A conversation with Raffaello Lepratti, Mendix.
The low-code platform Mendix was acquired by Siemens in the fall of 2018. Until then, the main Mendix applications were not in the manufacturing industry, but in the financial, insurance, retail and other sectors. A lot has happened since then. Responsible for this is now the Global Vice President Industrial Manufacturing Cloud, Raffaello Lepratti, based in Berlin. After 17 years at Siemens AG and most recently Siemens Digital Industries Software, he moved to the Siemens Group of Mendix in 2021. I had the opportunity for an in-depth interview.
Ulrich Sendler: Mr. Lepratti, what attracted you to move from Siemens to Mendix?
Raffaello Lepratti: The low-code platform is a different, very appealing world. This is the first time Siemens has made an acquisition that can be integrated into the world of previous industrial software in a versatile way. Mendix offers enormous opportunities, both as an application development platform and as a complementary and bridging technology, because it is a very different technology from the industrial software we have used to date. Mendix offers a dynamism and flexibility that are incomparable with the systems that have evolved over time. Conversely, Siemens, as a globally experienced and successful go-to-market partner for this technology, opens up the entire world of industry to us, which Mendix would probably not have reached on its own. Driving low-code and cloud use in industry is an exciting task.
Ulrich Sendler: So how is Mendix different from traditional industrial software?
Raffaello Lepratti: Mendix is not limited to any application area. It is a cross-domain technology, not a supplement to IT support for a specific process or group of people. That’s why it can be used to provide access to data from different processes and disciplines for users who can or want to use domain-specific systems to perform their tasks in a more goal-oriented manner. And it is precisely cross-discipline collaboration that has become a high-priority issue throughout the industry in recent years. Another fundamental difference: With Mendix, the focus is on finding a quick solution to a concrete problem. Not fitting a new software into the existing corporate IT landscape. We are increasingly talking to those responsible for specific business processes, not just corporate IT. The third difference: The technology is easy to use and requires little prior knowledge, making it interesting not only for large corporations, but just as much for very small and medium-sized companies.
Ulrich Sendler: I had the impression in recent years that the use of Mendix in the manufacturing industry was not progressing. What percentage of the total usage does this currently represent?
Raffaello Lepratti: We see an exponential trend for industrial use. In the beginning, there was a lack of certain preliminary work that is essential for industrial use, such as so-called adaptable templates that facilitate the implementation of Mendix in certain processes. We now have a variety of such templates available on our Marketplace (image Mendix), along with industry-specific app services and a substantial set of connectors to various systems. This has fundamentally changed the development very quickly.
Ulrich Sendler: Exponential business growth in industry, that certainly can’t be done with the big customer Siemens alone, can it?
Raffaello Lepratti: No, absolutely not. The many Siemens factories are a rich source of ideas and methods, from which we draw very intensively. To a certain extent, we can also test and try out new apps and connectors in-house before we offer them to the industry as a whole. In this way, templates and solutions are first created on a company-specific basis, for example at Siemens, and then we turn the most relevant ones into industry-specific or cross-industry offerings. Our customers appreciate this. They can benefit from the experience of Siemens as an industrial company. And yes, there are now very many customers in very many industries to whose activities the exponential trend I mentioned is attributable. It is worth taking a look at the examples of Case New Holland Industrial, Kaneka, Continental or Mitsubishi.
Ulrich Sendler: After the acquisition, one could initially get the impression that Mendix and Siemens Digital Industries Software did not go together. How do things look today?
Raffaello Lepratti: Siemens has a position for direct customer contact, which we call Account Orchestrator. This person knows the customer and his or her processes in all their facets and can quickly assess whether a requirement goes in the direction of a functionality of an installed standard software, and then calls in the relevant specialists. However, if a challenge is identified that is more likely to be a Mendix issue in terms of the required speed of activation and access to specific data, then our specialists are called in. Also when it comes to democratizing data from Siemens tools such as Teamcenter or the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) solution Opcenter. Both sets of offerings complement each other very well and are not in competition with each other. My task is to dovetail the two worlds and build bridges.
Ulrich Sendler: You mentioned connectors. How many are there? And do they also exist for third-party software?
Raffaello Lepratti: There are already very many, but we see our success here not in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality. Even from the point of view of sustainability, it is no longer appropriate to develop software that is not needed or is needed only very rarely. Siemens tools have priority, but of course there are also connectors for software that does not come from Siemens. Customers often need data from order processing, from the financial system, from a wide variety of areas, which can then be linked to data from engineering or production. And the focus of Siemens’ software is, after all, the industrial core processes.
Ulrich Sendler: Does Mendix have preferred application areas for building templates?
Raffaello Lepratti: Not really. The use of low-code is not limited to any one area. The ability to make data available from a system by dragging and dropping a graphic symbol makes it generally interesting. And such tasks abound, especially in industry, because there are so many standard software systems in use in the various fields. We distinguish between two types of applications: process-specific and plant-specific. Process-specific, for example, would be an app that checks the data of a stencil for a soldering process to see if maintenance is urgent. Plant-specific would be an app with which a person responsible for a release process accesses all the data from various systems that he needs for the release.
But if you ask what is currently mainly in demand, then in industry it is clearly the development of apps for optimizing production. Overall, our Mendix Ecosystem Flywheel (Mendix image) gives a good overview of the possible fields. And each of the elements mentioned can be used individually, and customers start where they want.
Ulrich Sendler: Are Mendix and Siemens expanding the scope of their consulting work to help customers build their own solutions with low-code?
Raffaello Lepratti: We are on a good path globally with the major platform providers and the well-known consulting houses, also with regard to Mendix.
Locally, we also support the smaller partners who serve Siemens customers when they want to use Mendix for specific projects. The partners are also very active in building solutions and play a key role in the growth of our developer ecosystem. AWS, for example, uses Mendix as an application development platform and our templates as starters for faster implementation of custom solutions. Low-code is so versatile that I hope the topic will be recognized in its full potential in even more areas and companies. Especially for the digital transformation of the industry, low-code is far too important to burn it like many other topics in the past by improper offers or stoking false hopes.