Jimmy Vankerkhove
At some point in your career, you want to do other things or do things differently. The world is full of choices—more than ever since the digital revolution. I took several paths during my career, IT related but also others. It all started in the golden nineties. I graduated in '97, studied Applied Computer Science. Main courses in those years were Cobol, SQL, Visual Basic. Java wasn't being taught yet at that school and .NET wasn't even born yet.

At that time it was really easy to find a job in Belgium; IT was booming and the internet and digital revolution were only starting. My first IT-related job was as a mainframe developer at a financial institution. First, I had to learn more about mainframe and had to program in PL1. A course at IBM prepared me for a quite long career in mainframe.

In the beginning, I mainly worked as a developer. After programming in PL1 for awhile, I had the opportunity to work in Cobol once again. But this time it wasn't native Cobol, but a Cobol generator. This was the first time I experienced the notion of low code. For instance, a lot of Cobol statements should always end with a period. But not with the generator, I could skip the period. It was generated automatically. Wow. Less coding.
Over the years, the generators evolved, but web development became the big thing. I saw some cool looking stuff and nice web applications being created by juniors and I was hooked. During that time I was so busy with my mainframe career, that I stopped learning new things. Okay, I was a senior mainframe developer, but if I ever want to do other things I had some (code) learning ahead.

As time moved on I felt stuck and lost in regards to my current career path. I didn't like mainframe anymore and started wondering if I had to say goodbye to IT. I started to search for other opportunities expanding my search to other sectors, like finance, even politics. After some side roads, I got the opportunity to learn .NET, C#, Xamarin to build mobile apps. I realized after a while that the switch from mainframe wasn't as easy as I originally thought it would be. Nevertheless, I was still committed to learning and creating great enterprise applications.

Almost two years ago, almost giving up my search for my ideal IT job, I got an interesting call with the proposal to learn Outsystems. I never heard of it. RAD? Low-code? Visual programming? Okay, sounded like the solution for me, but I had heard about all of this before. So I was quite sceptical at first. After a brief introduction to the platform and some more hands-on experience and demos, I was convinced.

And I never regretted that choice. In no time I got to know the platform and knew how to create web and mobile applications. My former experiences helped me in understanding basic web development practices, of course, but I'm still surprised on how quickly I picked it up. I was doing some of my best work ever. OutSystems even recognized me as one of their MVPs. This was a real boost to my self-esteem and it made me more confident in my choice for the platform.
Another choice confirmation came when I started working at B-Synergy, an OutSystems elite partner that focuses on integrating SAP environments with OutSystems. They investigated over 20 RAD platforms some years ago and concluded that OutSystems was the best of the class. And it still is!

Two months ago, I got my professional developer certificate. This February will mark my two year anniversary since I started working with OutSystems. So, a successful transition from mainframe developer to a certified OutSystems developer is indeed possible in less than two years.

I can say I'm a happy developer again. Thanks, Outsystems.

Interested in learning OutSystems? In a next article, I'll show you how to start and where to find everything you need to know. But https://www.outsystems.com/learn/ looks like a good starting point.
Erwin Schmidt
After 7 years of experience with Low-Code platforms, there are a lot of questions people ask me. In this article I want to share my point of view about the phenomenon “Citizen Developer”
It started with SAP Visual Composer
10 years ago I started my business to improve developer Experience in SAP projects, understanding that SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) would be the perfect basis to build a platform upon it to improve Developer experience of SAP and with that deliver higher quality solutions for SAP customers faster. SOA allows someone to access functionality from multiple systems and bring it together into applications in an open manner.

Being a SAP consultant trusting in SAP to offer the best tooling, I searched for tooling within the SAP stack. We found a nice tool named SAP Visual Composer and I immediately understood that visual programming would be the next abstraction layer over conventional .NET, ABAP and Java programming.

I soon became quite excited about SAP Visual Composer. I quickly assembled a team and we went on our journey of discovering the unknown world of visual development.

Unfortunately eventually it turned out that Visual Composer (VC) had foundational technological limitations. VC was based on SAP Java Web Dynpro technology. And then VC went through a major change. In the endeavour to open and standardize the way applications were built, SAP had to change the technology stack for VC. SAP found itself compelled to change their Technology Stack to HTML5 (UI5).

The real question turned out to be when and what supplier would deliver the first platform where Visual programming was mature enough not to hinder us with it’s technical limitations.

The Visual programming language of the future had to be be open and help us build software in a more controlled environment resulting in higher productivity.

While the Visual Composer team had a great vision, the reality was that the Visual Composer platform was too limited in functionality and the outcome was that it did not to catch on in many SAP shops.
Discovering Low-Code platforms
Disappointed in this outcome we found we had to look beyond the borders of SAP brand. This lead us to test 23 platforms. Each of them claiming to deliver easy SAP integration and application development. Two of the most promising platforms 7 years ago were OutSystems and Mendix. In fact, they are now leaders in the quadrant of what Gartner calls “Low-Code Platforms” where OutSystems in most cases leads the pack.

After 7 years of working with these two platforms, but mainly in Outsystems because they offer SAP Certified technology for SAP integrations and having some other differentiating advantages, there are a lot of experiences that people ask me to share, so here it goes. I will write some papers on these experiences. I want to begin with the “Citizen Developer” fallacy.
The Citizen Developer Fallacy
The Citizen Developer Fallacy is how Low-Code companies sell their stuff, in short; Build applications, faster, faster faster, more easy and everybody can do it. Even your grandma can help out!

Now it is indisputable that Low-Code platforms can deliver apps faster, what I dispute is that everybody can do it.

Building applications in developer friendly platforms means that you need to understand a lot more of everything related to development as a whole. Back-end developers like SAP ABAP developers tend not to care about design, not about Front-End performance, not even about reusability or architecture they care only about data and how/when to manipulate that data.

With a Low-Code platform ABAPers also need to understand JavaScript, ClientSide Caching, responsiveness, mobile design patterns, integration architecture patterns and a lot more. Also platform specific best practices need to be understood in order to build robust applications that meet the high demand for the ever accelerating speed of change.

On the other hand, front-end developers tend not to care about relational databases, rollback scenarios in processes and business processing in general and integrations with systems of records like SAP ECC or any other ERP product for that matter.

The good thing here is that at least both back-end and front-end developers can be trained since they do understand the concepts of coding very well!

This is quite different for what some call “Citizen Developers”. A Citizen Developer is somebody that is not an IT person but somebody who works in “The Business”. Most of those persons are really good with excel and some even with access.

“Executing digital transformation initiatives puts intense pressure on application developers to flesh out new business models and capitalize on the latest technologies. Your company must capture emerging business opportunities that fly by at Internet speed. Rapid application development (Low-Code) tools help by minimizing coding and boosting collaboration between IT and business users.”-Quote SAP

With this quote, SAP reflects the spirit of the Citizen Developer. “This rapid application development tool empowers people without a software engineering background to build (departmental) apps and hereby easing the workload of professional developers.” Quote SAP

Now let me ask you this, how long did it take you to get rid of these Microsoft Access applications and Excel sheets that became mission critical for your business? Do you want them back?

If the answer is yes to the last question stop reading and dream on about Citizen Developers!

The SAP Cloud Platform RAD by Mendix, is one of the leading Low-Code Platforms. SAP also reasons there are applications that need IT developers and that there is room for Citizens to build simple apps. “While developer expertise is required for complex applications that interface and connect many disparate systems and data sources, business people with some understanding of business applications can use low code tools to develop applications with a minimum amount of hand-coding and training.”-Quote SAP

Apparently SAP consider their RAD platform to be a platform for simple apps….for the rest you still need a lot of other tools! “Since mobile computing is ubiquitous today, we have also added two new tools to SAP Cloud Platform to create and deploy apps even more quickly and without significant coding effort.” -Quote SAP
The reality of Low-Code development
In the last 7 years of Low-Code development, most customers came to us with the requirement for a “simple” application. Not any of those apps was ever simple! Although the business people requesting for them thought they were. Many business people seem to think when their process is fairly simple, the application supporting it must be simple to build too.

In the last 2 years customers using Low-Code platforms came to us with questions why their teams were not meeting the expectations that management has in terms of rapid delivery of applications. Without going into details of their issues, none of them had anything to do with the respective Platform they were using. So a few recommendations are in place when you start using Low-Code.

1. Don’t start building mission critical applications with inexperienced LowCode developers.

2. Don’t think that ABAP, MainFrame, WEB, Mobile etc. developers will lose their Old Patterns and adopt new LowCode patterns in one week training...or in two projects...or in half a year! It takes time!

3. Don’t think that running an “Agile” project needs no design on application architecture.

4. Don’t think that your smart “IT Architects” can architect a Low-Code solution without being able to understand fundamental best practices in the Low-Code platform of choice without sufficient training and some years of exposure to the respective Low-Code platform.
SAPs take on LowCode
How difficult it is for old dogs to learn new tricks is apparent by SAP going to support ABAP in their cloud offer. Probably they hope that more ABAP developers will make the move to SAP’s cloud offerings “I’m excited to announce that we will be adding ABAP as the next environment to be incorporated into SAP Cloud Platform.” -Quote SAP. In my humble opinion with the proper Low-Code platform in place there is no need at all for ABAP!
Number #1 Platform - OutSystems
The #1 Platform in the Low-Code arena is OutSystems, almost being able to even program in existing ABAP systems. When having OutSystems strategically in place, with properly trained developers, it has the power to fully replace large standard software packages. Now don’t shoot me yet, I am not saying that companies should replace their standard software packages for OutSystems, there are certainly business area’s where packaged software solutions can have a lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) than when you build with OutSystems.

In my next article I will go more in-depth on our best practices how an B-Modal architecture with (OutSystems) LowCode and SAP can be build, what integration design patterns do we see and how we avoid spaghetti integrations.

The evidence is there that a sustainable large ERP solution built in OutSystems is a strategy that companies can follow and that it can be a strategy of great success with much lower TCO than with standard packages. Most companies though are betting on a Bi-Modal strategy with SAP in place as their system of records. Enhancing their landscape with OutSystems greatly increases the ROI for SAP ECC, CRM and SRM since companies do not have to switch to more modern platforms replacing their SAP instances.

I have not witnessed large Business applications on the SAP Cloud RAD platform yet, but I think the platform could reach maturity so that development on SAP Cloud RAD platform does not only cater for simple apps done by Citizen Developers!

To conclude this topic, I am just very thankful that there are no Citizen Pilots, Citizen dentists or even worse citizen surgeons!
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