Low-code is playing a big role in Henkel Corporation’s digital transformation by connect remote workers with 30 shop floors all over the globe. Catarina Pinto, Henkel Digital Transformation Manager discusses how the team leverages low-code technology to deliver weekly releases across ten apps. HCL Software AVP Product Management Andrew Manby shares the role HCL Volt VX is playing at Henkel and other customers’ digital transformation initiatives. The video and a transcript of the conversation are below.
Announcer: This is Digital Anarchist.
Interviewer: Well, the really great pleasure being joined by two very fantastic people talking about low-code/no-code and some of the impact from digital transformation projects. First joining me is Catarina Pinto, who is the digital transformation manager with Henkel, and she’s – Henkel Corporation. She’s gonna be talking about their project and involve low-code and that has been taking place. And a repeat guest, returning guest sitting in the right-hand chair is Andrew Manby, who’s AVP product management with HCL Software. Welcome to you both.
Interviewee 1: Thank you so much.
Interviewee 2: It’s great to be back, Mitch.
Interviewer: Welcome back. Well, let’s do this. Andrew, why don’t you briefly introduce yourself, and then, Catarina, I’ll have you do the same, tell us a little bit about Henkel, and then we’ll go right into talking about your transformation project.
Interviewee 2: Right, perfect. So my name’s Andrew Manby. I head up product management for our HCL Digital Solutions portfolio. My specific focus and passion is really about digital transformation and using low-code to do that, and our tool of choice here is Volt MX, our low-code tool for professional developers.
Interviewer: Funny, that’s our topic today. And then –
Interviewee 1: I think this is.
Interviewer: Yes, go ahead.
Interviewee 1: Sure. Catarina. I am, as were said, digital transformation manager here at Henkel. I’m based in Amsterdam and I mainly work with the factories, so my goal is to lead partly the digitalization of the factories. I’m responsible in leading a global project that is the Connected Worker, where we basically aim to augment our workers in the shop floor. One of the biggest parts in this program is the Connected Worker apps, and that’s made with Volt MX as well.
Interviewer: Excellent. Well, I’m sure that a lot of interesting things have been happening over the last 18 months plus. How long has this project, digital transformation project been happening? Has it been more related to the pandemic, or is this part of the bigger program that’s going on across the company?
Interviewee 1: This is part of the bigger program we have. It’s one of our core pillars in the company, and it has been in full force since I joined, so 1. years ago.
Interviewer: Great. So your part of the project, would you say that’s a big component of it or one of several?
Interviewee 1: In this moment is the strongest component of it, so especially the Connected Worker apps, but we have a lot of things going on in our factories. We have a very powerful digital backbone. There are plenty of articles out there, business cases out there in terms of our digitalization in the supply chain, especially in Laundry, where I sit in this business unit. And basically what we aim is to extend this super powerful backbone that connects our machines in more than the 30 sites that we have worldwide, and also give the extra information of the user, so the knowledge of the person that is operating the machines, that is making sure that products are with extreme quality, that is making sure that everything is safe in the shop floor.
Interviewer: Now, we talked about the project you’re doing and with remote workers to the factory floor. Is that people who are across all 30 of those locations generally? Is it more concentrated in certain areas, locations?
Interviewee 1: No, we have, we are a real global program, so whenever we deploy an app it’s for everyone. It certainly helped during the pandemic because there was less need for people to be all the time in the shop floor if they are not business critical, and you can still see all the information from far away about what is going on in the shop floor, and basically are establishing a new way of communication here.
Interviewer: Great. And are you most of the way complete with this project? Are you still in the sort of early throes of it? Where are you at on your journey for this particular initiative?
Interviewee 1: So I would say that we are certainly in the scale up phase. So imagine this as a mini startup within the company where we see in the shop floor what are the processes that we can digitalize, so basically everything that is done in paper we will try to create an app or incorporate in our ecosystem so that we allow this information to be part of our data lake and really have insights from that. So we will work on everything from designing the product based on customer needs, so a lot of needs finding that is out there. Product design is also on our feet. Then we do the development with two teams of developers in this moment that we have, one in Cairo, one in Serbia. And then we also lead the implementation within the factories, so it’s a big project with a lot of scoping and that really hits all the parts of the factory, be that continuous improvement, be that safety, quality, and other departments that we are also thinking about expanding to.
Interviewer: Yeah. Mission critical for sure. So let’s talk a little bit about the role of low-code and the tools that you’re using, obviously Volt MX being one of those. And I know you’re here not as an endorsement necessarily, but clearly you’ve partnered with HCL Software and they’re playing a role in this also. Is low-code type tools, is that something relatively new to Henkel, or have you been using those types of tools for quite some time?
Interviewee 1: So they are relatively new, since the project started I would say, but it was super important for us because we really wanted to be very quick to market. And since the beginning of the project we kind of work like an Amazon company would do, so our goal is to get products that are unfinished into the shop floors, so MVPs, and make sure that we kind of use it as a playground with the people in the shop floor to get real user needs, to make sure that it’s customizable to 30 locations. So it’s really important for us to be not only fast in getting the MVP, but also fast in getting the feedback introduction of our people. So we are very people based, very customer obsessed. We really did this very big mindset shift in terms of it’s not creating the whole product and then shipping, but delivering that iteratively with the people that will use it in their day-to-day, and here low-code plays a very important role because it allows us to be very fast in getting to the market needs.
Interviewer: Yeah, a very lean approach doing MVP, rapid development iterations of your releases, so totally, that’s a great use of low-code type technology. Andrew, are you working directly with Catarina on this in the organization, or kind of observing as part of the HCL team from a little bit more distance?
Interviewee 2: I would say observing more about what they’re doing, and I think there’s a good interchange between our people in Europe working with Catarina and her team. We want to invest in some future innovation things that they’re looking at as well, and to bring those and help Catarina. Because I think part of the value that I hear from customers is us coming to the customer and saying, “Well, we’re sort of seeing these trends. How do they apply to your individual business?” And then take them through a period of exploration to really try and understand what is your digital vision? Now let’s get concrete on a specific area, and how does that innovation really help?
I think in terms of Henkel, they are a leading innovator in digital transformation. I mean I, given the types of things they’re doing, they’re very data centric and very outcome oriented, and I think this initiative dovetails. But what delights me about what some of Catarina’s point of view is very pragmatic, but it’s – I think one of the things that you said, Catarina, is when you’re interacting with the people on the shop floor, you’ve got to show the value to them directly. Right? So if it’s – I was thinking about the expression you have. It’s not only simplifying their lives, but it’s as easy as paper. It’s got to be. Yeah.
Interviewee 1: Exactly. With our biggest competitor, so in the end it’s really difficult to compete with, and that was really a key, it plays a key role that we really have the interest of the people. And if people feel ownership in the sense, oh, I asked for this feature. Two days later it was there, it’s so much more important. They understand. And in the beginning I had to do a lot of push to say, “No, please give me your feedback. Bring me your problems. That’s exactly why I am here. I’m contacting you every day.” Until the problem today that is I get my inbox flooded with all the requests, and I don’t know where to turn to. But I think it’s much, much more – it’s a much better environment.
Interviewee 2: Yeah. So that’s actually interesting, Catarina, ’cause you’ve reached that sort of tipping point where it’s actually, instead of being push, it becomes a pull –
Interviewee 1: Exactly, and that –
Interviewee 2: – from the factories, which is tremendous, and I think you were also telling me where they’re actually saying now is, you know, we want these features and we want more iPads. Right?
Interviewee 1: Yeah, and that’s a big pull from the company as well, but I think it’s, I see it as a very positive insight into the program. Just building on the previous point, for example we are trying to build now a product, also app-based, but the idea is that it’ll be a company-wide product, so be for all the functions within the factory. And especially in the beginning I was a little bit unsure. I was thinking maybe this is too much. And then one of the factories just told me, “Hey, if you add these two little things, I can push this all over the factory.” Like okay. One week later, they were implementing in all functions, and I got, wow, that’s amazing. I didn’t even need to do marketing because their, it was one of their biggest needs, and we are really cooperating with HCL to really take this to the next level, and I think it will be a very awesome product.
Interviewer: What’s interesting is over so much time people have gotten conditioned when requesting technology applications, systems, you know, they don’t get what they want very quickly, at least they haven’t historically, and so I imagine it’s a big shift, a big mind – initially they didn’t expect you to be able to deliver as quickly as you are, and now that they are, of course, they flood your inbox. Right? Be careful what you ask for, too, right?
Interviewee 2: Yeah. Yes, exactly.
Interviewee 1: _____.
Interviewer: I’m curious, how many people do you have working on the project? And is this inside IT? Is this outside of IT? How’s it considered –
Interviewee 1: No, it’s inside IT. So we have in this moment four developers sitting in two places, two kind of scrum masters, say it like this. I act as product owner as well, so I have a lot of hats during the development of the products, so from end to end of the products, but that’s basically the core of the team. So very, very small team, and we really need – it’s like I said, like almost a mini startup, and we have ideas and we say, “Okay, find a way to do it. Let’s do it. Let’s put this into the ground and let’s make people happy with what we do.”
Interviewer: Are you doing sort of an agile two-week sprint type approach?
Interviewee 1: One-week sprint –
Interviewer: Are you doing more DevOps release it as it’s ready, it’s tested, it’s good to go?
Interviewee 1: In this moment we are doing one-week sprints, so really we – especially because we have a lot of apps simultaneously. So we have in this moment around ten apps that are part of our major ecosystem that all need some kind of maintenance or they have new requests from the guys on the shop floor, or I have new ideas that I want to implement. They are based obviously in customers’ feedback. So it’s really very, very fast. We don’t release in all of the streams of course, but we try always to be very based on customer requests and superuser centric.
Interviewer: So how would you say using low-code, using Volt MX low-code kind of tools, how does that – has it fundamentally changed your ability to deliver that quickly? Is it that revolutionary? Is it sort of an evolution of a journey you’ve been on to get to this point? How would you describe it?
Interviewee 1: I think it certainly helps, and especially with the connection with HCL that provides a lot of support so that we can also take advantage of this low-code product, that we can create things that are repeatable. Right? That we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time that we build something. And here really the size of the market decreases, yes.
Interviewer: Interesting. And something Andrew and I have talked about is the citizen developer, the professional developer, inside, sometimes both inside IT, can also be external. Would you consider your team more of a professional development team as what people – that’s their jobs is being developers, or are these citizens, business people sort of performing the development functions?
Interviewee 1: In this moment a little bit more towards the professional developers here, because we really are not that big and we really have a lot of apps, so we really need to be a little bit more focused on that.
Interviewer: Interesting. I’m curious, Andrew, what do you see – you see some commonalities between things that are contributing to the success that Catarina is having at Henkel that you maybe have seen with other customers?
Interviewee 2: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean our focus, Mitch, is predominantly in enabling people like Catarina and Henkel with the professional development teams, and they don’t need to be big teams. I mean you can tell they’re a very agile team, a very responsive team. It’s very impressive to hear that. In our world, it’s really that idea if they’ve got the vision around the digital transformation and a willingness to be able to do that, we can help facilitate to do that very quickly with them, and I think it’s really that partnership. Sometimes that’s simply just being able to sit down, train, work with the customer, train them, build some prototypes, and sometimes it’s a little bit more of a discussion around a business process that they want to re-engineer. And we have a, what we call a studio process where we can bring them in, we can reimagine or think about what that would look like, build a prototype, and then get the feedback from the people on the ground about whether that would work. And sometimes either of those approaches works. it just really depends, I think, on the maturity of the organization.
But what I also find interesting, which is embedded in what Catarina was saying about the only if you add that couple of thing, you know, we’re seeing that – we did a session recently with Jarrod from VELCO which is up in Vermont, the Vermont Electric Company, and they’re like the nation’s first purely distribution network, and they’ve got about 15 apps out there and they’re starting to think about how can they sort of consolidate some of those apps and build some super apps in the area of field service. So we’re seeing the folding in on some of those developments to go in new directions, but one of the impressions and the feelings I get talking to the customers, where they start and where they end up are two different places. I mean like the old adage, right? There’s always new ideas that come from customers that take them in different directions. In the case of VELCO, they have a scientific application which is part of the government reporting to say, you know, in times of hot temperature, what happened on the loading of the transmission lines. So that required them to integrate with MATLAB software and lets you do some heavy computational analytics.
So I mean what we’re seeing is people are asking the questions, and we’re sitting down with them and figuring out how to do it, so it’s an exciting time.
Interviewer: It definitely is. And Catarina, sorry for stumbling on your name. I’m curious, success breeds more success, or certainly brings a lot of attention, and one of the things that’s happening in this whole COVID time acceleration of digital transformation projects is as people had success other parts of the organization started looking at that and say, “Well, how come they can deliver in a week, and we deliver every two months,” or every whatever. Are you getting some attention from the rest of the organization? Is that part of why you’re adding more apps, or are other groups looking at potentially spinning up and doing low-code kind of work?
Interviewee 1: A little bit of both. So from our organization, I would say yes because we are really working, maybe we are even extreme agile because we are one-week sprint. But the mindset shift of delivering products to the shop floor that are not extremely ready, that are still to be improved, that are lending pages in apps that then are created with the people, I think it’s an almost new paradigm shift that we are starting to see more and more and more, and people are also requesting things that are more useful for them for their daily lives.
And one of the things that we are also doing is we are going into this exact idea of having less mini apps and have one core that connects our backbone to different modules, and the apps worked basically as modules and puzzle pieces. And that’s more or less type of ecosystems that we want to have, one thing that connects everything that’s basically our core, this big problem that I was talking about, and then having the different workflows that the guys have to do every day, just piece in in order to make the complete puzzle.
Interviewer: Wonderful. This has been fascinating. Thanks for sharing your story with us, and congratulations on your success, and congratulations also to the HCL software team with a very apparent, a happy customer and productive team using your technology and leading digital transformation. Catarina Pinto, thank you for joining us from Henkel, and Andrew Manby, thank you of course from HCL Software.
[End of Audio]