Centralizing Resources and Funding for Thousands of Athletes

Deutsche Sporthilfe’s low-code app, Meine Sporthilfe, creates a single, digital interface for athletes to manage and track funding to support during their life and career transitions

Before future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki became the highest scoring international player in the NBA, he was one of the 55,000 athletes who received funding from Sporthilfe. Since 1967, Deutsche Sporthilfe – The German Sports Aid Foundation – has provided financial support to outstanding sports talent and top German athletes during crucial developmental stages of their journeys, so they can achieve the goals they might not be able to otherwise. Many superstar athletes like Nowitzki not only give back to the program after reaching their goals but go on to represent Germany as role models and ambassadors both at home and internationally.

Today’s Sporthilfe program distributes around €25 million per year to more than 4,000 athletes across professional, Olympic, and paralympic endeavors, and provides support in the transition period from sporting career to professional life. The funds come from corporate sponsors, government grants, individual donors, program alums, and other fans of German sport.

With a growing roster of athletes and supporters – all with increasingly complex tasks and requirements – Sporthilfe’s leaders knew their legacy systems and analog operational workflows were ready for a digital overhaul. This included creating a modern, web-based platform to handle administrative and self-service processes for both athletes and managers, a project which Deutsche Sporthilfe ultimately chose to deliver with low-code.

Digitizing to Serve a Diverse User Base

The athletes supported by Sporthilfe come from myriad backgrounds, perform at different levels, and face multifaceted real-life situations ranging from funding tutoring lessons for training-related absences at school to loss of earnings reimbursement if an athlete is already integrated in working life in addition to his sporting career. “The demands a 15-year-old swimmer are completely different than those of a 35-year-old equestrian,” said Jens Broermann, Sporthilfe Head of IT. “From equipment to living situation, to the involvement of parents, clubs, and associations.”

There are thousands of changes an athlete could make to their situation, each with funding implications. The previous funding workflow at Sporthilfe was made up of historically more manual processes, such as sending PDFs in email. “When we asked ourselves if we needed to digitize more,” said Oliver Morbach, external consultant. “The answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’”

The Low-Code Approach to a Many-Faceted Problem

With the support of the board of directors, Broermann, Morbach, and the Sporthilfe team began a journey to provide the best possible experience for their athletes and their supporters while fulfilling their overarching goal of promoting German sports and the German Sports Aid Foundation – Sporthilfe.

“We want to develop and position ‘Meine Sporthilfe’ as an application for our athletes so that they can handle their entire service and communication requirements within the app,” said Morbach. That required a front end that made it easy to see and update their funding data, submit applications, and get answers to questions quickly. A backend solution to process athlete-generated funding submissions, changes, and requests were on the list of improvements.

After meeting with their digital advisory board, Sporthilfe knew they wanted a solution that they could implement quickly, which would scale with their growth and changes to the technology landscape. In addition, they also wanted to simplify programming with low-code and saw the value of citizen development.

“Our goal is to create and govern a sports aid platform, where all the key stakeholders have their home,” said Broermann. “Once everyone is on one platform, very exciting processes and communication channels can be developed to create connections and enthusiasm, and to generate donations for our athletes.”

The Sporthilfe team created a plan and approached their development agency in Frankfurt, Proventa. Proventa has experience designing platforms for enterprise-level clients, and – after learning of Sporthilfe’s goals of a digitized app and eventual full-service platform – they introduced Broermann and his team to Mendix.

Building Front-End Efficiency

In collaboration with Proventa, the Sporthilfe team decided to build Meine Sporthilfe as a progressive web app — one that they could easily optimize for smartphones and tablets but one that works on desktop and laptop computers equally as well.

“Our users agree that sometimes it is more pleasant to work on a desktop or laptop, especially when it comes to filling out forms and answering questions,” said Broermann. “We have 4,000 athletes that we continuously support. We simply need to have a 100 percent solution, one that works on all levels.”

Mein Sporthilfe application interface

The design philosophy was to keep everything simple and intuitive, with navigation points, page flow, and features oriented toward the athletes. The priority for the Sporthilfe team was to take in the needs of a diverse athlete base and distill app features into easy-to-understand options and workflows. “The first page is a classic start page,” said Broermann, “With a news banner, with individual funding data for each person, with a calendar function and the usual navigation.”

The Mendix Studio and Mendix Studio Pro page editor feature allows for quick interaction and page modeling, which can be run locally or deployed with one click. After mapping the requirements, Sporthilfe felt confident passing the interface work on to Proventa. “We are working on different projects in a lot of different places,” said Broermann. “But our goal is to create enough capacity so that we can do simpler things ourselves.”

A Gold Medal Performance

In the new Meine Sporthilfe application, athletes have new self-service functionality that supports:

  • Onboarding experience: The entire admission process of each athlete into the support program of Deutsche Sporthilfe has been digitized.
  • Accessing and editing profile information: Athletes can view or change their addresses, bank details, and more.
  • Applying for grants, jobs, and special offers: Athletes can fill out and submit funding applications, find an internship especially designed for athletes, or sign up for programs and special offers, such as free eye exams or contact lenses.
  • Getting a comprehensive funding overview: Athletes can see how much they have received, what they will receive in the next few months, and even project what they will make based on grants and other support.
  • Accessing and saving important documents in their archive: Athletes have readymade access to essential documents and forms for applications and tax purposes.
  • Reaching on-demand support: Athletes can chat with their contact at Deutsche Sporthilfe.

“We have already received positive feedback on the app,” said Broermann. “The athletes are happy that they can update their profile and submit paperwork outside of business hours. They like how everything is on one interface and that individual funding data–information that was not previously available–is easily findable. There are many new things that simplify life for athletes and sports aid through automation.”

With Mendix, Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

As their digitization project ramped up, Sporthilfe created a roadmap for where they wanted to take their platform. The team hammered out ideas with their digital advisory board. Together, they emerged with a plan that incorporated their active athletes, athlete alums, sports aid stakeholders, and funding sources. Connecting all the dots was exciting for Sporthilfe but also clarified their need for more technical horsepower.

“We knew we wanted to use Mendix as a hub to pull together the various data sources and use Mendix to automate processes that are not externally visible, but rather internal processes,” said Broermann. “For example – in the B2C area – looking after small donors with our Fundraising Box, a specialized application for online donations. Or Clever Reach, which is a classic newsletter mailing tool that also automates the internal processes. Anywhere that we had to manually extract data from one application in order to enter it into another application or manually transfer third-party data we try to use Mendix as a Data Hub.

Updated Processes, Updated Workflows

Before the introduction of Mendix and the creation of the Meine Sporthilfe app, Sporthilfe IT projects were ad hoc and compartmentalized. These IT projects were disjunctive and generally worked only within the context of the project, with manual or analog processes serving as the bridge between technologies.

“We had less complex IT projects up to now, which resulted in various data silos and isolated sites,” said Broermann. “An attempt was then made to solve our technology challenges with separate isolated solutions, within separate specialized departments. Now, because of the way Mendix is structured, we find it’s much better to work with an agile, scrum-based methodology, which we’ve never done before.”

Working with their partners, Proventa, in addition to enterprise resource planning (ERP) and SAP experts, All for One, Sporthilfe began programming in March 2021. The app, which offers a modern interface to existing SAP services, was ready for pre-launch testing with a small group of athletes less than eight months from breaking ground, followed by a big rollout to all the athletes by October. It wasn’t long till they saw 80 percent adoption from their targeted user base.

“Since then we have been continuously expanding. We started with an MVP that covered the basic functions, such as insight into funding applications, self-service submissions, and a personal profile,” said Broermann. “We have been continuously developing, always thinking from quarter to quarter, from increment to increment.”

From App to Platform, Democratizing Development

Seeing the possibilities of Mendix, the Sporthilfe team has ambitions to leverage business contributors more readily in future development projects. “Even if we aren’t quite ready yet, this was an important point,” said Broermann. “But in addition, because we’re using a low-code approach, even if it’s without citizen development, it has made life easier for the programmers. They no longer have to write every single line. They still have to build in some high code, but that is absolutely within limits.”

While many aspects of the app are still in development and parts of the future platform are only planned, the Sporthilfe team is excited by the prospect of incorporating new features and functionality using a low-code application development framework.

“Consider that we started programming only one and a half year ago and have had the app for approximately five months. What we’ve already built, what we’ve already discovered, and what new possibilities that have opened up since, that’s very rapid,” said Broermann. “If you tell the story to a circle of acquaintances or business partners, their reactions are always the same: ‘Wow,’ they say, ‘that went quite quickly for you.’”