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GCN : January and February 2017
can help users gener- ate code using natural language commands or other noncode-based formats. In one exercise, re- searchers used an ex- ample that allows a net- work manager to choose one of several options for managing traffic running on software- defined networks. “Traditionally, if you were to get a router from Cisco, it would come completely pro- grammed,” Alur said. “The functionality would be fixed, and the network operator at a specific organiza- tion would not be able to change that. The problem is, however, that most network operators are not programmers. So the question is: What functionality do you want to program on this? How do you actually program the switches and routers?” In principle, a programmer could ad- just the router, but that’s an expensive solution. The ExCAPE team addressed the shortcoming by creating a tool called NetEgg that lets network admin- istrators specify the desired functional- ity for a switch and then automatically generate the code needed to launch the application. “You don’t need to learn a new pro- gramming language,” Alur said. “It’s like a simple visual interface where you just specify a few examples, and the tool would generate the program that best fits your intent. It’s a very simple way of programming that’s very lightweight and uses scenarios and examples that ordinary people can understand.” ZERO-CODE PLATFORMS Lightweight approaches to software coding are also drawing interest from mobile users at government agencies, where hierarchies in processes and per- sonnel continue to sslow agency sys- tems in the field. Zero-code development could help overcome those barriers. TerraGo is using the approach to develop mobile business apps for agencies that conduct field inspections, utilities mapping, pre- cision agriculture analyses and pipeline surveys. The Louisiana Department of Trans- portation and Development, for ex- ample, is using the TerraGo Edge mo- bile data collection and collaboration service to inspect 4,000 miles of levees and dams annually. “They need maps, they need forms, they need to work off-line, and they have to comply with all sorts of data regulations” from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy De- partment, for example, Timar said. The company is helping “organiza- tions create their own apps without having to write any code,” he added. “You don’t have to have developers nec- essarily on hand to customize an app and make it look the way you want it to look and have it perform the way you want it to perform.” Rather than relying on coding tools, TerraGo users are given a layout that allows them to select the features they want their app to have. Afterward, they can upload the app to online stores in what is essentially a push-button pro- cess, Timar said. Furthermore, updates made to the code bases underlying the system will update all the apps that have been built with the system, he added. Zero-code development is the latest stage of what has been called rapid ap- plication development or low-code de- velopment platforms. “While low code provides multiple templates and a platform for develop- ment, you still have to have develop- ers to code it all together,” Timar said. “With zero code, you don’t have to stitch anything together. It’s all auto- mated, and you don’t have to maintain anything or keep any developers on staff.” Of course, there will always be situ- ations that require more complex capa- bilities beyond the features available on zero-code platforms, he added. Early in TerraGo’s history, the com- pany focused on finding a market for data collection and location informa- tion tools, Timar said. In time, howev- er, officials realized that workflows had become more broadly applicable across business categories. “At the end of the day, there’s not that much difference between what a police officer has to do when he or she is out in the field [compared to] a util- ity worker or somebody who’s an envi- ronmental consultant,” he said. “They need structured data collection, they need location information, and they need the ability to be effective off-line and online.” • GCN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 • GCN.COM 17 0217gcn_014-017.indd 17 2/1/17 3:45 PM
October and November 2016