Low-Code/No-Code (LCNC) development is beginning to reshape the SAP ecosystem for consultants, and clients.
Against a background of big changes like SAP’s cloud-shift, S/4HANA adoption, and the push for accessible new technologies like AI, Low-Code/No-Code presents enterprises and SAP consultancies with opportunities to streamline and democratize development practices.
As with any other transformative technology, questions arise: Can LCNC replicate the power of traditional ABAP development? How will it impact client’s customization and extension needs? How will it affect the wider SAP services market and consultancies themselves?
This week IgniteSAP explores to what extent LCNC can achieve similar outcomes to more established SAP ABAP development, and potentially transform customer requirements and SAP implementations.
We’ll look at the potential for a market shift, the opportunities and challenges for consultancies, and the new roles and skillsets required by these changes.
Low-Code/No-Code in SAP
Low-code platforms like SAP Build still require some basic understanding of the structural concepts of coding, and allow developers to build applications through pre-built components and visual tools. Think drag-and-drop functionality with guided logic configurations as opposed to fully text-based coding. On the other hand, no-code platforms eliminate the need for extensive coding experience, allowing business users and citizen developers to create simple applications through intuitive interfaces.
SAP Build is a prominent example of a low-code platform. Its visual interface and pre-built connectors enable the creation of extensions, workflows, and even mobile apps, potentially accomplishing tasks that traditionally required ABAP expertise.
SAP is attempting to make coding faster and more accessible in other ways.
Alongside SAP Build, SAP Cloud Application Studio allows developers familiar with SAP Cloud Platform to employ low-code features alongside traditional coding, offering flexibility and accelerated development time.
For experienced ABAP developers, SAP is expected to release ABAP Cloud GenAI. This integrates directly into the ABAP Cloud Environment, extending its functionality with generative AI capabilities. ABAP Cloud GenAI will provide intelligent code completion, context-aware suggestions, and automated refactoring, significantly reducing development time and enhancing code quality.
SAP Build Code and ABAP Cloud GenAI are currently in preview, with a planned general release in 2024. This phased approach is intended to allow comprehensive testing and user feedback, ensuring their integration into existing SAP development workflows.
The ABAP Cloud Environment itself represents an evolution within the SAP development ecosystem. This cloud-based tool replaced the previously utilized Embedded Steampunk (SAP S/4HANA Cloud ABAP Environment).
SAP has invested further in this transition with resources like the SAP BTP Developers Guide and the SAP Build Coach for developer education and support, and to encourage adoption of SAP Build Code and ABAP Cloud GenAI.
For well-defined tasks like automating processes, building simple mobile apps, or customizing user interfaces, LCNC platforms offer an efficient solution. However, complex business logic, intricate integrations, or system-level customizations still necessitate the depth and control of ABAP development.
The impact of LCNC and AI-assisted coding on core customization and extension needs will become apparent over the next two years as more customers and consultants begin to incorporate them into their implementation practices. With citizen developers armed with these tools, the demand for simple extensions might shift, freeing up valuable developer time for higher-level tasks.
However, concerns regarding governance, security, and long-term maintainability of LCNC-created solutions also emerge. Coding is not just a language but a way of thinking about abstract concepts of application development and integration. Striking a balance between empowering users and ensuring robust, scalable solutions becomes extremely important.
This exploration raises critical questions: Are SAP customers prepared to leverage LCNC effectively? Won’t they still require training to use these technologies? Also, how will consultancies adapt and advise clients in this changing landscape?
Adoption of Low-Code/No-code in SAP
Studies by Gartner and Forrester predict 65% of application development activities using low-code by 2024, demonstrating its global appeal. But how does this translate to the SAP ecosystem specifically?
SAP Build reports significant growth in active users, and several major SAP partners highlight its inclusion in their service offerings. Customer case studies, such as BASF’s streamlining of procurement processes with SAP Build, demonstrate its practical applications.
Nestlé’s use of SAP Cloud Application Studio for rapid mobile app development demonstrates the potential for accelerated innovation. Siemens leverages LCNC to automate internal processes, increasing efficiency and reducing development time. These examples highlight the diverse use cases beyond just simple extensions. However, questions regarding long-term maintainability and integration complexity also surface.
Challenges shouldn’t be understated. Security issues surrounding custom-built applications, like the potential for the creation of unauthorized applications within SAP systems and ensuring governance compliance are valid concerns. SAP acknowledges these concerns and provides resources like best practices and security guidelines to mitigate them.
Some SAP user groups and partners might be concerned about the impact on traditional development expertise and potential limitations of LCNC for complex scenarios. Open communication and collaboration between SAP, partners, and user groups are crucial to address these concerns and ensure a smooth transition.
Despite these issues, LCNC adoption in SAP is here to stay. So how can we prepare ourselves?
Impact on the SAP Services Market
With citizen developers armed with LCNC tools, the SAP services landscape faces a potential shift that will affect all stakeholders to some extent.
LCNC provides wider access to application development, enabling business users and functional consultants to tackle tasks which previously required specialized expertise.
Citizen developers can reduce the demand for basic development services, but they will still need extensive guidance, and the demand for traditional ABAP development for complex scenarios will remain strong. Perhaps it is better to think of the impact of LCNC as providing more options to use non-coders to share the development workload, rather than replacing ABAP coders.
Consultancies need to adapt by equipping their technical consultants and developers with LCNC expertise that allows them to guide citizen developers and build hybrid solutions that leverage both traditional and low-code approaches: under the supervision of those that understand the concepts of application development.
Those consultancies that don’t want to train citizen developers will need to pivot toward focusing on complex integrations, system-level customizations, and strategic guidance, so that they will be able to offer unique value beyond the capabilities of citizen developers.
Service models will also change over time, with subscription-based services or outcome-based pricing models that cater to the changing needs of clients utilizing LCNC.
The transition won’t be without problems. Concerns regarding unauthorized applications, skills gaps, and ensuring control over custom applications need to be addressed. Strong governance frameworks, and clear communication between consultancies, and citizen developers will be required. Consultancies can augment the skills of functional consultants with LCNC skills, or offer training for team members on the client side.
The SAP community must approach this shift as a collaborative journey. User groups, partners, and consultancies need to share best practices, address concerns openly, and work together to define new standards and governance guidelines for responsible LCNC adoption.
Considerations for the Future
Consultants across functional, technical, and development roles will need to adapt their skillsets and working practices to navigate these changes.
Functional consultants will require fluency in identifying suitable LCNC use cases and guiding citizen developers. Understanding LCNC capabilities and limitations becomes crucial for efficient resource allocation and ensuring alignment with overall business goals.
Most technical consultants will probably use traditional expertise for complex tasks while guiding citizen developers on LCNC implementations. Integration skills become ever more important, ensuring frictionless connections between LCNC-built solutions and the core SAP landscape.
Development consultants might also see a shift in focus. Deep ABAP expertise remains vital for intricate customizations, but more widespread familiarity with LCNC platforms opens doors to new opportunities. Developers will be called on to act more like architects, designing and guiding the overall development strategy, based on their intuitive understanding of the underlying code of LCNC components, while citizen developers execute specific tasks using LCNC tools.
Both consultants and citizen developers must engage in ongoing training to stay current with LCNC platforms and best practices as they evolve. SAP, training providers, and the community itself all have roles to play in propagating the knowledge required for LCNC skills among the workforce.
The relationship between consultants and citizen developers will shift from a purely service-based model to a collaborative partnership, requiring far closer collaboration with client-side teams during projects. Consultants will become mentors, guiding and empowering citizen developers, ensuring adherence to governance and security standards, and helping with problem-solving within the team.
While LCNC creates citizen developers, specialist SAP developers will still be indispensable. Their deep understanding of the SAP architecture, complex configurations, and security measures becomes even more valuable in managing increased IT risks, and ensuring the long-term stability and maintainability of custom solutions.
The future of Low-code/No-Code development in the SAP ecosystem is not about displacement, but expansion of the developer workforce.
Low-code/No-Code development aligns with SAP’s cloud-first strategy, providing further accessible development tools for S/4HANA deployments and other projects. This will be a useful tool to help S/4HANA projects reach completion before the approaching support deadline for legacy SAP systems using ECC in 2027 (2030 for those with Extended Support).
By creating citizen developers, it also goes some way towards bridging the SAP skills gap.
While LCNC presents challenges, it also offers exciting opportunities for increased efficiency, and innovation.It also presents the option for a more agile, empowered, and expanded development workforce within the SAP ecosystem: something which will become increasingly important as cloud migration becomes widespread among SAP customers.
These new developments are just the beginning. By embracing LCNC alongside traditional expertise, encouraging collaboration, and continuously learning, the SAP community can achieve its full potential and help more customers achieve their business goals.
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