Accelerate App Delivery at Scale with Mendix and AWS
Multinational health and nutrition company, DSM-Firmenich, enlists Mendix to rapidly develop 150 custom digital solutions, extend core SAP systems, and deploy on AWS.
With over 30,000 employees and operations in nearly 60 countries DSM-Firmenich conducts business across a broad portfolio spanning four key units: 1) animal nutrition and health, 2) health, nutrition and care, 3) perfumery and beauty, and 4) taste, texture, and health.
The sheer scale of their operations at the intersection of science and manufacturing places a unique emphasis on sustainable, efficient, and transparent business practices.
Over the last twenty years DSM had grown partially through a series of mergers and acquisitions, most recently the merge with Swiss fragrance and chemical company Firmenich in May 2023, making DSM-Firmenich an innovator in nutrition, health, and beauty.
The diversification of their product portfolio also resulted in the integration and merging of many technology systems which contributed to a lack of standardization and oversight in IT.
Prior to their merging, DSM-Firmenich adopted the Mendix low-code platform in 2017 to centralize custom solution delivery and support their ongoing digital transformation. Today, they have a portfolio of 150 Mendix applications deployed on AWS which are extending core systems like SAP, replacing legacy solutions, and delivering modern user experiences.
Reducing manual, redundant work and increasing process automation with Mendix is enabling the joint organization – DSM-Firmenich – to improve efficiency, responsiveness, quality, and transparency across the organization.
Regaining Control in IT with Mendix
DSM-Firmenich has always evolved with the world around them. One half of the company shifted from coal mining in the early 1900s to petrochemicals, to being a leader in Nutrition, Health and Sustainable Living.
The other half was founded in 1895 in a garage by a visionary creator and scientist, growing to the world’s leading privately-owned fragrance and taste company. Now together, the joint organization is a nutrition, health, and beauty innovator.
A key driver of their business evolution in the last decade is greater investments in technology that improve customer engagement, increase operational efficiency, and support new business models.
To deliver on these objectives, DSM-Firmenich set out to address a lack of standardization within their IT landscape which was caused by:
- Employee or third-party developed Shadow IT solutions that were difficult to maintain
- Limitations in core systems, such as SAP, to rapidly deliver enhancements or customizations
- Disparate or inconsistent systems either because of regional implementations or M&A activities
Addressing these pain points with traditional or high-code development would be a costly and time-consuming exercise, which led DSM-Firmenich to evaluate low-code platforms in 2016. After looking at low-code development leaders DSM-Firmenich selected Mendix as their platform of choice due to its:
- Cloud-native capabilities, which would enable seamless deployment to their private AWS cloud instance
- Compatibility with the Agile methodology, aligning with broader business priorities and their ability to deliver a bimodal IT strategy
- Proven ease of integration with other systems, especially SAP
One of the internal champions driving DSM-Firmenich’s Mendix strategy for the last two-and-a-half years is Technology Development Chapter Lead, Anouke Tielens-Coenegracht. “My team has been working with Mendix for the last five years to centralize development across the organization and keep our IT team in control,” said Tielens.
Tielens and her group have taken a methodical approach to low-code development by enlisting Mendix best practices around digital execution. DSM-Firmenich placed an early emphasis on their platform architecture, team structure, and project fit to ensure scalability.
Scalable Technology and Teams
Abstraction and automation are native to the Mendix platform. This enables DSM-Firmenich to manage a robust portfolio of applications at a much lower overhead cost than a traditional high-code portfolio which might require expensive and specialized developers.
Technology Development Expert Wouter Vijverberg has been with DSM-Firmenich for 15 years, managing platforms such as SAP, WebMethods, AWS, Azure, and now Mendix. “From a support perspective our historical landscape became quite hard to maintain because every solution had its own technology with no in-house knowledge,” said Vijverberg.
Deploying to their private AWS cloud instance is another seamless point in the development lifecycle. “Right from the start we decided to use AWS’ platform to host our Mendix applications. We created CI/CD pipelines to deploy to our private cloud,” Vijverberg recalled. “By doing this, it was easy to deploy multiple apps in a completely automated way.”
The Mendix Marketplace offers several connectors, APIs, and components which developers can readily drag and drop into their applications. The development team realizes even greater efficiency by leveraging and contributing to their own low-code ecosystem.
If the team creates a connector that has potential to be reused elsewhere in the organization, they will publish it to their own Private Mendix Marketplace or incorporate it into their “Kickstarter App” template. This enables other developers to reduce repetitive coding work and know that they are leveraging a piece of functionality that has been created and approved from within IT.
“The Kickstarter Application comes with our default branding and styling so that our applications all look and feel consistent. It also includes single sign-on,” said Vijverberg.
Working within Mendix and the Agile framework facilitates this necessary knowledge sharing amongst Tielens’ global team, which stretches from India to Brazil, and consists of 25 internal and external team members.
“Our program has dedicated squads which focus on a specific business area. There are multi-disciplinary teams that come together, some of which have dedicated Mendix resources who are responsible for building, supporting, and maintaining applications. The squads track any new demands or requests from the business area. Next to that there is a dedicated Mendix Core Team that covers any additional applications that are not connected to any of these squads,” said Tielens.
Successful Mendix developers at DSM-Firmenich aren’t all cut from the same cloth – they may have backgrounds in Java, SAP, or front-end development. Vijverberg himself started off as an SAP expert then shifted to integrations and API management before learning Mendix. He sees some commonalities in successful Mendix developers – they have some understanding of how applications work, and they are eager to learn about new technologies.
Defining Mendix Project Fit
For an organization of DSM-Firmenich’s size, there is typically no one-size-fits-all approach to development. Tielens, Vijverberg, and their team have been tactful in carving out specific criteria where Mendix delivers the greatest value amongst their other existing development options.
First, solution architects, technology experts, and business stakeholders will look to existing systems of record to see if their needs can be met. For instance, if a use case is limited just to data or products within their robust SAP landscape, some light customization in SAP may be the right path forward. Mendix can be another means for DSM-Firmenich to “keep the core clean.”
“We are not running on the latest version of SAP, so the guidance from our architects is to put SAP in a box. We don’t want to change too much on SAP anymore, but instead we can use Mendix as a patch to incorporate additional functionalities,” said Vijverberg.
Other criteria might be the intended device usage of an application or potential for integrations – which is particularly useful as M&A occurs.
“Mendix integrates quite well, so if you have to connect multiple systems, Mendix can be used as the orchestrator to connect the APIs or become the UI into a database,” Vijverberg said.
DSM-Firmenich ployees may also use the omnipresent Power Platform (or PowerApps) for personal productivity projects. However, there is no dedicated IT support, so if solutions need support or enhancements then IT may rebuild them in Mendix for further customization.
In DSM-Firmenich’s portfolio of 150 applications, roughly 50% interact with one or more SAP instance with use cases including:
- Pricing and quotations
- Mobile warehouse execution
- Mobile maintenance execution
- Master data workflows
- Customer portals
One instance is their Customer Invoice Portal which replaced manual order tracking between email inboxes and SAP. Customers can still send information by email which is automatically downloaded and sent to an optical character recognition (OCR) machine learning tool to extract the relevant fields needed to generate an order. If the information is complete, then the order is automatically created in SAP including any relevant attachments.
“Customers also can enter a portal to upload their requests and directly connect them to a purchase order,” said Tielens.
The process is also easier for the internal Customer Service team. They can enter a portal to correct purchase orders with missing fields, add or correct information, and then, with one click, create the sales order in SAP.
Innovating with AWS
DSM-Firmenich has seen further compatibility between Mendix and AWS over the last five years beyond just cloud deployment. Their portfolio of Mendix applications interacts with services such as Amazon S3 for file storage, Amazon Textract for document processing, and AWS Lambda for serverless compute.
“There might be instances where Mendix has a gap, but we can readily use AWS services to bridge that gap,” said Vijverberg. “One example is a video learning application where in the production environment QR codes are labeled on machines or equipment. An employee can scan the QR code and the video instructions for that item will play right on their device. That’s an example where we use a combination of AWS and Mendix to stream the video to the application for playback, without the need of storing the video in the Mendix database.”
Vijverberg’s expertise with both platforms won him first place in the AWS Challenge at MxHacks in 2022. The application – while a project outside of DSM-Firmenich – was a key proof point of the agility and compatibility between Mendix and AWS for Vijverberg. “The hackathon objective was to create an application for newcomers, to make them feel connected and provide a place to ask for help across language barriers,” he said.
“I created an application that uses Amazon Rekognition for labeling images, Amazon S3 to store the images, and AWS Polly and AWS Translate for translation and text-to-speech. As a result, I created an application where the user could take a picture – for example of a beach – and the app would recognize it, and then use Amazon Translate and Amazon Polly to deliver a description in their native language both in text and audio.”
Applications like this serve as proof of the democratization of development that is native to low-code. Developers like Wouter do not need to be experts in every technology domain to deliver valuable and interesting solutions and can readily enhance Mendix applications with innovative AWS services.
“They created a platform and complete package where everything came together in a really nice way. I was not part of the initial Mendix team here at DSM-Firmenich, but it was an open environment. I created an account on my own and expressed my interest, and I had all the freedom to learn it and be part of the team, where now I am one of the key developers.”
Rapidly Adapting for the Future
In terms of what’s next, for Tielens, the priority is still quality over quantity – though the quantity is incredibly impressive. “As we’ve just started our merge with Firmenich, we’re going even deeper into evaluating our IT blueprint and determining what is the right tool to use for a specific business process,” said Tielens.
Some of these apps are only temporary in nature and can be sunset once the underlying systems have been rationalized, but using Mendix in the interim period will give employees a better user experience as they integrate. “It’s a great example of how Mendix and AWS have made us more agile and responsive to change,” said Vijverberg.
Tielens, Vijverberg, and the team can continue tackling merging IT landscapes, legacy systems, and new customer needs at a rapid pace, thanks to the sound foundation created around the Mendix platform and their structured approach to development.
“For me, the platform has really proved its value with how quickly you can make changes and then directly see the impact of that change in a controlled way,” said Vijverberg.
“We can really quickly do a proof of concept and see if it works, and if it doesn’t we can move on easily to the next case,” said Vijverberg, “which is important when you’re always working towards innovation.”