because replacing an ERP is as challenging as trying to perform an operation on a human jugular whilst flying a jumbo jet in a thunderstorm! This is because the ERP is like the heart of the business and must continue to function as the business continues to operate,” he said.
When it comes to large enterprises, chances are they are operating through an ERP system that’s been around for decades, in fact, it’s likely the most legacy piece of technology that they have – designed in an era when business drivers were not fuelled by rapid change in the way that they are now.
But Lopes is upbeat, he reminds us that modern ERP suites are designed to be stable and resilient, which they generally are. But the problem is that they were never designed to be changed on a regular basis. This leaves many businesses struggling with the pipeline of changes they need to make to their ERP – a list that becomes increasingly long and often ignored.
From the Aurachain perspective, a much better approach to ERP ‘rip and replace’ is to appreciate the existing ERP system’s strengths in terms of holding and processing critical data, while improving on its main weaknesses – they are expensive to run and make changes to. If we acknowledge this, low-code can contribute massively to stopping the creeping ERP technical debt.
Business process orchestration advantage
“By leveraging low-code, organisations can move from a traditional ‘everything is done on the ERP system’ mindset to a more agile approach. An approach in which the ERP holds the core data and ensures transactions are safe, but the business process and the apps people interact with are orchestrated in the low-code platform,” said Lopes.
He provides a working example. The end-to-end process of customer onboarding, which involves a lot of coordination between people and systems, is not always straightforward when using an ERP system. The user experiences on offer are often poor and unfit for the work at hand, they are also built to be used in isolation, so they tend to throw up challenges when it comes to integrating them with other systems in the organisation.
“Granted, given huge quantities of time and money, it’s not impossible for an ERP system to achieve a solution to this, albeit one that would likely compromise the user experience. But it’s a whole lot easier for a low-code platform to achieve this – it’s what they are great at. They can pull data from one system to be validated, then pull more data from another system, combine it together and so on,” said Lopes.
His team say that, in their experience, they can see that changing one business rule in an ERP system can take weeks or months of expensive consulting, release management and testing. But (and the low-code advocates would of course say this) these changes are made instantly available on a low-code platform.
“Because the ERP is like the heart of a business, replacing it or tampering with it, brings too much risk. Core systems migrations so often fail, and a better approach is to make these changes incrementally – start removing functionality from the ERP and start building it outside the ERP in a more distributed manner. When you start externalising functionalities and building out your technology landscape in a more distributed way, it becomes significantly easier to change different components without impacting the whole system,” said Lopes.
However, there is an important and often overlooked catch – it’s very easy to use low-code to generate even more technical debt. If we were to buy a low-code platform for an organisation and just let people build a bunch of ungoverned, disconnected apps, it would generate more debt and scatter my data even more.
“That is why fixing the ERP technical debt with low-code requires a truly strategic – meaning consistent, long term and governed – approach, ensuring the low-code solutions tap into the ERP data, while guiding people and other systems to collaborate on the execution of end-to-end business processes,” concluded Lopes.
As long as this is (above strategic separation) is achieved, low-code can arguably offer an efficient, affordable and time-sensitive solution to technical debt.