Unit4 has announced the general availability of App Studio. This new feature enhances the Unit4 Extension Kit the company launched three years ago. The App Studio further helps customers to build new business applications on top of Unit4 ERPx, enabling the automation of specific processes within their organisation. The solution complements the Extension Kit and other components, such as the integration kit and smart services. Enterprise Times spoke to Claus Jepsen, Chief Technology Officer, Unit4, about the launch.
The App Studio enables organisations to design, develop and deploy custom solutions in a low-code environment. Users can create screens and custom applications using a no-code/low-code environment to interact with users.
What can customers build? Jepsen answered, “Essentially, you can use it to build whatever you want. Depending upon the complexity, you can also use the embedded programming capabilities to build business logic. Then through rich APIs, you can interface to your own services. Customers can construct completely new applications.
“The key driver here is that they want to piggyback on authorization and authentication to ensure that from a governance perspective when customers deploy these internal enterprise apps, they don’t have a nightmare about what data users can see. You get that for free.
“Beyond applications, customers and partners can also build extensions, such as localisations, which Jepson explained, “When we talk about localization, we talk a lot about reporting to authorities, like tax reporting. This is a place where you could build specific screens, forms or whatever you need using App Studio for users to select what data they want. Then they can orchestrate that data extract through the extension kit to provide the data in whatever format your authority needs.”
What is in App Studio?
The App Studio already contains four key elements that assist users in the creation of applications: Canvas, Resources, Logic Flow and Credentials.
Canvas is where users design, create and edit applications. Users can drag and drop components onto each screen. Each component added is configurable with input criteria and other properties. It includes data validation, for example. They can build layers of screens with different information, building complex components hierarchies (layers in App Studio terminology) that allow users to drill down into information. A logic map enables the creator to build actions based on clickable components such as buttons and hyperlinks.
This feature allows creators to configure how the application sends and receives data. It supports REST protocols and enables creators to retrieve and post information to data fields.
This is where the creators can build workflows to map business processes. It allows them to add actions to each launch event, mapping business processes using the Flow map editor by dragging and dropping elements to the appropriate place.
Credentials allow the creator to apply user access permissions against each component. Jepson explained further, saying, “It ties into our authentication and authorization mechanisms. It means that if a customer or partner builds something for a customer, then whatever setup they have internally, in ERP, and others, it will automatically be reflected, like availability, and the ability to see data.”
Unit4 already has several partners and customers keen to use the new technology. Dan Andre Nylaender, Head of Development at Unit4 partner, Tellit Solutions AS, said, “App Studio is a great addition to the Extension Kit and makes it easy to develop fit-for-purpose screens in Unit4 ERPx. Tellit Solutions has a long history of developing vertical-specific solutions, especially for the construction industry, and App Studio can support us on delivering our development strategy.”
Mark Taimre, Business Optimization Manager, Acor Group Services, a Unit4 Customer, said, “App Studio is an eagerly awaited feature for us. It allows us to customize and modernize the User Experience and adapt Unit4 ERPx to the individual needs of our business. Combined with Unit4’s powerful API capabilities, App Studio will enable us to make Unit4 a platform for our people.
App Studio technology
The App Studio is primarily a no-code solution. However, it does need some knowledge to operate. ET asked Jepsen who the likely users are.
“We have this idea that you don’t need programmers by using some of these technologies, like App Studio. But at the end of the day, you still need programmers. As soon as there’s an API, things become complicated with any given tool you use. That’s the same case here because it’s API driven. You need to have somebody who understands how an API works.
App Studio will allow organisations to extend their Unit4 applications. It will allow them to build new applications that they can launch on the marketplace and monetise. The custom applications will run across all devices.
Customers and partners can sign up for the partner development programme to get access. There, they have access to Developer Central. It contains the tools, including App Studio allowing organisations to build applications and extensions. App Studio is included within the license for the Extension Kit. Once designed and built, they can move to a sandbox for testing before moving to the production environment.
However, according to Jenson, there is no version control within App Studio, though this is on the roadmap.
Is this ERP customization sneaking back in?
Does this signal a return to the customization we used to see with legacy ERP applications? Jepsen replied, reflecting on the advantages that the Unit4 microservices architecture delivers.
“The legacy approach to these extension and customization technologies typically results in customizations to run within the application, so it sits in the same memory space. If you don’t have a true multi-cloud solution, and you start loading code into that, that actually has a huge risk of impacting everybody else running in the same environment.”
On the Unit4 platform, each new component is launched in its own memory space. That means it can scale and not impact other elements of the ERP solution. Jepsen continued,
“One of the key criteria for both the Extension Kit and App Studio is that our thinking has always been, we want to ringfence the core so that we can move that forward at our leisure, and customers can build whatever they need, and they can have their own roadmap for those things.
“When we do the customer update, we don’t break the contract that sits in the extension kits, essentially, the API contracts and messaging contracts. That’s a huge difference; depending on your vantage point, high up, it looks the same. In the details, there’s a huge difference between these two approaches. My view is, if anyone said terms are different, that’s because they don’t have a true multi-tenant ERP solution.”
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
Unit4 continues to build out the ERPx platform. While the marketplace is still just a shopfront, users cannot contract and download solutions like the Salesforce AppExchange. Nevertheless, the capabilities allowing partners and customers to extend the platform are improving.
The App Studio fills out the capability for customers and partners to extend Unit4 solutions. It will be interesting to see how quickly innovative solutions are launched. The no-code platform should enable some localisations for countries or industries to quickly extend the Unit4 solutions.
Jepson commented, “We are very excited to be launching App Studio, a new feature that extends the value our customers can extract from ERPx. It is well-suited for businesses that need to quickly create custom applications that can scale as their needs change. By reducing the need for extensive coding, the platform can help businesses save time and money while empowering them to quickly build the applications they need to succeed.”
Unit4 App Studio is available to new and existing ERPx customers, and with 200 customers already leveraging the Extension Kit, there should be plenty of adopters. At the core of Unit4 ERPx is a microservices architecture that few other ERP solutions have. It enables these extensions and applications to be built without the concern that running them will impact performance, or that they will break easily during upgrades. It is an advantage that for some companies will be huge.