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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 23, 2021 - August 29, 2021

Businesses no longer need expansive and expensive tech talent to build powerful and endlessly scalable enterprise-specific applications. Thanks to low code technology, it is entirely possible to get it done in-house. 

Low code is still a new concept in Malaysia, but it is gaining traction among local businesses because of how flawlessly it bridges the gap between technical and non-technical teams. 

It is useful to think of low code platforms as a digital canvas of sorts, on which users build unique enterprise applications (of varying complexity and scale), using a vast array of boilerplate visual cues and objects. 

Typically, coding and software development-related tasks entail writing potentially millions of lines of code, whether for mobile or desktop use. The sheer complexity cuts out non-technical users from the development process. Very often, these are the users who end up relying on these technology tools, and this is the problem that low code solves. 

It may be that the initial development process is kicked off by an external low code specialist, but the goal is to eventually hand off these technology tools to the client to run and iterate on. It is likely that some measure of training will be required, but even so, low code platforms are approachable enough that they can be mastered to a very high degree by non-IT personnel, with no prior experience in programming. 

Low code, high functions 

This is exactly what Kaneka (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd set out to do for its operations in Malaysia. The company began its digital transformation efforts in 2018. 

A manufacturer of various synthetic fibres, plastics and polymers, Kaneka Malaysia is one of the early adopters of the technology, specifically Mendix Low Code (the platform and technology provider in this instance). 

According to general manager and director Syed Ahmad Syed Idrus Alhabshi, the business started out with a relatively simple application of low code technology — using low code to automate various digital forms and submissions. 

But Syed Ahmad and his colleague, Norshasheema Shahidan, the Kaneka Malaysia management information systems (MIS) manager, quickly realised just how powerful it could be to their overall operations.

Norshasheema tells Digital Edge: “We discovered the concept of low code back in 2018, when we were looking for a long-term replacement for a particular automated system that had previously managed our online forms and submission processes. 

“We eventually came across Mendix, which put us in touch with its local partner, Orangeleaf Consulting.” 

After working with Orangeleaf Consulting, Kaneka Malaysia acquired input on specific pain points and bottlenecks from various departments and teams in the organisation. 

“The more we learnt about low code, the more we realised that there was scope  to expand low code applications to the actual manufacturing and data automation processes throughout the business,” Norshasheema says. 

“We decided to implement low code automation at the initial stages of our manufacturing processes: the raw material management. We went live with this system earlier this year. 

“Using low code applications, we were able to automate the entire cycle — from receiving the raw materials all the way to managing our inventory of raw materials. Orangeleaf further helped us build a low code app that centralised all our receiving calendars and schedules, communication with our suppliers, as well as data traceability. 

“In fact, the system turned out to be so effective that we were able to rope our external suppliers into the system. They are now able to communicate their delivery schedules to us via the low code app, and they can input their own data into this system that we’ve built with Orangeleaf Consulting.” 

According to Syed Ahmad, Kaneka Malaysia has benefited in three ways. First is the low level of complexity and accelerated app development timelines. 

“One big problem with replacing legacy systems is there is a lot of complexity, downtime and additional costs involved. But, as it turns out, the low code applications we built worked surprisingly seamlessly with the legacy systems and eventually took over with little fuss. 

“Second, we were drawn to the fact that the technology is highly scalable, and we were therefore able to scale it up as and when our workforce gradually acclimatised to the system. Usually, when implementing an entirely new system, it tends to be underutilised early on, because the workforce needs time to understand how it all works. 

“But with the low code applications we built, we had the benefit of starting very small and then broadening their use throughout the company as our people got used to the system. 

“Lastly, I was drawn to the ‘citizen developer’ service that Mendix provides. It allows us to build any number of highly specific in-house apps on the Mendix platform, which are entirely unique to the one department or team that needs to use it. While Orangeleaf Consulting was instrumental in helping us implement the larger and more complex systems throughout the company, we were able to farm out the more specialised and department-specific development challenges to those specific teams. 

“I really liked that we had the ability to build low code applications ourselves without having to rely on third-party developers. For me, this is probably the part of low code technology that I am most excited about.” 

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