Constructing an Agile Quality Ecosystem with Low Code Apps

By Valentina Lupo

When companies are looking for achieving best-in-class quality performance, it is important to understand the challenges that industries face when the technology is constantly changing. Quality management is so much more than simply replacing a paper-based system and many exciting opportunities exist for companies to achieve new levels of agile quality management. The cost and value attached to legacy systems sometimes are perceived as the biggest obstacles to digital transformation for most manufacturers. Many companies that make the decision to digitalize in order to keep up with current consumer and market needs are opting for solutions that easily integrate with their current systems. Therefore, it’s important to drive innovation with an agile low code application and SaaS tools in your quality management processes.

Next Generation QMS

The Digital Transformation for Quality Management is a 5-episodes mini-series podcast, part of Where Today Meets Tomorrow, which focuses on the value of quality management in the digital era and the future of next generation QMS.

Benefits of Low Code Tools for Quality Management Systems

In this forth episode Bettina Pruemper has Sebastian Bersch, Director of Manufacturing Industries at Mendix, as her special guest. He will explain the benefits of low code tools, the important role it plays in supporting quality management and why low code apps are a better option for manufacturers who want to continue using their legacy quality management systems.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • The value of Low Code in quality management (06:03)
  • How Low Code platforms accelerate agility in quality management solutions (09:34)
  • The benefits of the Mendix Low Code platform (13:06)
  • Examples of applications in Mendix manufacturing industries that contribute to quality management (14:21)
  • Why it is necessary for engineers to be involved in application development (20:13)

[00:10] Bettina Pruemper: Welcome back to Where Today Meets Tomorrow. I’m Bettina Pruemper, and I’m your host with Siemens Global Marketing. I will present a special podcast miniseries as part of Where Today Meets Tomorrow, where we talk about how to realize innovation and digital transformation in the context of the digital age. We have recorded over five episodes dedicated to the “Digital Transformation for Quality Management”. Today, we will talk about how to construct an agile quality ecosystem with a low code app. In previous episodes, we not only discussed the trends and how they are forcing companies to pursue a model for digital enterprise, but we also talked about the importance of digitalization and its role across manufacturing industries. Quality management is just so much more than simply replacing a paper-based system. There are so many exciting opportunities for companies to boost their current situation and also to achieve new levels for agile quality management. Today’s guest truly understands the challenges that industries are facing when the technology is constantly changing while they’re also looking to achieve best-in-class quality performance. By saying this, I’m pleased to introduce Sebastian Bersch. He is the Director of Manufacturing Industries at Mendix. Welcome, Sebastian, how are you?


[01:37] Sebastian Bersch: I’m excellent. Hi, Bettina. And thanks for setting the stage so beautifully.


[01:41] Bettina Pruemper: You’re welcome. And also, thanks for taking the time to discuss this topic today, and also to provide your point of view about how it’s possible to leverage innovation with low code application and SaaS. But before we dive into the topic, could you please share a little bit about your background and role at Mendix?


[01:58] Sebastian Bersch: Sure, glad to do so. You introduced me by name, Sebastian Bersch, joined a quality my management company about 10 years ago, and worked initially with automotive companies in the United States for them as a Project Manager. Also, worked in Germany with some industrial manufacturing and supply chain companies. After some time, they actually asked me to run the operations in China. So, I spent a couple of years in Shanghai after that as the GM and CEO of IBS Shanghai. After about two and a half years, we then got integrated into Siemens. So, that’s what made me a Siemens member at the time. I spent the next couple of years, then, running the Manufacturing Operations Management as well as manufacturing planning portfolio development teams for Asia Pacific. I did that out of the Singapore office. And yeah, after a combined, I think, six and a half years in Asia Pacific, I now thought it’s about time that I introduced my kids to my homeland. So, I’m now back in Germany. Already, you said that I work for the Mendix organization now as the Director of Manufacturing Industries. So, basically, it is now my duty to help and foster continuous adoption of the low-code platform into all the different manufacturing industries and enter different manufacturing domains. Aside from that, I’ve served until most recently on the Asia Pacific Board of Mesa, which some of our listeners might recognize as a global think tank that fosters the adoption of smart manufacturing practices in companies across the globe and across different industries.


[03:43] Bettina Pruemper: Thank you for these insights. So, as part of digital transformation, we are aware that supporting a concept of agile quality will be more and more important. Manufacturers can weather uncertainties and convert them to opportunities, depending on their agility to adapt to new market demands, and create new business models, and bring products and innovation to life. So, how have you seen manufacturers do that most recently?


[04:11] Sebastian Bersch: In the introduction, I already said I spent quite some time in Southeast Asia in the recent past. And obviously, a lot of the supply chains for Western manufacturers start or have their initial links there. And in the past 18-20 months with the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, you’ve obviously seen that has been much greater urgencies in manufacturers to reinvent themselves in the way how they live their processes to produce more agility, and at the same time, more resilience. And that goes across industries where companies are prioritizing the need to quickly adapt to supply and demand changes. And I try that with minimum disruption. As an example, we’ve seen the massive changes that could have happened to what you manufacture with a lot of companies starting to pivot from automotive manufacturing to ventilator manufacturing, and from producing what vodkas or drinks or cosmetics to producing distillers and hand sanitizers. And to be honest, I would think that a lot of companies have now been warned, like there’s a massive increment that was paid on the market for these hand sanitizers. So, if you weren’t able to pivot at the first time where there was such a peak, that’s sort of okay, that’s not great but it’s sort of okay. But if such a surge comes again within the next 10-15 years, and you again won’t be able to capitalize from it, then I think that’s completely on you. And I think a lot of manufacturers are recognizing that and are, therefore, recognizing that digitalization and adaptability become more critical than ever before.


[06:00] Bettina Pruemper: I think we’re able to see that around here as well. But can you help us with an example of how that leads to innovation in the realm of quality in a manufacturing company?


[06:11] Sebastian Bersch: So, I said a lot of stuff happened around the supply chain. And when you have these early supply chain end-tier companies in South Asia and Southeast Asia. For the longest time, the companies that benefit from them or the companies that consider themselves being the OEMs, they were not able to control the supply chain very much. And on the quality side, you were obviously not able to perform audits on-site. You simply couldn’t travel across country borders. So, what I’ve seen is that a company came to us and looked for our advice in trying to help them to audit those companies remotely. And that was originally obviously born out of necessity, but now being trialed and being tested successfully, that actually has become the default for several different categories of audits in this company. So, that is one area where you can clearly see the value of low code for quality with its ability to easily connect to various data sources and visualize them in real-time, as well as allowing easy adoption and personalization, potentially even in mobile native environments and applications.


[07:23] Sebastian Bersch: A second example I have is from a manufacturer that is a bit of a smaller production volume company, they obviously noticed that more and more of their suppliers fell behind with the disruptions we had to supply chains in the past 18 months. They recognized also that some of those suppliers, irrespective of their commitments, were sending the little volume they were able to put out to their larger customers first. Now, obviously, you can’t then just decide to become a larger customer. So, you won’t be making any jumps in the pecking order of your significant suppliers. So, ultimately, this company was trying to manage their supply chain in a way so that they would not fall further and further behind on their own delivery schedules. So, what they came up with was a fallback plan of a sort of crowdsourcing of parts from local suppliers. And when I say that everyone can already imagine that that obviously comes along with a lot more quality-related work, as well as in prevention as in detection. You just had to invest more in the way how you were performing quality control when supervising and checking on these locally sourced parts. And the company that we were working with, was able to do that using all the power of low-code to adapt. And when I say adapt, I mean adapt in two ways. I obviously mean adapt in terms of the system and its ability to perform quality checks for a much wider variety of characteristics and with much stricter measures, and also on mobile devices in the field. But also adapt in terms of the user experience, because you needed about a much bigger workforce to then perform the quality checks, and you need them to understand what they needed to do simply by using the application, because regulations didn’t allow you to do one-on-one or small group face-to-face coaching.


[09:31] Bettina Pruemper: You made some very important examples, Sebastian. So, let’s now analyze how the complex scenarios will impact the quality management systems in the future. If we refer to historical landscapes for QMS and Brownfield, they are characterized by tremendous diversity in the IT landscapes and comprising of homegrown legacy and also commercial desktop applications. In addition, many manufacturing enterprises also add to this complexity with globalized and also decentralized production, and probably countless acquisitions that inherit new sets of legacy systems. So, now I have a few questions for you. What is the value of implementing a unique environment for digitalization, also, for QMS? And maybe also, how can a company be fast in the achievement of results? And what role does Siemens play?



[10:30] Sebastian Bersch: Many questions in one go, but I’ll try to go after them one by one. So, maybe first of all the unique environment for digitalization around QMS. I think that the reality there is that you have tons of legacy systems out in the field, out in the Brownfield environments and facilities. So, they are still delivering value. They encapsulate some sort of tribal knowledge and well-thought-out proven know-how about a particular process set up. And that is something that manufacturers want to preserve. So, simply getting rid of those systems is perceived too complex, too disruptive – and by many, also – too risky. And no matter what basis that is founded on that is a subjective notion that I don’t think you do yourself a favor if you start arguing with that. However, while QMS solutions are the foundation of manufacturing digitalization, low-code platforms are then emerging as the natural complement to accelerate the agility in that environment. So, for example, if you look at one of the recent Gartner[1] reports, that says that by 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% or more than two-thirds of application development activity. And I think that’s something critical to recognize. And then to understand that Siemens, in acquiring Mendix, really has set the benchmark in what low-code needs to be able to deliver for industrial software. So, it’s not only about allowing a customer to extend functionality in domains and subdomains covered by your off-the-shelf product. But it really needs to allow you to extend into domains previously uncovered, potentially uncovered by our software solutions, but just as well uncovered by business processes and solutions in the realm of what the customer wants to do. So, if you are adopting a web shop, a web go-to-market first, a new way of licensing the use of your product, this is something that goes along with changing a ton of applications in your business. And it’s simply a bit easier to do that if you leverage all the good knowledge and all the good processes that are in your existing applications already. But you extend into the new space by using the adaptability, the flexibility, and the speed of low-code. So, if you go with Siemens in combination with the Mendix platform, then you basically get the best of both worlds now; you get, on the one hand, the market-leading low-code, no-code capabilities on a multi-experience platform that allows you to tailor applications to the particular needs and practices of your company, as well as you are sourcing industry knowledge by leveraging Siemens’ rich manufacturing domain experience and the capabilities that we have built in areas such as manufacturing quality into our solutions already. So, that is basically precisely why we launched Mendix Manufacturing Industries at the most recent Mendix World event, which is a marketplace for templates and solutions for specific domains in the manufacturing industries, which are then rich in built-in functionality but still based on low-code, no-code to give you the maximum freedom to adapt and extend as you as a company adapt and extend.


[14:11] Bettina Pruemper: That surely sounds like a great way of getting started with low-code, especially if I would be a quality engineer and haven’t used it before. So, can you also provide some examples of industry-tailored, low-code, purpose-built apps augmenting quality management capabilities that are available on the Mendix Manufacturing Industry?


[14:33] Sebastian Bersch: On the quality system side, we talk about purpose-built apps that are available for offline sampling, sampling registrations for laboratories, handling of offline inspection executions and electronic procedures, and then also portals to include various external parties into your search for root causes in case you faced any defects. I think one of the examples, in particular, I wanted to allude to is the quality inspector app that we’ve built. And that is available on Mendix Manufacturing Industries, which basically is an application that allows you to either create quality plans in the app itself or to simply download them via Teamcenter Quality, ALM Polarion, or even any source outside the Xcelerator portfolio. And these quality plans then can have tons of tasks, tons of specific configurations that are required based on the configuration of the product that is being checked. And within these many tasks, there can be visual checks. And these visual checks might need reference pictures, they might require you as the worker to take pictures of the actual product and the defect as proof, might require you to reference multi-language failure catalogs to characterize an issue or a defect properly, could include various variable characteristics where you need to check nominal values, have an eye on the associated upper and lower tolerances as well as the control limits. You might even want to source this data immediately from a CMM or another machine that you use in your production environment directly. And then you might have all those typical attributive characteristic checks, potentially as well. You want to combine all of that with an app that guides the worker specifically to how the task is looking at this specific configuration of the product every time you do it. And obviously, you also want to do that in an environment that is adapted to the device that the worker is using. And then ultimately, you need to make sure that that you provide for the ability to consider that certain checks might need to be skipped, might need to be flagged, and then ultimately might need to be reworked at the quality gate or at the final stage. So, all of that base functionality is something that we’ve built into that template. And then again, we leave you the freedom to sort of extend the template and extend the user experience to the likings that you have, and to your needs. This app, for me, is an example that perfectly illustrates the need for low-code, no-code in quality. So, I already spoke about the need for personalization before the need to adapt user interfaces and processes to adhere to workers in different geographies, different skill sets, and so on. But even if those processes were all equal, and the qualification and the skill set of those workers would all be equal, there are still differences in what different companies in the same space need. So, one point that I always allude to in this area is sort of the four-eye principle as an example, most listeners of configure-to-order, engineer-to-order manufacturing companies will notice that as something that they practice as well. But basically, every automotive OEM has it, and I’ve worked with a couple of the premium automotive OEMs in Germany, with quite some of the Chinese brands and in Southeast Asia as well. And all of these companies have some sort of four-eye principle built into the way how they secure quality. And if you just tell them, “We have four-eye principle as an out-of-the-box feature.” Initially, it seems everyone is happy. But when you then start implementing the particular application, you recognize that in no organization, does that principle work exactly like it works in the others. When it comes to the criteria that define which defects need the four-eye principle and which ones don’t, which roles and responsibilities do regular workers have versus shift leaders, which responsibilities or certificates might be required in order to be allowed to sign off as the second signing, and so on and so forth. So, if you dive down in the details of the process, you recognize quickly that despite it being sort of the same process that achieves the same goal in every company, the way how it’s being lift, and consequently, the way how the worker needs to be guided to do it is different. That basically then illustrates the great power of low-code in that space, where the engineer now has the possibility to change the layout of the page, to change which button needs to be located where, and to even change the business logic behind the button, potentially, even include a completely new page into the application with the specific need to that principle. So, in the end, if he or she does not do that, then you would also have a clear indication that they didn’t necessarily have an issue to adhere to the process in your solution in the first place, but maybe they had a much different issue with the process to begin with.


[20:12] Bettina Pruemper: Hold on a second. Here I have to jump in with what I believe is one of the arguments, one always sees about low-code and no-code. Do I really want my engineers to spend time on building applications?


[20:26] Sebastian Bersch: Favorite topic of mine. Excellent question, a question that I seem to hear often. I can only assume that it’s rooted in some sort of misconception that happens often around the adoption of new technologies. So, the reference I like to make here is towards one of those super-typical means that I seem to see on my LinkedIn feed every second day when somebody posts this little sticker where the CFO says to CEO, “What happens if we train our people, and they leave?” And then the CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” Gets tons of likes, a super catchy way to say it. But really, for me, that is something that companies need to follow up on. And what skill set, what training in the digital age could these people be talking about, rather than making their workforce more ready for the digital age? And in that context, I think you need to see the opportunity that low-code, no-code platforms really hand to you. And you need to see it through three lenses. The first lens is at the graduates you want to hire, and at the people that have just joined your company. If they come with an engineering background, they come a lot more digitally skilled than they came before. But they also come with a different mindset. They do not want to work in an environment where they have to work in client server environments, and where they have no influence on the applications they want to work with. Because that’s not what they are used to. So, why would they want to make that step back as they join the workforce? So, you can see the adoption of low-code in your business departments as a means of being attractive to young talent. The second lens is the lens of “meet your professionals”. Look at people like me, look at people that are 10-15 years in the workforce, manager level, director level. Those people, people like me, still have to work another 25 years until we retire. And if we look at how value is shaped in any sort of industry right now, then I think we really have to recognize that software is the biggest value driver for absolutely everything.  So, I wouldn’t bank on people that that are in their 30s and 40s now, not needing any sort of application development skills whatsoever for the next decades that they are still in the workforce. It’s certainly something that needs to be considered in order to put them in a position to continue to deliver value to their companies over the course of their careers. I really think that in both of those areas, low-code is the most logical path to make that transition and to upskilling your workforce, and it’s the most natural path to creating a digital culture in your organization. And then the last lens is the lens where you look at top management actually. So, in a recent MIT Center of Information Technology Research study, it was found that companies with a digitally savvy top management team significantly outperform their peers[2]. Sounds great. So, if we have any CEOs or CFOs listening in on this, low-code is not just something to decide upon. It is something to get involved in.


[24:06] Bettina Pruemper: So, how do you think is it possible to create a digital culture that you speak of, and that enhances speed and agility across several apartments including an agile quality?


[24:17] Sebastian Bersch: That sort of connects to the previous question already a little bit. I mean, if you are okay with putting those training programs forward, if you are okay with putting the opportunities out there for low-code to be adapted in your company, you are doing certainly a great step, not the only step but certainly a very good one. Because low-code, no-code platforms are putting the content workforce first, the quality workforce, the production workforce, the engineers.


[24:47] Sebastian Bersch: The low-code platform is empowering the quality and the manufacturing domain experts in your organization across the globe, across all the locations to really transfer their knowledge into scalable applications. And then these purpose-built applications by the citizen developers, they enhance adoption, obviously, which is absolutely key to whatever change management you need when you bring in new applications. And then ultimately, they, of course, foster a change of culture from central application development and configuration to a more user-personalization-focused culture that sustains standard course, but leaves the door open for adaptation.


[25:34] Bettina Pruemper: I guess this deep-dive will be useful to provide some guidance to our listeners, and probably also to provide them with a lot of food for thought. Unfortunately, we are already at the end of today’s episode. So, to sum it up, all manufacturers know they must go through a digital transformation. But they also know they have a lot of tribal knowledge and also legacy systems on which they are reliant. So, low-code applications give manufacturers the ability to capture expertise without disrupting their day-by-day activities in a way that facilitates more rapid adoption. Thank you, Sebastian, for this great discussion, and also for sharing with us all these valuable insights.


[26:20] Sebastian Bersch: You’re most welcome. Thank you for having me.


[26:23] Bettina Pruemper: And of course, as always, I’d like to extend my many thanks to our listeners. I’m really glad you tuned in this podcast episode today. And if you enjoyed our episode, please be sure to come back for more insights about quality. Also, for further information, you can visit us online at siemens.com/teamcenterquality, and use the Contact section to reach out to us. Or you can just send us an email to MOM-marketing.plm@siemens.com. This is the “Digital Transformation for Quality Management”, a miniseries part of Where Today Meets Tomorrow. And I hope you will join us again for our next podcast episode. Thanks again and I’ll see you next time.


[1] https://www.mendix.com/resources/gartner-magic-quadrant-for-low-code-application-platforms/

[2] https://cisr.mit.edu/publication/2020_0301_TMTDigitalSavvy_WeillWoernerShah

In case you missed the previous episodes, check out the following links:

Stay tuned for the next and last episode on February 7th!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/where-today-meets-tomorrow/constructing-an-agile-quality-ecosystem-with-low-code-apps/