Wednesday 15 March 2023

OutSystems, Temus, StarHub see bright future for low-code technology

Source: Temus. An animated discussion. (From left) Temus CEO KC Yeoh, OutSystems CEO Paulo Rosado, Starhub VP James Lee, and moderator Wong Seok Ling, Director, Technology, at Temus
Source: Temus. From left: Temus CEO KC Yeoh, OutSystems CEO Paulo Rosado, Starhub VP
James Lee, and moderator Wong Seok Ling, Director, Technology, at Temus, spoke at the Low-
Code: The Future of Software Development
fireside chat on 24 February.

Traditional software development comes with many challenges. "As we build enterprise-class apps, our challenge is always that it is too slow, it takes too long and it's far too expensive," said Wong Seok Leng, Director, Technology, Temus, a digital transformation facilitator.

Speaking while moderating a three-way fireside chat titled Low-Code: The Future of Software Development between Temus, Outsystems and StarHub, Wong added that there are too few developers, and no one can keep up with the changes required as a project develops. 

This was why Dreamcloud, a low-code solutions provider that was acquired by Temus in September 2022, decided to circumvent software development challenges with low-code technology from OutSystems in 2014, Wong shared, enabling the Temus division to create great experiences for customers such as StarHub. Low-code technology automates more of the software development process, making it quicker and easier to create software.

One of Dreamcloud's projects involved building an award-winning B2C app for StarHub in a very short time. According to James Lee, VP, Starhub, the right tools and the right development partner are key to fast development.

Lee said: "So we're always on a constant search for new platforms and new energy. Fundamentally, adding more value to the business and customers just comes down to a few things: it's about delivering faster, turning an idea into reality, get(ting) it out into the market, with high quality.

"At the very core it comes down to two things, No. 1 is that you need to have the right talent, and No. 2, you need to have the right tools and the platform to do the job...We wanted a platform that is No. 1 enterprise-grade, No. 2 has built-in security features, No. 3, is extremely scalable, and No. 4, allows us to customise according to our needs and what the customers want. To put it plainly, we wanted a platform or tool to be able to develop things a lot quicker and turn ideas to reality in a much faster manner. So OutSystems was something that we decided, let's do it."

According to Lee, the low-code project was completed within four months, which was much shorter development cycle than for a traditional software project. "At that time it was unheard of - because I remember the first meeting we had, I had with Temus and Dreamcloud as well as our vendors, I said 'we need to do it in four months' and everybody was shell-shocked," he recalled.

"'There's no way James, we're not be able to do it.' 

"I said, 'Let's do it.'... Till now, when I speak to my vendors about what we have achieved and when they say 'we need six to nine months', I say 'come on guys, we did it in four months, let's do it again'. 

"It's all about delivering things faster, it’s not just that, it's all about identifying the right partner as well. I had great support from the OutSystems team, and from Temus, and many others."

Working with Temus has also helped StarHub mitigate the on-going talent shortage. "How can we deliver more with less? It’s not about reducing headcount, it’s about making sure that you have people who work more effectively," he said, pointing out that it is better to have a single team "develop once and do it well" rather than have different teams specialise in different platforms so that they can recreate the same app for each platform.

As people spend less time on coding, they can spend more time on thinking out of the box, Lee said. "I see people getting freed up to working on more innovative (projects)," he said.Steep learning curves are also impossible for StarHub. "To have a customer bring his information systems (IS) team to 2-3 weeks of training to understand a new platform, that is near impossible, our guys work on a daily basis, everybody is busy, how do you even extract a team out to perform training?" he asked.

"We identified that we need to bring on a new partner.. a partner that has, I would say, skin in the game, and is equally invested in our wellbeing. That's how we work with Temus, to actually bring a team in, and we tell them please enable us.. it's not just about developing a system for us, it's not just about developing a consumer app, it’s about enabling my people, enabling the organisation, it's not just about the right platform, it's about investing in the right partner, and making sure they want success as much as you do."

Temus, on the other hand, is ensuring a healthy pipeline of qualified low-coders with a three-pronged approach. KC Yeoh, CEO, Temus, explained that the company is open to hiring, but digital talent is particularly hard to come by when Temus is competing with nearby Google and GovTech. The company has also invested in offshore development, but has already seen talent supply tightening in some cities in India. A 3rd approach has been to convert people without any technology background into software developers through UST's Step It Up apprenticeship programme, Yeoh said. Temus was established in April 2021 by Temasek in partnership with UST, so a connection already existed between the two. 

Step It Up recruits and trains technical talent for businesses poised for digital transformation. Temus' first Step It Up batch of 21 were chosen from 800 applicants, and include a chef, a private tutor, an offshore research engineer, a journalist, and a life science graduate among them. The cohort started training in November 2022, and graduated in March. While many apprenticeship programmes train people and expect them to land their own jobs, Step It Up guarantees a job for graduates, Yeoh said.

"For the trainees, it gives them an opportunity to pursue a digital career that they thought was out of reach," he said.  

Paulo Rosado, CEO, OutSystems noted that low-code technology facilitates innovation. It removes "toil" and leaves the essence of software crafting behind for software developers, he observed. "Innovation, getting a smile from a customer, those types of things are extremely rewarding," he said. 

As people spend less time on coding, they can spend more time on thinking out of the box, Lee said. "I see people getting freed up to working on more innovative (projects)," he said.

Low-code practices are here to stay, Rosado added. "Everything is supported by digital, whether it's mobile art, an application, a piece of digital asset, mobile work, everything is based on digital. The (number) of ppl that can help businesses digitalise are very few. For the next 20 years I truly believe that this category is not going to fade."

Rosado called Asia innovation-oriented, and predicted that low-code will be adopted more quickly in the region than elsewhere. "Singapore is a good example," he said. 

Rosado also said that even though the low-code movement is growing slightly faster in Asia, many projects are global. "More and more companies are starting to dip into this and realising that this technology is maturing to the point that vendors are providing platforms (for it). It’s complex technology, but we have reached a point now that it’s available," he said.

"You'll have a job for a long time to come," Wong added, addressing the Step It Up trainees in the audience.

Rosado remains optimistic about the role of human software developers despite artificial intelligence (AI) ChatGPT's prowess at coding.

"We have always been predicting that the type of things that we can see in ChatGPT. I'm very pleased and amazed at the speed that that type of technology has evolved... One of the issues with AI is that the moment you start increasing what the AI can do, you start getting opacity on what the AI has done. In the case of ChatGPT as an accelerator or helper for a developer, as long as ChatGPT creates code that is relatively small, you can understand what it is doing, helping you accelerate; we have more than 800 software engineers using ChatGPT to build the software platform," he said. 

"The issue is that when you start getting into bigger and bigger pieces of code, the code becomes very difficult to understand by a human as it grows. We don't know the answer to this, we don't know if in five to 10 years, full software will be built by AI without intervention by developers." 

He pointed to the example of autonomous vehicles, which are generally safer than human drivers. "But every so often you get an accidident and people don't know why it happens, it becomes a distrusted technology. We see the same thing in sofware development. We don't know if AI will develop things that we can’t control," he said. 

"We see that the control of a developer being a fundamental piece of all these productivity tools, with OutSystems, with OutSystems and ChatGPT, the developer needs to be in control going forward. This is a major issue, we're very excited about it."

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