Shell Downstream leans on low-code tools to drive app dev efficiency

Adopting cloud platforms has allowed the energy company to reduce its reliance on manual coding, accelerating time-to-market for applications, according to Shell Downstream CIO Craig Walker.

Shell Downstream leans on low-code tools to drive app dev efficiency

Coding is dead. Long live coding. It’s an exaggeration, but Shell Downstream’s IT department has heavily reduced custom coding in favor of commodity software built on, and connecting to, cloud services. Developers for the oil product and chemicals provider are building anything from customer portals to marketing and analytics services by fitting together application components like Lego pieces.

Shell Downstream CIO Craig Walker says the shift — a departure from years of coding custom applications — comes in response to disruptions in the energy industry. "We only want to write our own code where we truly differentiate with IP [intellectual property] and knowledge to gain competitive edge in the market,” Walker tells

Providers of oil and gas are scrambling to accommodate ride-sharing services and on-demand refueling services, as well as the rise of battery-powered and self-driving cars. Where Shell once viewed BP and Exxon as existential threats, all three now contend with, Alibaba, General Electric and Tesla. "Now the whole world is going for a slice of my pie," Walker says.

To stem the disruption, Shell Downstream must reimagine its business processes. Walker is orchestrating several changes to the way his engineers build and deliver software for a company that operates 45,000 retail stores and offers refueling services at 900 airports worldwide.

Software evolution: From custom code to low code

Among the biggest changes is Shell Downstream’s move to "low code" software development, which Forrester Research defines as employing "visual, declarative techniques instead of programming" to construct applications. Using low-code tools, developers — and in some cases business analysts — can assemble applications by dragging and dropping application components. Point-and-click programming is replacing hand coding, saving hours of development time, Walker says.

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