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In today’s installment of our rapid developer series, Richard van Osnabrugge shares his experience on developing apps in Mendix. Richard is a business consultant at First Consulting, an implementation partner of Mendix. He is interested in creating business value for customers, and innovating their business. Although Richard has no coding background, he helps companies innovate by developing apps with a low-code platform. Read how Richard developed an IoT app without having a coding background.

What is your education and professional background? Did you have any prior development experience?

The only development experience I had was creating small websites when I was a kid. My father, who is a systems engineer, always brought home the latest computers and got me interested in the latest technologies. I’ve studied both Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology and worked at Fokker Aerostructures on the Airbus A380 project. However, since the aircraft industry is rather slow, I felt something was missing. Three years ago, I started working at First Consulting, a consulting company that helps companies to improve their operational performance and digitize their processes.

How were you introduced to Mendix and what was your initial reaction?

One of my interviews was with Paul ten Haaf, Business Technology lead at First Consulting, and he described one of their cases at a large energy supplier where the Mendix platform was used for digitizing their processes together with the business. My first hands-on experience with Mendix was at the three-day introduction course at Mendix HQ in Rotterdam. Trainer Rene van Hofwegen described all the ins-and-outs, and this is where I became impressed by all the possibilities.

What was most helpful in learning Mendix? How long did it take to learn Mendix?

The three-day introduction course was a good way to learn the basics of Mendix. After the introduction course, I started working on Mendix projects at First Consulting. Learning on the job and making a lot of hours has enabled me to increase my Mendix knowledge exponentially. I learned how to develop apps in Mendix in no-time, by putting the theory of the introduction course into practice and continuously asking colleagues and the Mendix community for help. 

What have you built using the platform? Which app or project are you most proud of?

Over the past couple of years I’ve worked on many innovative apps for First Consulting clients, but nothing beats the IoT app we built for Hortilux.

Together with my team I built an app for Hortilux, called HORTISENSE, that provides growers with real-time insights into the performance of their greenhouse using Internet of Things. Through sensors in the greenhouse, the app presents insights via several dashboards with, for example, the amount of light, temperature, CO2 levels, and energy consumption. Besides dashboards, the app also provides the growers with actionable insights, like the optimal lighting scheme based on sun light and energy prices, and the remaining lifetime of lights, so it can send repair notifications well in advance.

HORTISENSE allowed Hortilux to differentiate themselves, which radically transformed their business model. They shifted from a manufacturer and seller of grow lights to a total light solution provider. I enjoyed working on this project as I could deliver business value for Hortilux and increase the yield per m2 for their customers by applying an innovative technology like the Internet of Things and Machine Learning.

What did the development process look like?

We started with a proof of concept that predicted the energy prices based on historical data of the APX (the Dutch energy market) and took further steps based on this insight. This convinced Hortilux of the possibilities of Mendix. We started with a few whiteboard sessions to work out the idea for the app and used these ideas as input for the Design Sprint. During the Design Sprint, we created a prototype and, in just two months, we delivered the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that could measure both the temperature and energy quality in the greenhouse.

The MVP was delivered by a team of 7 people: two technicians from Hortilux for the integration with the greenhouse computer, two software engineers from Siemens, two Business Technology consultants from First Consulting and the Director Business Development of Hortilux. At the end of each two-week sprint, we organized a demo session for the stakeholders, which allowed us to continuously tailor the app to the needs of the business and its users.

How did you experience this process?

A major benefit of developing in Mendix is that you don’t have to constantly worry about the coding, but rather focus on delivering business value and optimizing the user experience. For example, during the development process we went to a greenhouse with a grower to see how he would use the app. There we noticed that a white background colour was not visible with all those lights. You would have never figured that out from behind your desk!

Since we were the first industrial IoT application on the Mendix platform, there were no plug-and-play IoT connectors available in the Mendix App Store yet. However, when looking back, it would be possible to make the app with the currently available connectors. This makes it even easier for people without a coding background to develop an IoT app with the use of IoT connectors.

How would you describe Mendix in your own words?

Mendix allows you to focus on delivering business value rather than writing lines of code. I use Mendix to translate my analyses and business expertise into an app. I can basically think about an idea in the morning, directly build it and give a demo in the afternoon. Moreover, the speed of developing with Mendix allows me to continuously validate an app with all the different stakeholders and adapt it to the feedback I receive.

What are your interest/hobbies outside of work?

Ah, can I safely say that sometimes I create a Mendix application for personal usage? Something about me as a person: together with my fiancée – who is an obstetrician – I live in the beautiful Rotterdam. In my free time I like to perform sports activities such as going to the gym, cycling, kite-surfing, snowboarding, etc., and I enjoy cooking and traveling. I also like to meet up with family and friends and invite them over for a delicious dinner or summer barbecue.