In a time of skill shortages, value chain disruption, changing consumer behaviors, newer business models, and unprecedented competition, manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to lower costs and reduce time to market, all while keeping pace with innovation.

The ascending influence of business technologists is also prompting manufacturers to invite non-IT employees to participate in the creation of digital capabilities. A hyperconnected manufacturing enterprise takes advantage of an organization’s systematic and human intelligence to bring increased agility to planning, production, and post-sales support.

What is a hyperconnected enterprise?

Hyperconnectivity is the foundation of the data-driven agile enterprise. It’s about stitching together people, devices, systems, and processes so that data flows smoothly between the different processes of the organization. That’s a tall order for many companies, particularly those with legacy information silos and disparate systems.

Information silos are an artifact from a time when different parts of an organization made decisions in isolation from each other. Workflows may be serial rather than parallel. Information may be locked up in paper or exist as tribal knowledge among your workforce. While that approach may have been necessary in the past, it’s not suited to the technology-assisted processes that now enable design, manufacturing, procurement, and supply chain operations to collaborate in real-time. As products become more integrated and software-enabled, traditional boundaries are blurring, not just within your organization, but between you and your suppliers and customers.

Fostering a coordinated response to design changes

To understand the benefits of a hyperconnected manufacturing enterprise, consider the example of a design change requested by a customer. Change requests typically start in the engineering organization, which must determine the feasibility of accommodating them and find the necessary parts. The engineers’ decisions have big downstream implications: Manufacturing lines may need to be modified, new equipment brought online, production schedules changed, logistics adjusted, and procurement engaged to obtain new parts.

The best time to involve everyone who will be impacted by the customer’s request is when the request is first received. Modern design, manufacturing resource planning, scheduling, and procurement tools are created to support collaboration. There is no longer any reason why manufacturing engineering should be left in the dark about the customer change request until the new product design is received. Or why the production and supply chain team should not learn about upcoming changes and needed adjustments.

Low-code platforms can be the glue that binds together siloed and core systems in a simplified and agile way. For example, Product View 360 and Plan For Every Part are Mendix low-code applications that provide visibility and collaboration across engineering, manufacturing, and production without disrupting core systems.

Providing uninterrupted service

Additional benefits that a low-code platform can provide the hyperconnected enterprise have been revealed by the “as-a-service” wave—a shift from building and servicing goods meant for a single customer to a model based on subscriptions and multi-customer use—that’s sweeping many industries. Moving to an as-a-service model allows companies to provide customers with rich digital experiences, such as being able to sign service level agreements digitally, monitor their service usage, log issues and have them resolved remotely, and order replacement parts with a click.

The move to as-a-service impacts nearly every corner of the organization, from design and manufacturing to sales and finance. A smooth transition requires every affected department to be involved in planning and execution. The required agility for this company-wide collaboration can be fostered by applications designed to work together and enable easy extension and personalization, while at the same time keeping core systems clean. By using a single all-in-one platform to create these applications, a manufacturer can achieve economies of scale, cultivate internal development competencies, bring consistency to organizational change management, and support the maintainability of their systems.

Low-code takes away the burden of software development and engages the business technologists who are nearer to the daily processes. The drag-and-drop simplicity of the Mendix platform enables the experts to build the exact functionality they need while taking a burden off the IT organization.

Thus a low-code platform like Mendix empowers organizations to pilot and transform to an as-a-service model with consistency and to avoid complex IT projects and lifecycles, all while sustaining existing business models and supporting systems.

Connecting disparate data sources

Promoting simplicity and empowering business technologists are not low-code’s only benefits. Low-code platforms can be the foundation for ambitious data integration and software modernization strategies. Applications built with low-code tools can bridge the gap between database and industrial system silos using software connectors that enable data from multiple external databases and systems to be accessed by new applications. Companies can build a simple app and, if it works well, take it to the next level with connections to other sources, bringing needed agility to supporting systems.

The advantages of low-code go beyond individual applications. The tools can be used by business technologists to bring their domain know-how into action without the burdens of complex IT project lifecycles. For example, when the pandemic brought physical distance regulations to the shop floor, enterprising technologists built the Workplace Manager app in just a few days.

Adopting a single low-code platform across the organization ensures that applications built in one location can run anywhere. It also addresses the problem of “shadow IT,” or end-users who circumvent IT backlogs by building their own applications. Shadow IT can become a headache for technology leaders, as the tools business users choose often aren’t blessed and supported by the IT organization.

But with an increasingly tech-savvy workforce and the continued rise of business technologists, shadow IT is not going away. Manufacturers will need to embrace both the collaborative creation and innovation that shadow IT brings and the technologies that will allow shadow IT to function smoothly within their organization. Low-code application development platforms are one such technology.

Hyperconnectivity extends outside of the organization

Initial applications built on low-code platforms can expose inconsistencies in data sources, as well as legacy applications that need to be modernized. It’s not unusual for a manufacturing company to have hundreds of systems. Bridging them with low-code/no-code applications can help IT rationalize which data sources and their associated applications are more consistent and reliable, allowing IT to prioritize their replacement strategy with industrial software systems.

Low-code benefits continue even when the product is in the customer’s hands. Take for example an automotive company that discovers defects in parts that had already shipped to customers. It would take weeks to pull data from spreadsheets and legacy systems to create a coherent view of where products were located in the field. Having a no-code app that connects to all those systems would let the company access the data and contact the customer more quickly. That same app would also guard against future shipments of defective parts.

A hyperconnected manufacturing enterprise, enabled by low-code tools, can better modernize their technology and processes at a pace that makes sense for them and their innovation strategies.