Royal IHC is an international supplier of innovative and efficient equipment, vessels and services for the offshore, dredging and wet mining markets. More than 3.000 employees work on site and from offices worldwide to offer customer support on every continent. The company is facing continuous change in customer requirements and global competitive pressure. In order to maintain its leadership and provide customers with innovative solutions, digitalization is an important part of IHC’s strategy. To advise and execute on this strategy IHC works with Bizzomate.
“Digitalization is of strategic importance for IHC”, says Jan van der Wouw, Director Digital Business at Royal IHC. “Therefore, we’ve launched among others a specific digitalization program aimed at digitalizing existing processes and developing new solutions, called OneIHC. To achieve our ambitions, we needed a long-term partner and a low-code platform enabling us to scale the delivery of new applications in a faster and more efficient manner.”
Aligning business stakeholders and IT
As the company saw a growing demand for applications, dashboards and portals, the new low-code platform had to enhance the collaboration between business stakeholders and IT to meet these requests. After several low code platforms were evaluated, IHC chose to join forces with Mendix and business partner Bizzomate. Key factors were the superior online and offline mobile capabilities, a shared vision on how to support component-based architectures and the extensive knowledge and experience of the Bizzomate team.
A digital transformation does not influence a single department, but should be company-wide to have the greatest impact. IHC wanted to build digital solutions that improved the development of products, but also supported customer services when these products were in use. This difficult challenge led to a rather simple two step strategy: ‘Doing things right’ and ‘Do the right things’.
Putting the platform to work
Many years ago, IHC started with the unification of processes and supporting systems. This resulted in a strong foundation. In order to speed up application development, they started building digital solutions on the Mendix platform. It lowered the time of creating, iterating and releasing applications from around six months to six weeks. Plus it created reusable software components that further decreased the development time of other new solutions.
All vessels, or entities reside in the IHC ERP system. These entities are exposed to the digital solutions created in Mendix via one API and subsequently used in different apps, like IRIS for operational intelligence, Searchlight for market intelligence and Optimus for asset condition management. This unification and standardisation of the ERP system and the API result in a development time for apps of just a few weeks possible.
Defining customer needs
Enhancing collaboration with customers was one of the key targets. Implementing customer validation into the development process has turned out to be very successful. For this IHC is using projects of two-week development sprints, after which they demonstrate working solutions. These are reviewed with internal and external stakeholders. The feedback obtained is addressed in the next development sprint, while the benefits of the released software immediately drives return on investment.
While customer insights are important, the company also conducts research into the behaviour of the intended user groups. This data should help in answering vital questions, such as: to what extent is the solution desired by the customer? Is there a positive business case (is the solution viable)? And can we realise the solution given the constraints (is it feasible)? With this information, they can build better solutions, or not build something at all which is sometimes the better option.
As an example, one of the solutions is a mobile application that gives customers access to their list of vessels, related parts and documents. During the initial review, customers appreciated the result, but requested additional functionality such as an easier search option. While the product was already released and in use, the development of this search function was started immediately. More importantly, by incorporating customer feedback, it generated buy-in for the solution, making it much easier to be adopted.
Get the customer on board
Customers expect IHC to rapidly deliver new ways to maximise uptime and performance, reduce total cost of ownership and improve the experience.
For the latter, IHC works in three phases: cooperating closely with customers to understand their problems, and start to ideate about how to help them; developing prototypes and a solution as quickly as possible; and the operational phase with a focus on having the customer on board. This last step is all about working with people. The users that will work with the app, should be able to make valuable decisions based on the information in their dashboards or other overviews.
Although the maritime industry has long been a stable environment, the changes in other industries, the integration of supply chains, and the regulatory environments in different countries, have their impact on the maritime sector, leading to a higher level of complexity. Customers of IHC need to report on their carbon footprints and comply with a wide range of security regulations. So, when IHC Digital Business delivers a solution, they have an entire team ready to work with and analyse new data.
The challenge is to provide data in such a way that it leads to usable and actionable insights. This can only be achieved by actively discussing the wishes and possibilities together with the customer. Therefore, the IHC digital team needs a combination of tech skills and soft skills; they need the knowledge to build a dashboard, but also the ability to analyze the product and the customer.
Developing in collaboration with the client
One great example of delivered applications including customer validation and co-creation is Optimus, a condition monitoring system. Customers were involved in every phase of the development. IHC organised workshops with different groups of customers, to discover whether there was an external need for a digital condition monitoring solution, and if so, what the finer details should be. It showed that instead of developing a solution to support the condition monitoring process, which was the initial plan, customers preferred a digital solution that would help them prove the value of a condition monitoring programme.
Alongside insights, speed is the key when it comes to innovation. It is necessary to rapidly bring products to market and continue innovating afterwards. IHC sped up the process by using an ‘agile’ way of working, not only during development, but also in the solution validation phase. Thanks to the development platform and phased approach, a prototype was built in only one week, which could be again validated with customers. After four ‘sprints’ (across eight weeks of development) the first minimal viable product (MVP) was ready and given the name ‘Optimus’.
The investment in customer validations meant that IHC not only rapidly developed a first MVP of the digital solution, but also had customer cooperation during the implementation process.
From months to weeks
One other application developed on the new platform with the new approach is IRIS, which provides customers the ability to quickly respond to deviations in asset performance and take corrective actions immediately. Previous attempts with other software developers to develop a solution took over 18 months with no actual working solution as a result.
Bizzomate developed a responsive web app, intended for mobile use within a few weeks which gives users access to real-time operational parameters of vessels and projects in different views. These parameters are calculated by combining sensor data retrieved from the ship with manual input from the vessel operator. To accomplish this, IRIS has integrations with IFS (Backend) for vessel names and OSIsoft PI system (IoT solution on the vessel).
The sum of these parameters is combined in a daily report which is sent to the owner to update him on the progress of his projects. The app is continuously improved and regular practice is the most crucial factor for optimisations.
Time to market has significantly decreased. Bizzomate was able to create a workable prototype in weeks. Business-wise it allowed IHC to outrun their competitors in moving towards a more service-centred supplier as well as providing their customers with better advice and support based on newly captured data.
Arjan van Limborgh, Product Owner Digital Business at Royal IHC: “Our job in Digital Business is to drive the digitalization of IHC while continuously validating the value with our colleagues and customers. Throughout this development we’ve received feedback on actual working software as opposed to abstract ideas or concepts, which proved to be rich insights, and we’ve been able to adjust our developments to further increase the value. I can truly say the selection of Mendix and Bizzomate for rapid software development, has been crucial in realizing our objectives.”
multiple projects of weeks
Maritime Solutions (dredging, offshore & wet mining)