Low-code for logistics, coordinating a systematic advantage

What aspects of the way logistics firms use technology makes this sector different – and, crucially, what accelerators can low-code templates and shortcuts bring to the way next-generation logistics software is developed?


The logistics industry is ubiquitously and inherently populated by systems and processes. It is a business that runs on the strength of its quantifiable and definable functions. As such, the need for systematic efficiency throughout the logistics trade makes it perfectly suited to benefit from the advantages offered by low-code software application development and engineering.

Given that every business in every industry vertical must now recognise itself to be a data-driven software business at its heart, logistics firms can now embrace a far wider transept of software tools to gain a competitive operational advantage in their own market.

But what aspects of the way logistics firms use their technology stack makes the software in this sector so different… and, crucially, what accelerators can low-code templates, reference architectures, shortcuts and pre-defined components bring to the way next-generation logistics software is developed?

A more ‘maintainable’ IT stack

The always-on nature of the logistics industry means that very typically, IT systems need to be operational 24x7x365. This responsibility for consistent dynamism can make it tough to innovate and bring new cloud-native functionality to bear across the business.

Low-code provides a route for logistics firms to experiment with pre-defined software intelligence in a more component-based way. By adopting a low-code business application platform, logistics firms can embrace a framework that provides pre-built navigation, search filters and all the ‘plumbing code’ required to wire everything up and get running quickly.

If this is the big picture technology proposition, then the more specific granular IT functions on offer here are just as compelling.

Ripe for RPA robotics

The logistics business is littered with forms-based documentation and detail, a fact that quite perfectly aligns the operational nature of the tasks carried out here to automation.

At its most basic level, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been likened to not a whole lot more than screen-scraping and the ability to automate through and process ‘form fields’ at speed.

With the advantage of low-code, RPA can be used in a far more intelligent deployment scenario alongside a business rules engine to define system-wide business logic in a single repository, without coding rules at the application or database level. Processes then happen more seamlessly and at greater levels of efficiency with a significantly lower risk of human error.

“Many national and multi-national logistics firms are deploying enterprise automation, including RPA, because they realise that significant time and human effort are going into processes that do not require human intelligence and are sequential and repetitive in nature,” said Joel Cherkis, VP of global industries at UiPath.

Cherkis argues that automating these repetitive tasks in various areas like booking, freight forwarding, reporting and compliance reduces human error and provides increased transparency in the supply chain.

“One international freight firm brought its average handling time for booking, receiving, and shipping down from more than 8-hours per day to 48 minutes using a single software robot. Software automations today are also simplified with visual drag-and-drop interfaces so even non-technical logistics workers can create and deploy them quickly,” added Cherkis.

Further down the tracks

Looking further down the logistics industry’s development track (both figuratively and literally), we can see direct advantages for low-code engineering to bring in more highly automated levels of order reconciliation intelligence.

Logistics software platforms need key functionality strength in areas such as GPS geolocation; the ability to assign dispatches to the nearest field workers and mapping APIs for tracking. We also need collaboration and chat functions for remote field workers to be able to report on the status of any given job at any given time, from anywhere.

These are all ‘common’ software functions that can be more productively integrated using a low-code platform than having to build and hard code from scratch. While perhaps not quite as common as a word processor, a calculator or a currency converter, there is enough commonality here to warrant the use of low-code for increased efficiency and time-saving.

Using low-code accelerators for operational advantage in the logistics industry could be argued to be a business accelerator in and of itself i.e. this approach enables companies in this space to modernise their IT stack and make use of an increasing amount of web services and APIs to allow data to flow through existing back-office systems and business processes.

“Today, many logistics companies are saddled with legacy systems and processes which makes it hard to respond to change. But nothing drove more change recently than the pandemic. The timelines and expense to tackle legacy challenges often made it prohibitive,” said Mike Hughes, product evangelist at OutSystems. “Modern application platforms can solve this conundrum by allowing existing investments to be leveraged while providing a path to sustainable innovation.”

One OutSystems logistics industry customer, Green Cargo, was looking for ways to access data in its legacy systems and shift to the cloud. It developed a plan that involved four digital accelerators with a data orchestration function to ensure its pre-existing mainframe and SAP system could temporarily survive as systems of record. As the company moved to adopt cloud, its in-house developers were able to work at speed, while assuring code quality and architectural standards.

Some of the core elements of the logistics business will always pervade; the warehouses, forklifts, trucks, planes, trains and automobiles will all still form a vital part of the axis that underpins daily logistics shipments, but data will touch every aspect of this business and low-code is a key enabler to deepening its penetration and system-wide usage for the future.