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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

City of Rotterdam uses low-code to go agile and improve services

Martijn Groenewegen has been at the City of Rotterdam for nearly 19 years in numerous roles, and in March he was appointed as digital transformation lead, tasked with bridging the gap between IT and the business for a city that has 633,000 citizens.

He works within a centralised department for the whole city, with a team of 150 information managers – all working in different ways. The information management team needed to find a way to update its processes by which its public safety officers recorded observations and made reports, also ensuring that they would be compliant with GDPR. In addition, the city as a whole needed to find a mode of development that allowed it to get feedback from and fulfil the needs of their constituents, partners and employees.

Groenewegen decided to talk to the IT department to put in place a ‘two-speed IT’ approach; meaning that the IT department could carry on working in the traditional way it always has, but that the information management team could support a more agile way of working on new projects. The aim would be to better manage the city and make a positive impact on its citizens.

“The overall strategy was to have high flexibility and a connection with the general public, offering usable technology solutions, and so we were looking for a platform where we could work on a co-creation and that’s where Mendix came in,” he says.

The IT department’s software development team had put forward an alternative Java solution but it was not as agile, meaning it would take more time and be more costly than the Mendix solution.

“We picked Mendix because we were familiar with its solutions, because of its usability and its ability to implement our vision,” Groenewegen states.

The information management team used low-code and collaborated with the IT department to create an application that tracked, recorded and processed reports to ensure the appropriate use of outdoor space in Rotterdam.

Previously, the city had done this through legacy applications and an Excel spreadsheet. The team was able to develop the app six times faster and save between €120-240k in development costs. Since the application went live, The City of Rotterdam has realised savings of €160k in efficiencies per year.

It’s not just the monetary value of the app that has made a difference, it has improved the way officers work, enabling them to capture and report information in real-time, while also improving the city for its citizens.

This is just one example of the work that Groenewegen’s department was able to accomplish. The City of Rotterdam also developed a portfolio of 15 applications to help users, which played a part in achieving nearly €1.5 million in operational efficiencies.

“Most of these efficiencies were about freeing up labour to do other jobs,” he explains.

Many of these applications were developed to replace those being introduced within the IT department unofficially – otherwise known as shadow IT.

“We decided we should embrace this and see it as a new type of demand, look for a way to substitute all these shadow IT solutions. In a very short amount of time we were able to replace shadow IT with a solution in the Mendix platform, and as it was user friendly it was immediately popular – we didn’t have to sell it to users,” Groenewegen says.

He explains that the next step is to scale up many of these applications and integrate them with the city’s existing IT environment.

“Last year was about building architecture and defining how we could use an App Store, how we could reuse features, and this year we want to spend time on filling it up and also training non-IT personnel to maintain the solutions,” Groenewegen explains.

This is because there is a central team of 5 people who know how Mendix works, but as it is scaling up there will be a bigger requirement for resources.