Continuing to drive operational efficiencies through traditional cost-cutting measures now provides only marginal gains. Industry 4.0 is about the significant transformation taking place in the way goods are produced and delivered, moving toward industrial automation and the flexible factory. The manufacturing industry has adapted rapidly to new technologies and tools according to the need of the hour, from mechanization and assembly lines to automation and cyber-physical systems. This ecosystem has been dominated by rigid software and systems. However, these solutions cannot be granularly customized to cater to custom needs of a company. Additionally, the current challenges that manufacturing companies face are underutilized inventory resources, communication impasses, lack of transparency, and scattered information. All this can be tackled by leveraging low-code platforms.
Companies are leveraging the power of low-code with Zoho Creator. The platform, a flagship product from Zoho, helps businesses not only create powerful custom business applications 10x faster, but also build solutions that run across different devices smoothly. The best part is, all this can be achieved with little or no coding experience.
Consrofacilitator had one to one interaction with Bharath Kumar B, Head of Marketing and Customer Experience, Zoho Creator, wherein he shared insights Zoho Creator features, inventory monitoring, threat assessments, market potential of low-code application development platforms in India and much more.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
1. Share some insights on the features of the Zoho Creator low-code platform for accelerating application development
Zoho Creator is a unified low-code development platform that helps everyone in an organization to build secure and scalable custom business solutions. That too, 10X faster and irrespective of the developer’s technical know-how.
We enable business users (citizen developers) who may not have any prior coding or application development experience by abstracting application, integration, and analytics building capabilities under a visual builder. In addition, we also provide a full-fledged scripting Integrated Development Environment (IDE), serverless functions, and various other guardrail features as well to help professional developers and IT teams build, deploy and manage both independent solutions as well as enterprise-wide citizen development programs.
Some of the key highlights of our platform across different aspects of application development are listed below:
Comprehensive Solution Building
- Unified Solution Builder – Users can create, integrate, analyze, and manage custom business solutions at scale from a single dashboard. They can seamlessly switch between different elements, with deep interoperability between capabilities, and in-built guardrails for IT teams to drive enterprise-wide citizen development programs.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Zoho’s intelligent AI assistant (Zia) enables developers to import data from anywhere, cleanse and transform with one click, build data models, and automatically detect data relationships via Smart Import. AI tasks such as predictive analytics, keyword extraction, sentiment analysis, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and object detection are built into the drag-and-drop user interface for easy deployment.
- Process Blueprinting – This intuitive drag-and-drop builder graphically constructs an online replica of a business process by specifying each step, assigning responsibilities across stakeholders, and automating actions based on pre-set conditions. Users can now identify bottlenecks and have clarity to facilitate scalability for evolving business needs.
- Enhanced Serverless Functions – Developers can now write, store, and execute reusable code blocks in Zoho Creator Platform using Deluge, Java, or Node.js. These functions encourage IT and business teams to work together to build scalable and easily maintainable enterprise-ready apps faster.
Building a Connected Ecosystem of Solutions for a Seamless Experience
- Unified Data Modeling (UDM) – Unchecked data points, varied data formats, and evolving app landscapes add layers of difficult-to-solve complexities to data integration, resulting in sub-optimal business results. Universal cloud modeling is now included to help developers establish secure data transfer by automating data integration protocols with unified data architecture and over 600 plug-and-play connectors to make data integration easier for users.
- Integration Status Dashboard – Users have complete visibility on how well each integration operates with the new Integration Status Dashboard. Status Dashboard provides key findings on recent executions, success and failure stats, and top connections facilitating early error detection and resolution to enable organizations to discover errors and resolve them quicker.
- Embedded BI and Analytics Engine – An industry-first, full-fledged business intelligence and analytics engine is now included in the Zoho Creator Platform, enabling users to derive business insights from the data residing in their applications without worrying about bringing another subscription into the fold. High-end BI functionalities like predictive analytics, data alerts, what-if analysis, data blending, and conversational analytics are all now supported on the low-code platform.
Increased Control for IT Department
- Environments – Developers can now launch solutions in different environments of choice—development, staging (testing), or production—with a single click based on the readiness of the solution. This allows users to add features continuously or make changes without disturbing the existing app in production. The environments also support role-based access to help business developers simulate user-specific experience validation.
- Centralized Governance – To help IT manage low-code development, features such as granular role-based access controls, comprehensive audit trails and backup options, application IDE, dashboards to view and manage users, billing dashboard, personalization options such as localization, branding customization, and more, are now available in the low-code platform.
- Integrated Communication and Collaboration Aid – Often, business developers get stuck in the build phase with minor obstacles, especially when new to the platform. In order to enhance communication and collaboration, integrated communication enables messaging, sending files, sharing screens, and the ability to make audio and video calls.
2. How is Zoho Creator addressing the underutilized inventory resources, communication impasses, lack of transparency, and scattered information for manufacturing companies?
We have seen extensive adoption of low-code in the manufacturing industry, especially in the past two years. Through our conversations with customers, we understand that this is driven by the dominance of existing legacy applications and the need for digitization to optimize processes. One challenge they face is that most solutions available in the market are rigid, so their successful implementation and adoption is difficult. This is where a low-code platform like Zoho Creator helps, as the solutions are custom-built to the needs of a manufacturer. Because the solutions are built together by IT and business users, the adoption rate is also much higher than that of traditional solutions.
With the help of our workflows and AI fields, manufacturers can schedule alerts to get notified when stock is low or is underutilized. They can also forecast which product is in demand based on past data and plan accordingly. Moreover, with granular-level access controls based on organizational hierarchy, all the stakeholders involved have a bird’s eye view of the entire operations, which helps with underutilized inventory resources. Adding to that, personalized dashboards and reports help in increasing visibility across departments and teams.
Therefore, by leveraging low-code, manufacturing enterprises gain more visibility into their operations. This helps them optimize inventory management, and offer transparency. They can also create channels and processes that help improve communication among the team. This helps in keeping all the information in one place in a secure manner.
The other aspects that Creator helps manufacturing companies with include quality management, optimization of machine maintenance, assembly line visibility, and integration of manufacturing processes with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
3. How do low-code platforms differ from no-code platforms?
The major difference between low-code and no-code platforms is the degree of abstraction and control they provide to the individuals using the platform.
Both are designed to enable rapid application development by leveraging ready-to-use code blocks that operate within predefined constraints. They abstract the underlying complexities of traditional development under a visual builder.
However, abstraction and control are two sides of the same coin. In the case of no-code platforms, vendors focus on providing a high level of abstraction. This means that customizaton is limited, which may be a problem when a company scales and the processes evolve with time. True no-code vendors eliminate any form of hard-coding, and are ideal for predictable low-complexity requirements for custom applications.
On the other hand, low-code platforms sit in between their pro-code and no-code counterparts, and strike a balance between abstraction and control. They will have visual builders akin to that of no-code platforms and support interventions like an IDE for guided scripting, custom functions, etc., to help break the application glass ceiling as and when it appears. Serious low-code platforms support granular controls and can be used by different developer personas (citizen and pro) both individually and collaboratively to build custom applications across the complexity spectrum to drive better business outcomes.
4. How does Zoho Creator aid in inventory monitoring of raw materials in manufacturing facilities?
Inventory management is one of the most in-demand use cases from our manufacturing customers. Zoho Creator enables real-time inventory monitoring, with access to every inventory-related information including inventory levels, SKU location, delivery status, and location-wise inventory utilization.
Bar-codes, QR scanners, and alerts functions help in tracking inventory in real time. Our AI-facilitated “prediction field” can be used to predict customer demand for an inventory item based on past data. For example, if you want to share the expected delivery date of an order with your customers or for internal purposes, factors such as the type of product, number of units, and delivery partners will be the input parameters. Then, by using machine learning, the prediction field will create a model capable of predicting a field value for all future records.
Customers can also build the application from scratch or tweak the app-deck app to suit their needs. Additionally, to help companies kick start their development process and customize to their specific requirements, Zoho Creator offers a pre-built library of over 90 applications. This library includes an inventory management app that our customers use as a starting point since it consists of all key common elements of inventory management such as stock monitoring, cross-channel sales visibility, returns management, purchase management, book keeping aid, and a centralized dashboard for full visibility into the processes across stakeholders. Besides inventory management, we also provide pre-built apps for order management, vendor management, and distributor management specific to the manufacturing industry to help accelerate their digital journeys.
5. How secure is a low code platform regarding threat assessments?
There are multiple facets to manage the security and scalability of the Zoho Creator platform :
Control over infrastructure: Zoho has more than 50 SaaS products used by 75 million users globally. All the apps created using the Zoho Creator Platform reside and run on the same infrastructure (including our Data Centres across the globe) that runs all of Zoho’s services. The architecture is constantly monitored 24X7 and is highly scalable on its own. In short, an app created on the Zoho Creator platform is treated on par with the 50+ global SaaS products of Zoho.
Backups: We run incremental backups every day and weekly full backups of our databases using Zoho Admin Console (ZAC) for Zoho’s Data Centers (DC). Backup data in the DC is stored in the same location and encrypted using the AES-256 bit algorithm. To ensure the safety of the backed-up data, we use a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) in the backup servers. All backups are scheduled and tracked regularly. In case of a failure, a re-run is initiated and is fixed immediately.
Disaster Recovery: Application data is stored on a resilient storage strategy which is replicated across data centers. Data in the primary DC are replicated in the secondary in near real-time. In case of failure of the primary DC, secondary DC takes over, and the operations are carried on smoothly with minimal or no loss of time. Both the centers are equipped with multiple ISPs. We have power backup, temperature control systems, and fire-prevention systems as physical measures to ensure business continuity.
Data Encryption: In transit, all customer data transmitted to our servers over public networks is protected using robust encryption protocols. We mandate that all connections to our servers use Transport Layer Security (TLS 1.2/1.3) encryption with strong ciphers for all connections, including web access, API access, mobile apps, and IMAP/POP/SMTP email client access. This ensures a secure connection by allowing the authentication of both parties involved in the connection and encrypting data to be transferred. At rest, Sensitive customer data are encrypted using 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The data that is encrypted at rest varies with the services you opt for. We own and maintain the keys using our in-house Key Management Service (KMS). We provide additional layers of security by encrypting the data encryption keys using master keys. The master keys and data encryption keys are physically separated and stored on different servers with limited access.
Compliance: Platform access is secured across admins, developers, and users through features like 2FA, SSO, OAuth 2.0, and unusual activity reports. We are also compliant with all major compliance norms, such as HIPAA, GDPR, PCI, CCPA, and SOC2 Type II. We additionally have ISO/IEC 27001:2013, ISO/IEC 27017:2015, and ISO/IEC 27018 certifications, and undergo periodic audits that cover all essential information in security control.
6. What is the market potential of low-code application development platforms in India?
Demand and consumption of low-code platforms have grown exponentially across the globe over the past couple of years. US and APJ have the highest adoption, closely followed by Europe and MEA. In the case of Zoho Creator, we have grown by more than 100% in the last 12 months in India, which is a testament to the demand for the platform in the region.
The increase in demand can be attributed to three major factors. One, organizations have been forced to prioritize digital transformation initiatives over everything else to survive the unprecedented changes forced by the pandemic since 2020.
Two, there is a massive shortage of skilled IT resources in the market, making hiring and retaining talent extremely challenging. With low-code platforms, IT teams are building a complementary arm of business developers to help with the application development and also improve overall IT focus and productivity.
Three, low-code platforms, over the past few years have evolved a lot and are now better equipped in terms of both functional and design capabilities. They can now be used for developing more complex, mission-critical, customer-focused applications.
We see the trend strengthening in India over the next few years as more organizations leverage low-code as a strategic driver for business growth.