Enexis Tackles Industry Disruption with 100+ Low-Code Applications
The Netherlands-based utility provider is rapidly responding to changing market needs by standardizing software development and deployment with Mendix, AWS, and SAP
In 2014 Enexis adopted the Mendix low-code platform to meet the impending demand for new software. Today they have a decade of experience delivering Mendix applications, with over 100 currently in production supporting their employees and customers.
Rapid Change Requires Rapid Delivery
In the early 2010s, Enexis acknowledged that the next decade would be pivotal for their business operations as energy demand increased and the energy transition would result in a shift from gas to electricity. Simultaneously, the Enexis IT group saw that their historical ways of working introduced gaps in their technology capabilities.
The team would first opt to buy off-the-shelf, and when business counterparts could not get what they needed from the OTS options, third-party developers were brought in. They would create ad hoc solutions in .NET, Java, or C++, all of which lacked any company-wide standardization or governance. Additionally, their reliance on third-party solutions and development resources left the Enexis IT team with knowledge gaps in their landscape, resulting in security challenges and issues scaling.
“That was basically the ramp up to start building a rapid product development capability and having a standardized way to deliver software,” said Habets. “We weren’t looking to build an ERP system, but we did have the need to build smaller applications quickly for specific purposes, unique questions, or add-ons to the big systems, which would help to move our company forward.”
After an evaluation period, the team decided on Mendix to drive the thread of standardization and rapid delivery. Mendix was able to:
- Interact well with Enexis’ systems of record, primarily SAP ECC and its Industry Solution for Utilities (IS-U), enabling them to keep the core clean as they migrate to SAP S/4HANA.
- Deliver development speed that could be anywhere from 6-10x faster than traditional methods.
- Offer an App Factory model that would empower Enexis beyond just platform implementation, offering expertise around architectural, Agile, design, and training capabilities.
Armed with a new development platform and partner in Mendix, Enexis spent the following years modernizing systems of the past, delivering digital solutions for their users in the present, and structuring their architecture for maximum scalability in the future.
Powering an In-House Development Capability
Picking the right technology to match Enexis’ long-term aspirations was only half of the equation in their success. The other half was standing up an in-house development team for the first time and empowering their people to leverage this new technology.
Enexis addressed their standardization challenge by leveraging the Mendix Private Marketplace capability, where Enexis employees can discover and reuse components or applications across their portfolio from their own private Mendix Marketplace.
“The first thing we do is always create integration modules in a very specific way, and we publish them to our Mendix Marketplace and can reuse them all the time. Many of our SAP integrations are reused often,” said IT Architect and consultant for Enexis, Rom van Arendonk. “We sometimes store documents long-term on SharePoint, and that is a single module which has been reused in dozens of applications.”
Having an in-house team and a centralized development hub enables more efficient knowledge sharing between projects. “We will even reuse solutions,” said Arendonk. “When someone comes with a solution request, our architects usually know if we did something similar way back when in Mendix and can investigate if it’s possible to reuse or extend it.”
Embedding low-code—from ideation to development to deployment—has created a newfound culture of self-sufficiency within Enexis.
“The idea was to create speed and be able to respond quicker to questions and business issues,” said Habets. “In the past, something like a firewall change could take six weeks, because we had to ask our outsourcer or ask the team to do things manually. A change like that is something we can do now in six minutes. We try to do as much as possible through CI/CD pipelines, automated checks, tests, and all of that. Now, the technical IT delivery is never the issue. If you can build the functionality quickly, the deployment can be done in minutes.”
A Standardized and Scalable IT Landscape
On their path to democratizing development across the organization, Enexis’ architects have been forward-thinking in implementing governance and platform strategies that keep their systems both reliable and adaptable.
Scalability with AWS
One of Enexis’ many strategic decisions was to be proactive in migrating to the cloud. “Our outsourced hosting was ending anyway, so we needed to think about the next step—and that was: convert IT to a cloud-native architecture in the public cloud,” said Habets. “In 2018 we migrated all our IT systems to the public cloud. Today, we have a multi-cloud architecture, with the largest footprint on the AWS Cloud.”
The closeness and openness between Mendix and AWS has allowed Enexis to implement several other AWS services—such as AWS Lambda, AWS Glue, Amazon Relational Database Service, Amazon S3, and Amazon EKS—across their application portfolio.
Keeping the Core Clean on the Journey to SAP S/4HANA
SAP has a large footprint within the Enexis landscape, serving as their ERP system and being present in 30-40% of their Mendix applications. Like many SAP customers, Enexis heavily customized their ERP system over the years but is now migrating to SAP S/4HANA with an aim to keep the core clean.
The symbiotic relationship between SAP and Mendix makes this possible. Enexis can avoid doing custom development in SAP as this is where they will rely on Mendix. Additionally, Enexis can still extend critical SAP systems, for instance in the form of reusable components to integrate project, customer, or employee data. One Mendix application integrates with SAP SuccessFactors (cloud HR) and exposes this data to other applications more readily to ensure high levels of performance.
In one instance, Enexis built a project management application with Mendix to replace a PHP solution. The application is integrated with SAP, but end-users only interact with the user-friendly Mendix interface.
Enterprise Development Decision Tree
Based on the sheer size and complexity of their business, the Enexis IT team has several qualifying questions they can work through as new business needs or requests come up in the future which empower them to be agile, but still maintain consistency and quality. This includes qualifiers like:
- Can the process be managed with a commodity software system? “We wouldn’t build our own HR system,” said Habets. “We are not that unique in those processes, so for something like that we would still aim to buy.”
- Is there an existing solution that might be able to manage the process? In some instances, there may be opportunities where an existing tool, such as SAP Fiori, closely matches the desired functionality with some light configuration or extension.
- Is it a bespoke solution? For bespoke solutions, Enexis takes a Mendix-first approach. Like many large organizations, Enexis also acknowledges that other, less enterprise-ready low-code and no-code tools may exist in their landscape and has outlined clear guidance on how to use them.
“You can’t disable Power Apps for instance because it comes with Office 365,” said Arendonk. “It is a fact of life that people can just build things in it. But Enexis has a strict architecture process where you cannot do integrations outside of Microsoft with anything in Power Apps, and the guidance is still that if you want to build bespoke software, you build it in Mendix. If there is a user who wants to automate some tasks in Power Apps they can, but once an app needs to go beyond Microsoft, then we’ll do it in Mendix.”
Service Differentiation through Digitization
With well-defined processes and procedures, it’s not surprising that Enexis has delivered hundreds of Mendix applications. Their approach to the promise of delivering on innovation has made for a unique system where some applications are made solely for short-term use and sunset as needed. At any given time, their team has just over 100 applications in production, which touch nearly every area of the business.
Shifting to Self-Service
Ninety percent of the Enexis customer base has a smart meter to track energy consumption in their homes. In the past, an Enexis employee would regularly go door to door and manually collect the smart meter data, which was tracked in an off-the-shelf meter recording system. However, this solution did not have the flexibility to be customized or to include a self-service option for customers, so Enexis decided to phase out the old system and replace it with a Mendix application.
“We can decrease the demand for employees in the field by allowing customers to do self-service. We allow them to take a picture of the reading on their smart meter and upload it to the application, where we use an image recognition tool to extract the reading,” said Arendonk.
The Mendix application supports both use cases—customers who prefer the self-service reading and the smaller group who want their reading taken by an employee going door to door—allowing Enexis to offer options which keep all their customers happy.
Optimizing Outage Response
When power outages do occur, Enexis’ field engineers are the first line of response. Communication between employees in the office and in the field is critical throughout the repair process, as power must sometimes be re-routed across the network.
Initially, building a Mendix application to address this challenge was meant to be a temporary solution until a suitable off-the-shelf solution was found. However, after the team delivered this incredibly complex functionality in an easy-to-use interface in just 9 months, employee feedback suggested that it made more sense to keep the mission-critical application in Mendix.
“After people started using the application, we received positive feedback and requests for new features. We’ve extended further and further over the last few years, and at a certain point we realized that there was no need to replace a bespoke solution like this that can adapt to our needs over time. Especially when everyone is happy with the functionality,” said Arendonk.
IoT-Enabled Data Collection
For Enexis, data collection over time is invaluable, especially as their business has become more of a two-way street with consumers returning power or energy to the grid instead of just consuming it. Enexis was looking for a more automated means to modify their networks and optimize the flow of power.
“In these instances in the past, we would have to rely on weather forecasting and then send an engineer in the field to switch the networks as needed. We’ve now automated distribution and are implementing an IoT-enabled solution to support with this,” said Habets.
Enexis ingests the IoT data in Amazon S3 through AWS Kinesis, and then offers analysis and reporting in the Enexis Data Platform (EDP) using Matilion and Snowflake. “Using IoT sensors gives us a lot more data and allows us to switch networks remotely,” he added. Having access to this sensor data over time has sparked new ideas and use-cases, such as reducing energy theft and alerting engineers to disruptions.
A Change-Ready IT Culture Built for the Future
Enexis has undoubtedly delivered on their mission to standardize software delivery and deployment across the organization, and in doing so are providing more reliable, adaptable service for their customers.
Mendix plays a role in nearly every layer of the Enexis IT landscape—extending or enhancing systems of record (like SAP), delivering systems of differentiation (such as the self-service smart meter application), and serving as the primary delivery mechanism for systems of innovation.
The possibilities today are limitless, positioning Enexis for maximum adaptability as their business grows and changes. “In the past we were afraid of building bespoke,” said Habets. “Today, we’ll still buy standard software where it makes sense, but if we need something bespoke we know that we can use Mendix.”