German software giant develops an anyone-can-do-it platform

Last week, software giant SAP told a global audience of developers — those IT high priests who know the secrets of the universe — that it is giving those secrets up. SAP used its annual TechEd conference in Las Vegas to go low code, launching SAP Build, an anyone-can-do-it platform to develop applications faster and make automation easier.

Low code is a way of creating an app by drag-and-drop. Instead of writing actual software code, this uses a much simpler interface that lets people with any skills level make their own business apps.

Most businesses use software coders to build an app, but this methodology lets the people who will be using the app build it themselves. Not only does it let them make the app they want much faster and cheaper, they can use this system to automate processes.

Low code is not a new idea, and SAP Build combines three existing SAP solutions into one. So why is this so important?

For one thing, the German giant is the third-largest publicly traded software company by revenue in the world. It says 77% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP software system. For another, it’s responding to changes that affect businesses profoundly.

“SAP Build brings together the world’s most powerful business applications with a platform that’s been designed to rapidly unleash business users’ expertise,” says SAP chief technology officer Juergen Mueller. “SAP Build and the full suite of innovations we’re launching today … help customers future-proof their business and extract maximum value from their technology investments.”

One development it’s intended to future-proof against is a predicted global shortfall of 4-million software developers by 2025.

“We have to unleash the expertise of those who know the business best — the business users,” Mueller told his audience of IT professionals.

“We can’t just rely on a finite resource of professional developers — we need to find a new approach,” SAP executive board member Julia White tells the FM.

That’s also why SAP is committed to training 2-million people worldwide by 2025 to develop with SAP tools, tripling the number of free courses available on SAP Learning, in partnership with the Coursera learning platform.

Low code has the potential to change the shape of most technology businesses. They’ll hire tech skills, but they won’t always go into the IT department. Those skills and talents will also be used in human resources, sales and procurement. They will augment rather than replace professional developers, who will be needed more than ever; older IT directors, maybe not so much. The gatekeeper role large IT departments enjoy will be eroded, with some coding and buying decisions managed by business users themselves. According to Gartner, by 2025 about 70%-80% of all apps will be built by nondevelopers.

Geoff Scott of the US SAP Users’ Group was blunt about this shift: “One of the things that has to happen is convincing the IT community that it can give back some of this control.

“Some of this can be given back to the business users to do on their own. I don’t think that happens tomorrow, that’s a journey in itself. But I think we finally have the tools and capabilities to make a credible claim to the IT community: can you give some of this back? Please?

“They don’t have to hold on so tight. Because they’re not going to get the headcount they need to accomplish everything that needs to be done in a rapidly changing environment.”

SAP presented a good case and a clear roadmap for SAP Build at TechEd. But as Mueller pointed out, “it takes customers a long time — much longer than we give them credit for — to make these changes. They can move in five-year cycles, not five-month cycles.”

Which makes it curious that Mueller was talking to the wrong audience for his big announcement: developers.

If they’re going to convince organisations to change, they’ll have to lobby directly the business users they want to empower. Or what happened in Vegas last week may stay in Vegas.

This article first appeared in the Financial Mail.