Is There A New Low-Code Platform In Town?

8 February 2022
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Oracle Visual Builder Has Grown Up

By Dermot Murray, VP of Technology, Inoapps

At Inoapps we have been huge fans of the Oracle Application Express Platform (APEX) for many years - almost since before APEX was even a proper "thing". (See our previous blogs about retiring E-Business Suites, archiving legacy data and the evolution of APEX.)

We have used APEX in a wide variety of different scenarios for our customers, whether as a development platform for custom applications to meet unique business requirements, or as an orchestration platform to enable the capabilities of the underlying Oracle database to be used to meet a business need. And for many years, we of course used it to extend and enhance the capabilities of Oracle E-Business Suite.

For the last five or six years, we have used APEX extensively to extend and enhance the capabilities of Oracle Cloud ERP. The inherent Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) message of "you can't customize" has meant that when customers do have business requirements that cannot be delivered using core Oracle Cloud SaaS, an alternative approach is required. Using the knowledge and expertize that the Inoapps team has developed over many years of APEX development, we have developed an integration framework that allows APEX to tightly integrate with Oracle Cloud SaaS, delivering a seamless user interface, fully integrated Single Sign On (SSO), automated master data feeds and pre-built integrations back into Oracle Cloud ERP/ HCM. This platform has been the cornerstone of our industry solutions, our tools and utilities and many other applications that we have developed for our customers.

In that time, we have witnessed a conveyor belt of new development and extension platforms that have been delivered by the Oracle product teams - Application Development Framework, the original mobile capability within ADF, Application Builder Cloud Service. Each one of these platforms has been through the same cycle of delivery – a sense of excitement as a new platform is announced, anticipation as the product arrives and the team evaluates it, and then often disappointment as the reality of its capabilities become apparent. Until finally, the inevitable decline into "it is no longer strategic for us", before being quietly dropped.

And so the Inoapps team has continued to invest in the APEX platform, taking advantage of the new capabilities that are delivered with every release, continuing to extend and enhance our solutions. Why would we make the significant investment required to migrate to a new platform if that platform simply becomes decommissioned in a short space of time? And why would we move away from a platform that gave us the tools to deliver the tasks required?

But now there is a new low-code platform in town – Oracle Visual Builder. And the first thing to say is that it is not, in fact, "new". Visual Builder has been around now for several years and is based upon many of the developments and capabilities of the previous conveyor belt of products. The Inoapps team has been monitoring this platform for some time - indeed we have used it for several small tactical projects to deliver specific capabilities for which it is well suited. But the feedback from our technical team was that the product was not yet mature enough to deliver the complex business applications our customers were asking us to build. The depth and breadth of functionality was not strong enough, and the commercial model was not effective for the use cases we needed.

However, it appears the landscape is changing – we recently engaged with the Oracle Product team for a Visual Builder update, and the outcome was very interesting. The question remains - does this platform now have the capabilities, flexibility and very importantly the long-term strategic investment from Oracle to make it viable for the Inoapps team to consider porting our primary development platform onto this new tooling? Right now, there are lots of exciting new developments in the Visual Builder platform that have led us to believe this may well be a strong possibility:

  • Developments in the core SaaS extension capabilities to broaden the use cases beyond what has been feasible in the past. This is now enabling a much greater scope of enhancements to be delivered, allowing us to meet more complex business needs
  • The implicit SSO and integration capabilities – capabilities that we have been able to develop in APEX using our integration framework, but which are now inherent within the Visual Builder platform
  • The ability for Visual Builder to be used to develop a whole new complexity of application, whilst still benefiting from the inherent integration
  • The capabilities to rapidly build and deploy mobile optimized applications in a single technology stack, which could be a transformational change to enable mobile extensions
  • The close coupling with Oracle Integration Cloud to enable and augment complex end to end integrations to and from external applications
  • The ability to natively deliver Redwood themed applications out of the box
  • Clarity and pragmatism on the licensing and commercial metrics

However, a key consideration is the strategic change in direction of core Oracle SaaS product development to utilize the platform for their own SaaS application development. The ability to use Visual Builder Studio to personalize these cements that it is not going to be just one more “non-strategic” product on the conveyor belt of platforms.

Do we believe at this time that Visual Builder would be an alternative platform for the wide array of different use cases that the Inoapps team has delivered in recent years? No, there will still be many occasions when the power and capabilities of APEX will be needed to meet those requirements.

But it is without a doubt the case that Visual Builder will offer out-of-the-box capabilities that will allow the Inoapps development team to deliver low-code solutions without the need for some elements of the integration framework that we have developed over the years. The clever integration and automation that we have developed in APEX to allow us to extend Oracle SaaS will no longer be required.

One of our most experienced Solution Architects recently commented that Visual Builder “has certainly grown up over the last few months.” This feels like an accurate summary of our current viewpoint. Our development teams will continue to evaluate both platforms side by side, and no doubt the outcome will be a hybrid approach, choosing the best platform for each use case. But it would certainly appear that there is a new low-code platform in town, and the Oracle ecosystem is all the better for it.

For questions on Oracle APEX, Oracle Visual Builder and their use in your organization,  Ask Inoapps! 


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