Future-Proofing Critical Field Service Operations with Mammoet

Mammoet rebuilds a mission-critical field service application, improving end-user experience and long-term architectural fit

Highlights

  • The Mammoet Task Application (MTA) originally built in Java was reaching end-of-life due to out of service integrations, presenting usability challenges for crane operators in the field
  • Mammoet’s IT team leveraged low-code to rebuild the application, as it met their key criteria to be fully native and not disrupt the end-user experience
  • The new MTA supports 700 users and has contributed to Mammoet’s long-term architectural strategy by seamlessly integrating with both SAP and Microsoft Intune, while also reducing dependency on third-party systems

Every day, 20 million field service workers around the world are directly overseeing critical assets, projects, and customers. At Mammoet, a member of SHV holdings, their expertise is in the lifting and transport of heavy objects from turbine blades to city infrastructure, all with the utmost safety. The field workers who deliver on that promise of safety and quality rely on critical technologies and applications to meet the demands of their job.

This includes Mammoet’s crane operators, who use the Mammoet Task Application (MTA). When the planning team schedules a task, the crane operators receive the details of the request on a tablet. Once they complete the job, workers  adjust the status of the task in the MTA and request an approval from the customer. Once customers approve the completed task, the app sends the task through to SAP, where invoicing is automatically started.

Originally built in Java, the MTA was reaching its end of life both from an IT and end-user perspective:

  • For the IT team, several systems integrated with MTA were no longer compatible (MicroVPN and Android versions).
  • For the crane operators in the field, these incompatibilities required that they regularly restart the app or tablet in order to complete their work.

Avoiding end-of-life risk in a critical system

Responsible for the backend of such a critical business operation, the Mammoet IT team knew they needed to act quickly when cracks started to form in the connection between their MicroVPN, a secure connector for crane operators to the corporate network, and MTA. Digital Innovation Officer at Mammoet, Dion van den Bosch, has been contributing to digital growth at Mammoet for nearly five years and was part of the cross-functional team charged with finding a new solution to rebuild the application.

“The MicroVPN solution itself became outdated and out of support. The plan was to upgrade that VPN solution, but the old MTA was not compatible with that new system,” said van den Bosch. “We also had to update the MTA, [but] because the application was built three years ago, the developer that initially built it was not there anymore and the knowledge was gone.”

“It became more apparent that, not only from our side [that MTA] wasn’t working anymore but also from the crane operator side. They had to start and close the application or restart the whole tablet to make everything work again,” recounts van den Bosch. In some regions, the lack of accessibility even prompted some operators to regress to paper processes in order to get the job done.

With several factors pressing them to move quickly, van den Bosch and his team decided on low-code to complete the job and avoid potential collapse. “We already had Mendix and it has been part of [our IT] strategy for quite some time as one of the tools to develop these custom applications once one of our best-of-breed solutions or ERP system does not answer the question,” he said, “So building the MTA in Mendix was, in our perspective, a no-brainer.”

Making field service management accessible and flexible

Prioritizing Usability

Right out of the gate, Mammoet set clear priorities for their low-code rebuild. “The two main requirements for the new MTA were native functionality and to minimize the impact for the end-users,” summarized van den Bosch.

From an accessibility standpoint, a native mobile application would allow crane operators to perform their jobs regardless of location or connectivity.  Operators work in every type of environment and they needed an application that would function as-needed whether they were in a city with 5G network or far afield with no internet access at all.

In addition to this, and to minimize disruptions, the IT team could not stray from the design and functionality of the existing MTA interface. “One of the requirements was that it needs to be an as-is migration, so the application itself could not really look different from the old one… the user adoption here has to be as good as it was before and we don’t have to do a whole workshop again to show everybody how to use the application,” said van den Bosch.

 

A seamless connection to SAP

The last step in the MTA application process is seamlessly passing work status data to SAP for invoicing. Based on previous projects, van den Bosch and his team knew that this was a characteristic native to Mendix.

 “We already had two other applications running and communicating with SAP,” he said. Building in Mendix would cause no disruption to the application’s ability to run in their SAP cloud instance as needed and would integrate well with their future systems of choice based on its architectural flexibility.

Speaking about their decision to use Mendix to rebuild the MTA application, van den Bosch said, “It really helps us with the interface and backend systems – so the MTA application – but also our backend systems and cloud deployment strategy. It was all in line with the things that we already have.”

 

A strategy of self-sufficiency

“The old application was a real black box for us. Nobody knows what was going on in there, how the communication went between the systems, and what the application was doing with the data it gets back from SAP,” van den Bosch continued.

The visual nature of low-code and the lower barrier to entry makes it easy for the app functionality to be understood and modified by any developer. By rebuilding the application with less reliance on third-party platforms and groups, the Mammoet IT team could ensure there was no single point of failure in their future projects. Additionally, the migration included removing systems, such as SAP Mobile Platform and XenMobile, resulting in €100K+ cost savings.

Mammoet kicked off the rebuild with Mendix in March 2020. The team consisted of a project lead and a senior developer from Mendix partner, Timeseries. Even in the face of some team changes along the way, the project was completed within one year.

Strategic IT results in a better employee experience

Since its launch in February 2021, the new MTA has been processing over 5,000 job-related tasks each month with a user base of 700 people. Due to low-code’s flexible and agile nature, small changes have been made easily to maintain the migration. Van den Bosch and his teammates have appreciated the ease of use and transparency.

With the debut of Microsoft Intune alongside the improved MTA, van den Bosch and his team participated in an extensive rollout onsite with crane operators for five months divided over 14 branches to work through any questions. “When I talk to one of the crane operators, they definitely say it has been an improvement over the last version,” says van den Bosch.

The benefits extend beyond crane operators by taking pressure off planners and the IT team. Previously, error messages would be delivered to the crane operators in the form of a code without any context. The crane operator would have to relay this to the planner, and then IT to decode the error message – all standing in the way of the team working on a solution right away. One minor adjustment that has taken time and stress off projects is displaying a full-text error message, which allows planners and operators to start investigating and working on a solution immediately. Next to that, having an admin center on the server-side of the MTA application gives Mammoet IT the ability to look into data that is on the tablet, improving the transparency of the total application.

Using low-code has helped the Mammoet IT team provide transparency not only for app end-users, but also amongst their own stakeholders. “During the rollout, I was able to make adjustments that the senior developers were doing, and I’m not a senior developer. When one of my colleagues looks inside the MTA, they can already see what’s going on. So that has helped us a lot… Getting more transparent and [having] better maintainability,” van den Bosch commented.

Increasing transparency and usability in mission-critical applications enables the Mammoet IT team to avoid getting hit by the legacy lag again. Just as the success of prior projects positioned Mendix as a viable solution in rebuilding MTA, the team sees this win as a launchpad for future custom endeavors with low-code.

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