How Intelligent Automation with Mendix and AWS Drives Process Efficiency
VDS Automotive Group embraces a new era of efficiency, digitizing import and export processes for employees and customers.
When the rubber meets the road for a Toyota GR Corolla or Maserati GranTurismo in the Netherlands, car owners must navigate a web of regulations governing car imports. VDS Automotive Group stands as a go-to partner in handling this extensive process, offering import, export, and wholesale automotive services.
Customers seek out VDS as a trusted partner because of their ability to “understand [the industry’s] constants, anticipate fluctuations, and lead the way of change.” To deliver on this mission statement, VDS needed tailored software solutions to digitize employee work, improve their adaptability, and increase transparency for users.
In 2021, VDS set a mandate to digitize their business, and with it any lingering legacy, or manual processes. To achieve this, their team adopted the Mendix low-code platform to support a range of unique business needs and digitize processes from document management to tax calculation.
Navigating Development Roadblocks
In the ever-evolving automotive industry, innovation is the engine that propels success. However, VDS found itself at a crossroads. Traditional paper-based processes, a small IT team, and the inability of commercial-off-the-shelf solutions to meet their unique business needs were hindering their growth and efficiency.
Before adopting Mendix VDS experienced difficulties with its communication and record-keeping. “The teams worked at different locations, so it just became hard to know what everyone was doing,” said Lourens Akkerman, IT Manager at VDS.
“We relied mainly on Excel and email. There were separate systems made specifically for cars, stock management, even workshop planning,” he added.
“Each car has a vehicle identification number, but if you type on character wrong, it’s a huge mistake,” said Jay Cadogan, Mendix developer at VDS. “It was one and done, if you made a mistake, you’d have to start all over again in all the different applications.”
A lack of flexibility and adaptability in development also posed a challenge. “We had experience with a PHP system, but it was time-consuming to adjust as needed. When we worked with third parties, we knew what needed to be done, but development would take too long or wouldn’t meet our vision,” Akkerman said.
VDS set out to digitize their organizational processes and determined that Mendix was the perfect fit for the ambitious undertaking. “When I first tested the platform, I was very impressed,” Akkerman said. He saw the unique opportunity Mendix offered VDS: a chance to tackle the complexity of being a niche industry player.
Akkerman also appreciated that the simplicity of low-code would allow them to:
- Remain adaptable to industry changes
- Focus more on user experiences
- Decrease reliance on manual work
As the lead project manager for developing these better-defined systems, Akkerman promptly began experimenting alongside Cadogan. “We had no programmers, so Jay and I learned the platform by practicing.”
“I had basic Python knowledge, so it was a bit easier for me to understand the Mendix platform,” shared Cadogan. “Mendix is far more intuitive than Python and much faster to learn.”
Apps in the Driver’s Seat
With a new development platform, VDS began implementing solutions to improve transparency and streamline processes across several areas of the business.
Scalable Document Processing
The vehicle import process requires meticulous tracking. At VDS, this was previously managed through Excel spreadsheets and emails. In just three months, the team created the VDS Import Portal (VIP) document storage app, covering the documentation needs of over 100 external users.
VIP’s features include:
- Initiating an intake or request form that details vehicle information
- Contacting customers with quotes that can be signed within the app
- Providing automatic status updates via email throughout the process
- Offering a payment option directly in the system via Mollie
“We made a more streamlined process to follow from start to finish,” Akkerman shared. “And we’ve continued to develop the app. Now, we can track to a level of granularity that we couldn’t before, and with less effort.”
Since Mendix is able to operate seamlessly with AWS, VDS was able to leverage Amazon S3 for their document archival, making long-term document storage cost-effective and efficient. “For tax purposes, we need to have all documents in our records for up to seven years,” Akkerman explained.
“Building VIP on Mendix meant that it was simple to integrate Amazon S3 into the app. Amazon S3 provided us a means to keep the application lean and mean,” he added.
The VIP application’s ability to connect with the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (RDW) for automatic data checks was also crucial for compliance with Dutch regulations.
“Our employees really like the level of insight they can see with the new solution. We usually have 100 or 200 cars simultaneously being processed. Naturally, there are a lot of questions about those vehicles from people on various teams, but with the new solution, anyone can see a car’s status in real-time,” Akkerman said.
“When a customer calls, we can give them a correct answer immediately,” Akkerman said. “And internally, when managers are checking numbers, everything is clear.”
Taxes Made Less Taxing
Precise and efficient tax calculations for imported or exported vehicles is a non-negotiable for VDS’ business. To simplify this process for customers, VDS developed the BPM Calculator, a native mobile app that provides a faster and more accurate way to perform calculations compared to other methods.
Usually, car owners can either pay for subscriptions or go through tax offices to get these numbers. “As a Dutch citizen myself, I am painfully aware of just how difficult it can be,” Akkerman explained. “So, I decided to make something our customers can use free of charge.”
Thanks to the simplicity of low-code, the team was able to create a baseline logic for the BPM Calculator in just a couple of weeks. “The app not only gives an accurate calculation but is a much faster way for our customers to get what they need,” he added.
Akkerman emphasized how the tight integration between Mendix and AWS made execution of this new idea possible. In building the BPM Calculator, they were able to leverage AWS Rekognition to ingest license plate information and automatically match it to data from the RDW system.
The BPM Calculator offers a unique benefit: immediate response to changing industry regulations, made possible by Mendix and exclusive to VDS’s solution. “After twelve years, there was a change in the Netherlands’ regulations for importing/exporting cars,” Akkerman explained.
“The application came in handy because our customers immediately saw in real-time the difference in calculation between July 1st and the day after the regulations changed. The main data supplier even contacted us to ask how to get their API going. So, in a way, we were helping both the supplier and our customers.”
A Custom ERP System
A large win for VDS was in creating a custom ERP system with Mendix in just four months. “This is our biggest project,” Cadogan shared. “We went directly to the end users so a wide range of people could use it. I also did research on what’s important in a CRM system. Then we developed a system specifically for our company’s needs,” Cadogan said.
Mendix made it easy to create a robust central source of truth that:
- Seamlessly integrates with external systems, such as the Chamber of Commerce
- Adjusts to users’ requests as needed
“The CRM module also makes it possible to save documents. Now, everybody has access to information about customers with things like contracts in one place, so they don’t have to duplicate work over email again.”
“We didn’t have something like this before,” Cadogan shared. “We made something so users can contact customers and track interactions and what they’ve discussed. Now everyone has access to the information they need.”
Under the Hood of Success
At VDS, a rapid development platform and team are accelerating change and innovation like never before. “It’s impressive looking back and seeing what we’ve done, and I’m proud of how far we’ve all come as Mendix developers in only a couple of months,” Akkerman reflected.
“VDS employees know the processes best, so Mendix makes it very easy for us,” he continued. “It was a bold move from IT saying, ‘Give us a couple of months to prove that we can develop solutions quickly ourselves.’ And we did, thanks to Mendix.”
“They get excited about automating and digitalizing,” he added.
Now an Advanced Developer, Cadogan emphasizes the importance of the Mendix Academy and continuous learning. “I learned the most by doing it myself and through the Mendix courses. Once I got my Rapid Developer certification, I was even more eager to do more. Mendix documentation is also really good. If I have a specific question, I can almost always find something on the forum.”
“Experimenting in Mendix’s test environment is critical, too. It’s important to let people test your solutions, and it also makes for better collaboration that way,” Cadogan added.
Cadogan’s advice for those new to low-code is straightforward: “Just go out there and try it. Download the platform and go make it. If you have some affinity with IT, I think it’s very easy to become a Mendix developer if you invest some time in it.”
The Roadmap Ahead
VDS Automotive has proven their ability to navigate the road to digitalization and is steering towards a future where low-code is the engine of progress. They’ve embraced Mendix not just as a tool, but as a driving force for transformation.
“We’re not that big of a company, but Mendix helps us accomplish our ambitious goals with ease and flexibility,” said Akkerman.
The inherent compatibility between AWS and Mendix offers a foundation that Akkerman plans to continuously evolve. “For us, AWS is the cherry on top, helping make things even easier,” he added. “There are still more manual processes for us to tackle. We have some plans to do more with documents and invoices, and S3 is something we’re going to use a lot in the new systems.”
For Cadogan, every day is a new opportunity to innovate, create, and grow. “My day-to-day work has completely changed. There’s so much more creativity and freedom to do more. Each day I’m encouraged to challenge myself because I’m developing, experimenting, and learning. It’s really a lot of fun.”
“In the end, our users are grateful for what we’ve created because it makes their work a lot easier,” he added. “I have a wide range of Mendix knowledge now and can do even more projects like these.”
Mendix is a Siemens business