In the search for holistic IT concepts that meet individual requirements, more and more print shops are coming across no-code platforms. In addition to facilitating software development, these platforms promise the precise integration of hardware, third-party and legacy systems, as well as the automation of administrative processes.
In an industry where digital, analog and HR processes take place in tandem under one roof, a suitable system architecture is one of the most challenging yet important goals. Particularly in printing companies, where digitization takes place in individual steps, the infrastructure often resembles a “patchwork quilt” of standard software. In most cases, the compatibility of ready-made individual solutions is not a foregone conclusion but requires extensive adjustments by specialists. Their difficult availability is a problem across all industries. The situation is not made any easier if you want to use these rare specialists to develop individual software in a print shop.
Particularly with regard to data processing, printing companies often have special features that many programmers require more time to get to grips with than is the case in some other companies, where ERP or CRM projects, for example, can take as little as six months. The numerous jobs in the form of small data portions require a high degree of scalability. At the same time, the highest possible degree of automation of administrative processes is important for print shops to remain economically successful. Despite these superficial similarities, every operation has its own fingerprint, which calls for individual solutions in many areas. The intersection of software solutions that enable a holistic concept according to the requirements of the printing industry and at the same time individual software development and customization is limited. No-code platforms distinguish themselves clearly in this area.
Software development without proprietary code
The no-code approach basically allows non-programmers to create individual applications for immediate use. Various graphical elements can be assembled via a drag-and-drop user interface. In the backend of the platform, clean application code is generated from prefabricated and intrinsically tested code modules. In principle, the “no-code” concept can be seen as a further development of the low-code approach, in which the programmers’ own code is still required to a limited extent. Using No-Code, Minimum Viable Products (MVP) are often created in just a few days by pure clicking. The development time is thus up to ten times shorter than with conventional programming. And yet a wide variety of individual solutions for professional use are possible.
The application possibilities are basically unlimited and range, for example, from small applications with which skilled workers optimize their daily routine to complex ERP systems. Automated invoicing solutions, QM, CRM and monitoring systems can also be mapped. In principle, the no-code approach is also not limited to specific industries or company divisions. This is particularly evident in the fact that it is already being used in many ways in the printing industry with its special requirements. Common examples there include the organization of mailing campaigns according to different customer groups or ordering systems that automate the transfer of orders to production.
Druckerei Friedmann Print Data Solutions, for example, has used the saas.do no-code platform to link 16 different e-commerce systems to its in-house back office, thereby generating additional business without any additional personnel costs. Particularly important for this automated data transfer – especially in the printing industry – is the correct use of application interfaces (API).
The print shop as an “API Ecosystem”.
Enterprise applications are quickly created with no-code platforms like saas.do. In most cases, however, they still need to be enabled to receive and pass on data. APIs play a crucial role as junctions for this. However, handling them is sometimes as complex as software development itself. It is therefore helpful that this requirement can also be met with the no-code approach. Corresponding code modules with associated data masks are used to define URLs via which data can be sent and accessed by other applications. This type of transfer also involves various (third-party) data sources, so that data migration is automated and no longer represents a major obstacle when the infrastructure is changed.
All in all, the entire back office and the hardware of a print shop can be networked in this way. This includes not only the printing equipment, but also smaller devices such as barcode scanners. This makes it possible to work much more efficiently on administrative tasks and eliminates the need for confusing Excel files with manual data transfer. In this sense, platforms such as saas.do take on the role of middleware, a data hub that mediates between all applications – even those from outside the company.
The Druckerei Friedmann was thus able to network the entire back office and reduce the administrative effort to a minimum. Orders are now sent directly to production via customer interfaces and can be processed collectively. Personnel effort is no longer necessary for this. Nevertheless, personnel play a crucial role in dealing with no-code.
Software and personnel in harmony
It is not uncommon for computer scientists in companies to be skeptical at first when no-code platforms are mentioned. However, these platforms are not designed to make IT expertise superfluous, let alone capable of doing so. It doesn’t work without basic knowledge. No-code is a form of expression for people who think in a process-oriented way, are IT-savvy and already know what they want to map. These can be programmers who in this way want to significantly accelerate parts of their projects or network conventionally programmed applications in an uncomplicated manner via API. But specialist employees, so-called “Citizen Developers”, who, for example, have advanced knowledge of Excel or experience in dealing with databases, can also work with No-Code.
To ensure that as many specialist departments as possible can do this, there is usually support from the platform operator, for example in the form of a three-day training course. The introduction of the platform takes place after individual adaptation by the operator either via the cloud or “on-premises” in the data center. Support can also be called upon for the actual implementation of no-code-based projects.
Ultimately, programmers are relieved because they have to worry less about the IT problems of their colleagues in the specialist departments, as the latter can do this themselves to a greater extent. The digital networking of the company also promotes interdisciplinary collaboration. Employees with a great deal of process knowledge can cast their ideas directly into software or work on them together with programmers.
Many companies now rely on cross-functional teams of technology and business experts – a trend that is being fueled above all by the advance of cloud and no-code solutions. Their success is also explained by the fact that standard software no longer adequately covers the needs of many companies. In a study conducted by IT analysts Techconsult on behalf of Dr. Eckhardt + Partner in 2021, 201 IT decision-makers at German companies were asked about the use of custom software: According to the study, more than half of them rely on tailored applications. Again, about three quarters of them attribute their company’s success to the use of precisely these individual solutions.
With no-code solutions like saas.do, print shops can easily individualize their legacy systems from the previous era in interdisciplinary collaboration – for example, by adding necessary functionalities to an ERP system. The transformation of the business can proceed gently, without having to undergo drastic changes to the infrastructure. It is easy to start with individual, small applications in any part of the company. Users only have to pay for what they need and use. The costs are based on the number and scope of the applications used and are therefore significantly lower than for large standard solutions, which usually also include unused functionalities.
At the Druckerei Friedmann, the first step was to identify the indispensable main processes and digitize them with saas.do. The same subsequently followed with the supplementary support processes, which also revealed the expendable waste processes. Short-term adaptations of no-code applications can be made later at any time using drag-and-drop.
This is particularly necessary in the printing industry, which is subject to far-reaching and rapid changes. In this way, Druckerei Friedmann has managed to quickly expand its business model in the direction of personalized photo puzzles in the onset of the pandemic, thus compensating for drastic losses in sales. Via the interface connection of saas.do, the individual orders go directly into production. This form of flexibility will be a decisive factor for many print shops in the future – especially in order to prove themselves on the converging media markets of print and online.
A model for the future
IT specialists will continue to be scarce in the next ten years, while the need for quickly adaptable individual software is likely to continue to grow. By 2025, therefore, 70 percent of newly developed business applications could already be based on low-code and no-code, estimates IT market researcher Gartner Inc. In another Techconsult study in collaboration with mgm technology partners, 78 percent of the companies surveyed said they were already actively looking at no-code and low-code solutions.
Efficiency has become one of the most important success criteria, especially in the printing industry. While print shops without digital printing have long been an endangered species, the degree of automation will next determine success in the printing industry. It is usually measured not by the individual job, but by sales per employee. This key figure is most likely to be increased by automating where possible and freeing up capacity for the core business. This is how printers, programmers, machines and software can continue to work together successfully in the future.