What is Low-Code ERP and Why Should You Consider It Now?

To paraphrase the late futurist Alvin Toffler, “The rate of change is changing faster.” That applies not just to technology, but to business and the world in general.

Low-Code ERP comes at a time when businesses desperately need the ability to be more agile and use ERP software to differentiate their business. The pace of business and the ability to adjust business models, product mixes, and add new customer services has never been so intense. Old ERP systems simply can’t cut it anymore, especially in this new world of remote workforces.

In a recent Webinar on Low-Code ERP, Tyler Smith of ERP Focus hosted Tom Brennan, CMO of Rootstock and Peter Coffee, SVP of Strategic Research at Salesforce to discuss this world of constant change and how Low-Code and Cloud ERP can help manufacturers adapt and differentiate their businesses with this exciting new technology.

The Digital Imperative

The speakers addressed two of the underlying change agents impacting manufacturers, the Digital Imperative and COVID-19. Customers and employees are more digitally savvy than ever before and expect a certain degree of interactivity with your company and even your product. For most companies today, the product isn’t just a box anymore.  Increasingly, products have some software and/or service, even cloud, component. COVID-19 has added more fuel to the digital fire by creating the need to connect with employees, customers, suppliers and distribution remotely through mobile apps and digital communities.

The speakers encouraged businesses to think big and to innovate as they digitally transform. Peter Coffee explained that “Digital Transformation” is not enough. If you simply transform current process and behavior onto new technology “you just get a lower cost of doing the wrong thing.” You can’t just arrive at a new level. You need to continue to innovate.  A better phrase is “Digital Enablement” which calls for a continuous transformation of both the technology and the culture, which means systems like ERP need to constantly evolve.

The ERP Tar Pit

While the world is changing rapidly around them, many companies are stuck in what the speakers called an ERP Tarpit, caused by legacy ERP systems.

Coffee notes that with off-the-shelf systems, you either run like everyone else, or customize and get trapped in the ERP Tar Pit. “Once you take an off-the-shelf ERP system and add any significant intellectual property through process or data customization, you’ve impeded your ability to take advantage of the next upgrade cycle.”

One small change to an on-premise ERP system often requires coding, and an expensive consultant to make the change, then forces updates to reports and even workflow. Because of this, only about one-third of users of legacy ERP are running the current version of their software and are literally stuck on old releases.

Simply put, the legacy ERP systems running in most companies today are not built for the rapidly changing environment.  Companies that stay with an older, on-premise ERP system lose the opportunity for the rapid innovation that cloud enables.

The Move to Cloud ERP

For years there was a resistance to running newer, more modern ERP systems in the Cloud. At first, ERP was viewed as too mission critical to take off-premise; It needed to stay within the company’s four walls in order to be secure. Management teams loathed the thought of re-implementing ERP because their experience with legacy ERP systems was so painful.

Now there is a growing acceptance of the rapid innovations and security offered by ERP in the cloud. With increased security and the availability of mobile platforms, ERP doesn’t have to reside within your own four walls anymore. However, until recently, Cloud ERP systems looked a lot like their on-premise cousin, still reliant on expensive customizations and upgrade cycles.

These “hosted” legacy systems aren’t true Cloud ERP. Newer Cloud ERP systems, especially those that embrace low-code technology, don’t have the legacy tar pit baggage and are exactly what businesses need in this dynamic environment.

“By 2021, 30% of manufacturers will use low-code technologies to create business-relevant applications without needing the coding skills required.” – IDC

Tom Brennan explained how Gartner, IDC and Forrester are all evangelizing and making the point that low-code, and business user driven ERP is the future of ERP applications. Gartner expects the low-code technology market to grow 23% in 2021. That the old tar pit won’t cut it; that a faster, more digital and business driven approach is needed.

What is Low-Code ERP?

So, just what is Low-Code ERP?

Brennan described how Rootstock Cloud ERP takes a Clicks not Code approach using the Salesforce Cloud platform. It takes advantage of a simple, elegant Lightning user interface to configure screens, process flows and purpose-built apps. Point-and-click tools enable citizen developers to “drag and drop” their way to more powerful and easy-to-use applications.

“Writing code means you start with a blank screen and it’s up to you to find out what the system is capable of doing and it’s up to you to know what it should be asked to do.” said Coffee.

Low-Code (or no-code) allows you to choose something from a menu of options or go through a structured configuration process to meet your specifications, rather than starting from scratch, or having to rely on coding experts.  Functionality components act like building blocks to make it much faster to modify, create and publish applications compared to the traditional legacy development/change management cycle.

Most importantly, low-code enables the business user to do more without needing IT help. “It’s very important that people be able to think about the process and the data integrity issues, instead of wondering where that semi-colon goes,” said Coffee. “Low-code and no-code have such an important role to play in letting people who are closest to the problem be much more directly involved in how that problem gets solved.”

Coffee cited studies that have shown that compared to other platforms that require more coding and more infrastructure awareness at the application builder level, Salesforce can cut the development time by 80%.

Learn how Dent Wizard created customized mobile apps using Salesforce Lightning Flows with Rootstock Cloud ERP


Rootstock Cloud ERP on the Salesforce Platform

New low-code toolsets are springing up everywhere. Many software vendors and ERP providers have started to bolt on these new tools, creating a separate toolset to learn, manage and integrate with ERP.

Rootstock chose to build on the Salesforce platform and share the same data model as Salesforce CRM. This greatly simplifies the data model for business users to write reports or even build their own low-code applications.

Brennan pointed out that many companies have islands of information, multiple applications, and fragmented data that make it difficult to create or modify any new applications. Even simple reports that attempt to cross all these data sources are a significant challenge. Low-code technology does not solve this problem by itself, and is one reason why bolt on strategies are not as effective, unless you solve the fragmented data problems first.

Rootstock is built using Salesforce’s Lightning User Experience, which provides a holistic user experience across all platform services like Einstein AI, Analytics, Chatter, Dashboards, Flow, the App Builder, Community Builder, etc.  Rootstock’s applications and ERP components reside in the same user interface as all these tools, so users can use simple clicks to add these various components and functions to their applications. In this environment, business users can easily create real-time dashboards that span ERP and CRM in a matter of minutes.

This approach is entirely different than other ERP providers that require you to manage a stack of applications, utilities and add-on products like low-code toolsets. All these separate interfaces and integrations require users to have multiple windows open on a desktop just trying to deal with it all. It is simply too complex for most business users to deal with.

Combining modern low-code capability with a single data set and one holistic environment, like Rootstock had done, greatly simplifies the user experience and results is much higher productivity than simply adding low-code tools to an existing stack of ERP technology.

Unified ERP & CRM on a Low-Code Cloud Platform

Low-Code ERP Delivers More Personalization

With Rootstock, users can have the flexibility to create their own views, filters and reports. “The idea here is that if I’m really going to make an employee productive, I want them to build views and screens and have processes baked in exactly where they want them. They need their cockpit, not the one that the vendor decided to build for them,” said Brennan.

Personalization makes ERP more adoptable. What a data entry person needs to see will be very different than what a power user needs on a daily basis. A new user, or temp, can be trained very quickly when the screens and processes support them.

Brennan notes that Rootstock is delivering different sets of workflows and mobile apps for use immediately, right out of the box. “Users can implement those and go live right away, if that’s what that makes sense for your business.  But if not, you can change fields and processes without disrupting the integrity of the database.  Sometimes we call it ‘Your ERP’ because we know that the whole idea of customizing ERP is so scary for people; it’s expensive and you get stuck on old versions,” said Brennan.  “The beauty of Rootstock and Salesforce is you can make modifications and still  upgrade easily each time that the software comes out (typically three or four times a year) and your changes go with it.”

Can Users Actually Do This? Should They?

Some great questions came from the audience for this live Webinar. There was some question whether their users could actually learn this. Coffee and Brennan concur that the low-code or no-code method is easy to learn; even easier (and safer) than developing spreadsheets.

Other questions centered on the idea of controlling and tracking changes that users make to the system. There was some concern about letting users make changes. Coffee and Brennan put their fears to rest by describing guardrails and business rules.

“With the Salesforce.com platform, who’s allowed to do what can be controlled in a very precise and granular way, and who has done what can be monitored and reported upon in ways that satisfy both internal comfort levels and even regulation and compliance requirements,” said Coffee.

Brennan added, “Rootstock uses components that maintain the integrity of the app and allow for upgrades without a redesign. These components maintain business rules that users can’t break. We aren’t going to let you put in a transaction where debits and credits don’t equal. We aren’t going to let you break those ERP business rules.”

In addition, the system keeps version control. Changes can be rolled back if needed and audited at any time.

Why Consider Low-Code ERP Now?

Think back to the Digital Imperative. Your customers are online, your employees are being productive on their phones. The rate of change is changing faster. In order to compete today, you need business agility and speed to market. If you’re still dependent on an older on-premise ERP system, you may be losing opportunity. Don’t get stuck in the ERP Tar Pit.

Rapid change demands quick iterations. Being on one platform simplifies the IT stack and lets your IT staff focus on more important things. Putting more power in the hands of the business user allows you to make strategic change faster. You can make updates to the existing application, and add your own, unique apps and configurations to meet the demands of your business and your customers.

For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers face unprecedented challenges. Brennan talked about several Rootstock customers that were able to quickly enable new product lines to make things like face shields and hand sanitizer, and allow their office employees to work from home seamlessly.

A Fork in the Road

Coffee tells the story of a customer who knew that their old system would not be able to continue to meet their goals for growth and new rising requirements for compliance. They explained that they came to a fork in the road. One path would lead them to do a major upgrade with a reimplementation of all customizations, more code for new compliance issues, and would roughly double the sizes of all the databases. The other fork was the Salesforce low-code platform.

Once they realized the choice was really between change that perpetuates the costs complexities and delays of their current ERP, versus a change that puts them into a much higher level of operation and agility, the transition to low-code platform became the far preferable option.

If your organization is at a similar fork in the road, now is a good time to consider Rootstock Cloud ERP on the Salesforce platform.

Watch the replay of the Low-Code ERP webinar.