BAE Systems Shares Change Management Learnings While Scaling Low-Code Development
Aerospace and security company, BAE Systems, outlines their strategies to successfully deliver 15 low-code applications in two years to enable business automation and long-term IT agility
Meeting Business Demand with Speed
Today, Hubbold is responsible for the development, testing, production, and infrastructure of Mendix applications at BAE Systems. Prior to this, he had nine years of software development experience, mostly in ABAP and UI5. While initially a skeptic of the capabilities of low-code, Hubbold did see the rationale for exploring low-code as an enhancement to the IT arsenal at BAE.
“We’ve got a lot of business-critical solutions that we just don’t know about [in the landscape], many of which go down quite often. There are many living in Excel spreadsheets. We get asked to support them but we don’t have a clue about them, so we wanted to prevent that. We didn’t want the technically minded people within the business to stop developing, but we wanted to give them a tool that we would retain governance of.” Doing this would require delivering in timelines that were more acceptable for the business.
Another bottleneck in the development process was that systems were managed by third-party providers, so getting applications into production and retaining control in-house was a challenge. The IT team had adopted an agile way of working but the current suite of tools and partners did not fit with this cultural shift. “Like a lot of businesses, we declared we were agile 10 years ago, but we didn’t really have a tool that complimented that. With .NET and Java, we couldn’t develop prototypes fast enough and get them in front of the user to get a consistent, quick feedback loop going,” Hubbold added.
The speed of development along with a high level of compatibility with existing systems of record – primarily SAP and Teamcenter – led the team to choose Mendix as their low-code platform of choice to start rapidly digitalizing across the business.
Tackling Change Head-On
Despite checking the boxes on BAE System’s platform requirements, the team was cognizant of the natural reluctance to change when new tools are introduced. To secure organizational support for this new way of working, the team conducted a one week pilot on-site with a business sponsor and their developers to deliver the prototype of an application based on a real business case.
“I’ve come from quite a technical background, and to be honest, Mendix scared me a little bit. I probably thought I was a bit above it,” Hubbold recalled.
Hubbold credits the pilot program as being integral to that hands-on experience which he recommends for all professional developers who are new to Mendix. “[The pilot] helped the developers understand the power of Mendix, that it wasn’t just a fad, and you could actually build something useful with robust functionality.” The pilot was equally influential on the business collaborators, too. “The business really liked [the pilot] because they could see what IT was improving in real-time and improvements were delivered to them quickly,” said Hubbold.
Following the success of the trial Hubbold and the team developed a clear positioning for Mendix within their solution development landscape moving forward. “We got all the developers trained up on Mendix. This wasn’t just the Mendix team – it was also the .NET and Oracle middleware teams. We shifted to a Mendix-first approach, so for all the bespoke application requests that came into IT, Mendix would be the first tool we would consider.”
Delivering Value Across the Enterprise
With the necessary stakeholder buy-in and a vision for low-code’s role in the enterprise, solution delivery has ramped up quickly for BAE Systems. Mendix Developer, Martyn Ward, recapped the progress the team has made since 2019. “We currently have about 15 or so applications in production, with another three or four going in the next few weeks. We have integrations with PLM, ERP, and planning – so that’s your Teamcenter, SAP, and Primavera 6.0 type things.”
“It used to take weeks or months to get an application from UAT intro production because our in-house IT provider used to have to sign off on the architecture, which cost us a lot of time and money. We’ve taken control of the infrastructure in that process, so that now takes about a week,” Ward said.
On the reach of the solutions they’ve built with low-code, Hubbold said, “We have quite a lot of applications in the business support area, which in the past simply wouldn’t have been created. These tend to be your Excel spreadsheets or your Access databases. Mendix was quite key in our COVID response, for instance. These are smaller applications which provide real benefit to the business.”
Today, Mendix applications are supporting areas of the business such as design, engineering, operations, supply chain, quality, and business support. Some key implementations to date include:
- A desk booking application, part of the team’s COVID response. The application allows employees returning to the office to book available desks, taking into account social distancing measures. The application was delivered in just 4 weeks by 2 trainees who had little to no historical Mendix experience and supports 8,000 users. The team was able to leverage several pre-built Mendix components, such as a module for email notifications, which reduces the potential for bugs while improving time to market.
- A task management systems (TEMS) which streamlines engineering work. One area of the business saw engineers using three separate systems to manage tasks, and originally asked if IT could rebuild the entire process in JIRA. “We came in and saw that [architecting this process in JIRA] looked like an absolute nightmare,” recalled Ward. “We showed them a design in Mendix and ended up going with it. It has integrations with planning systems like SAP, P6, and Teamcenter. They bring tasks across from all those systems and it becomes one space where the managers can show all their tasks to the engineers.”
- A part approval system, which ingests new parts on a weekly basis and routes them for approval across a variety of internal teams. The application was requested for a quick turnaround and was delivered in 4 weeks by a new .NET developer on the team. “Because it was developed so quickly, this helped the business meet a milestone that wouldn’t have been possible if it was developed in a traditional fashion,” Ward said.
Future-Proofing the IT Landscape
Hubbold, Ward, and the IT organization at BAE Systems have a clear handle on their near-term priorities to ensure they can continue delivering with the same momentum while maintaining the quality of their new applications.
“One of the things we’re going to do is get everyone rapid certified, not just the Mendix team, but everyone within the development team. Then one of the priorities for us will be a citizen developer strategy,” said Hubbold.
Lastly, for the IT organization, ensuring that internal teams are aware of what Mendix can offer will be a key priority as they scale. “I touched on the organizational footprint, but we want to make sure we’re targeting those areas of the business that don’t necessarily know about Mendix yet. We might now know exactly which capabilities we can offer them, so we’ll do some roadshows and take the tool to them and hopefully get them using it,” Hubbold concluded.