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Low-code: The Future of Digital Manufacturing
Chad Perry (00:00):
Today we're hearing from Peter Rifken, out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Peter is Principal Solutions Consultant for Quickbase, the self-proclaimed, world's most beloved low-code engineering platform. Now if you've never heard the term low-code before, it's really just a way of building useful pieces of software visually without the need to write code from scratch. So that makes it accessible to a lot more people who may not have the formal training in software development that you would need to write something from scratch.
Chad Perry (00:33):
And Peter is going to be sharing with us how low-code solutions support digital manufacturing specifically for SME manufacturers. Also joining us today is Sunniya Saleem, Senior Director of Marketing for Quickbase, to help us understand how manufacturers can begin their journey to using low-code solutions. So Peter, thanks for joining us.
Peter Rifken (00:56):
Thanks, Chad. Good to be here.
Chad Perry (00:58):
Sunniya, thanks for joining us as well.
Sunniya Saleem (01:00):
Thanks, Chad. Thank you for having us.
Chad Perry (01:02):
Now Peter, can you start with a little bit more context on your background and what exactly is this idea of low-code? And why did it come about?
Peter Rifken (01:13):
It's funny how I got here, I studied mechanical engineering 10 or so years ago, and got a lot of the foundations of what are some of the processes in manufacturing. And then I went off to work in the test and measurement world and got a feeling for how instrumentation control systems, measurement systems are put together, and then pivoted to this thing called Quickbase. And entered into this world of fast, rapid application development low-code, some call it no-code. And really, I've had a chance to blend a lot of my experiences together.
Peter Rifken (01:50):
And it's a really tough question to answer actually, because depending on what you read, where you read it, you get different definitions of low-code and no-code and so I think it's important to really understand the spirit of the movement, which is what you said, there's a lot of thirst or appetite for innovation in the business and for folks that are close to the work, close to their customers to innovate and create solutions quickly. And they're finding that those typically end up with requests going to IT for certain applications or changes to those applications. And there's just more demand to really get close to your customer and not enough resources and professional digital development world to fulfill that need.
Peter Rifken (02:35):
So people are going out and finding ways to create their own solutions with tools like Error Tables, Smartsheet, Quickbase, some of the other more code-y tools, the [inaudible 00:02:46] systems. So there's definitely demand out there. But that's my first thought as to why it's happening. Does that make sense?
Chad Perry (02:54):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you really touched on what I think is the crux of the issue. And that is that there just aren't enough highly skilled engineers out there. And I think for a variety of reasons, this is just my opinion, but I really believe that this is the future of technology development, what you see in every aspect of technology and society, is you see this push toward commoditization, which really just means that things are getting easier to piece together, or you no longer have to start from scratch.
Chad Perry (03:31):
And it sounds like that's exactly what this is. And I think it's worth really understanding what exactly low-code is, in terms of how it's practically used. So can you give me a visual of what this might look like? And just in general, when would you even think to use a low-code solution?
Peter Rifken (03:53):
Yeah. So you can think of low-code as they're environments that you can use and they're very, quote, abstract environments, they're often very drag and dropy, where you can configure full applications that do a variety of things. And it's usually a configure it once, and then you can deploy it anywhere. You can deploy it to a mobile interface, you can deploy it to your tablet browser, and some systems are compiled, where you configure it, and then it actually creates an application and others, like Quickbase are completely no-code at all.
Peter Rifken (04:31):
And the idea is that you can visually configure your data tables, the relationships between those data tables. So for instance, you want to make an application that tracks projects. So one of your tables is a project table, then you could click and drag a table to track the tasks for those projects, the expenses for those projects. And then the idea is that you can create a reporting and a user interface on top of it. So you can have a dashboard of all your projects, the projects that are overdue or your tasks that are overdue. And then you can go as far as to start to configure some of the workflow around that data and that reporting.
Peter Rifken (05:08):
So whenever a task is complete, I want to be able to email somebody or start another workflow. And they can quickly grow into pretty powerful applications. And as you said, you don't really need to understand how the code underneath it is instrumented. You really just want have an idea of what the process and the outcome is, which is why it's important to underscore the fact that even though low-code promises a lot of power, it doesn't mean you can't go forth and execute on these things without taking the time to plan these applications and speak with all the stakeholders.
Peter Rifken (05:44):
And that really dovetails nicely with your other question, which is, well, when would I use something like low-code, or no code? And it's another tool in the tool chain. So there's always going to be a place for an Excel, where you want to do some quick and dirty prototyping, you want to put a financial spreadsheet together, there's always going to be a place for email where it's unstructured freeform communication. I think low-code really has its place when we're talking about complex processes that touch multiple teams, multiple people, multiple types of data. And everyone wants to align around a single set of KPIs or outcomes. And it's really important to take that highly, highly unique process. And there's a lot of them in manufacturing, which is why manufacturing is such a popular space where there's a lot of opportunity for low-code, and then bridge it all together.
Peter Rifken (06:40):
So you have folks that are working on assembly, doing their very unique work connected to the folks that are working on testing, to the folks that are working on safety checks, to the designers and then whole feedback loop. There's just not a lot of systems that capture all those very unique elements and allow them to work together. And they're really expensive systems to develop in custom, if you were to code it up yourself. But that's, I think, a really great opportunity for flexible, agile, low-code systems to take over and fill that that void.
Chad Perry (07:15):
Yeah. And you touched on several uses that I could certainly see this being really powerful in. And one, of course, is integration, where you're tying together a bunch of different things that are happening or data sources that have already recorded what has happened. So I think your Excel metaphor is actually really spot on. Because Excel can be programmed, you can write scripts, macros, you can pipe data in and out of it, you can do that, actually, with the visual tools in Excel, as well as doing that through code. And even though I think that what you're describing is so much more than that, it's really accomplishing the same thing just with more depth to it, so to speak. Am I getting closer?
Peter Rifken (08:04):
You are, because there's a lot of savvy people in every business. You'll find your coders that are obviously able to do full applications. But then you'll find your closet coders, if you will, the folks that are really good with tools and technology, and you can sit someone like that down, give them a spreadsheet, give them a macro, and they'll create these amazing Frenken apps that can pull data, grab data. And the idea is that they'll solve very specific problems, sometimes really nicely. The challenge comes in the scale, and it comes in when you need to have user concurrency, you need to support teams that are not on the same shared drive, you need to be able to support hundreds of thousands of rows of data, and frankly, maintain it.
Peter Rifken (08:49):
And a lot of people don't take the time to think about maintainability of a system documentation, and how do I put roles and permissions and governance around what I'm building? If you've worked with one of these crazy Excel sheets, they're really not designed for collaboration. They're designed to solve a particular problem, get a certain report out. And what we're finding is that low-code is handling, well, how do I take the creativity in organizations, this latent creativity to solve problems and scale it to fit the culture of an organization?
Peter Rifken (09:26):
And to do that requires tools and platforms that support not only the functions you talked about, like the macros and the moving data around, but also, well, how do we give different roles to different people? How do we restrict those roles to see the data that they need to see, and not the data that they don't need to see? And even give groups of people the ability to customize where others are maybe just participants and viewers? So that experience and that governance is a big part of low or no-code and any company that wants to adopt, they really has to think about, "Well, how are we going to put that governance model in place so that this doesn't become something that spins out of control?"
Chad Perry (10:05):
Yeah. And I think that that's the fundamental limit on Excel. Because what you find is a lot of companies, of all sizes, but especially you go into a small manufacturing company. And these guys have gotten really good at making these giant spreadsheets that maybe, they're not perfect, but they get by with them. I interviewed a guy a while back, he was a chocolate maker, a chocolate factory, they had actually built an entire, essentially, ERP on to Google Sheets, but the thing is, is that every six months, they got so clogged with data that the whole thing would crash.
Chad Perry (10:42):
So he ended up having to build his own solution from scratch, which brings me to my point, and that is that that's not an option for most small manufacturers. And even for larger manufacturers, that's an investment of not just cost, but that's an investment of having to really take the time to understand what you need upfront across the board. And so the fundamental limit of Excel is that it's this single, large input. You can see everything that's going on. Whereas what you mentioned was, you want to be able to restrict the information and the access to that information in a way that makes sense for the business.
Chad Perry (11:25):
So with low-code, it sounds like what you can do, the Excel can't do, is not only can you have this data pipes moving information back and forth in the background, but you can also make your own, perhaps web-based dashboards and you can also make your own small applications or apps that would maybe be deployed to a mobile device. So you truly are hitting all of the points of need across the organization.
Sunniya Saleem (11:50):
Yeah, I was just going to add to that, I think Peter hit on a lot of great points and so did you. Where I think Quickbase fits in really nicely is that whether it's a small manufacturer or a large manufacturer, we really help them in a way by perfecting their unique processes. Because the example that you even mentioned, over there, that guys looking at building a whole ERP system, they could use Quickbase and really tailor their process and look at how they're deploying low-code software solutions and bringing all the apps together. And we have an integration piece as well with our pipelines capability that can help them connect to the different systems.
Sunniya Saleem (12:31):
So it's really powerful for people who may not know how to code. Because for instance, in marketing, my team itself, uses Quickbase all the time to connect all of the different tools and technologies we have.
Chad Perry (12:44):
Yeah. And this is a really important point that both of you have mentioned, understanding your processes. Or building around these processes. And that's very consistent with the other experts that I've spoken with the same conversations. Where we talk about how there's this technology available, but it ultimately comes down to understanding how your business runs, how you want it to run. And really, that's what the whole digital manufacturing is all about. And it sounds like with the low-code approach, you have an opportunity to match the way you build your software and the way you build your tools more closely with how you actually think about them, and map those processes. So how does that conversation actually start when you talk to someone like a small manufacturer?
Peter Rifken (13:36):
That's a great question. And the funny thing is, I actually serve a lot of the folks I work with on trends, like, "Have you heard of Industry 4.0, Cyber-Physical Systems, AMI and RPA and low-code?" And most of the manufacturer, they don't really resonate or identify with these terms. And so the conversation tends not to start with, "I need low-code, I need no-code," it starts with some trend out there in the market. It's really the market forces are driving a lot of this conversion points to need tools like low-code, and the market is saying, "I need more customizable product, I need..." buying patterns are changing and manufacturing is a historically slow to change and adapt industry. And that these processes take years to change.
Peter Rifken (14:30):
And if you think about an automobile, new product introduction for an automobile is three to four years to get concept to market. And that's not fast enough. And a lot of the reason why they're so slow to move, is because of all these unique processes that Sunniya mentioned, disparate systems, the lack of connectivity, but where we start the conversation is, is, "I need a tool that tracks a quality issue or a Kaizen." And they find us on Google. And disclaimers, I work with a lot of larger automotive, or larger manufacturing companies. So take that with a grain of salt as far as scaling down to smaller. But it's the same thing, it's the need to compete and adapt and react. And you need to then have your technology and tools closer to the ideal processes.
Peter Rifken (15:23):
And so we start with a conversation about a specific need. And then our job at Quickbase is well, we don't want to just give you an app and you're off to the races. It's how do we help you to work closer to the way you need to so that the application maps to the process but also to the end-to-end journeys in the organization from product development to production, the customer journey, so on and so forth. And we back into this conversation of, "Well, have you considered this idea of low-code and no-code and some of the ways your organization can adapt around it?" So I'll pause there, because there's more that we could touch on. But I just wanted to start with that thought.
Chad Perry (16:07):
Yeah, that's a really good point about calling it a journey. Because when you look at the digital manufacturing transformation, it really is a journey. It's not something that you can just do one thing and be done. And something like a low-code solution or really anything that allows you to piece into tools that better support your business and make changes on a rolling progressive basis, it supports this idea that comes up in a lot of more successful organizations, which is fail fast, be experimental, just try things and see what works. And something like Quickbase would represent a platform that creates the opportunity to do that, to plug in other pieces and to build your processes and change them as you go, as you discover what works and doesn't work.
Peter Rifken (17:05):
Now you're getting to the heart of it. Making changes on a rolling progressive basis is center to so many manufacturing methodologies and philosophies, but so hard to do in practice. You go to Six Sigma Kaizen, and it's all about incremental changes every day. But then you look at the reality it's, "Well, we've got our one big Kaizen event a quarter and that was our continuous improvement effort." It's just tough to actually practice continuous innovation every day. But that's exactly the promise of low-code, is to actually help organizations to digitize their processes, but then also adapt when they need to make a change and systematize the continuous improvement process. So both the process and the tool that supports it can change every day, to grow based off of what's needed. So I think you hit the hammer on the nail there.
Sunniya Saleem (18:00):
I was just going to add to that, I think one other key point is that with low-code, you're able to perfect those unique processes like Peter was saying, and you were too, that really traditional software can't handle. Like your Excel example that we used earlier is only going to go so far. So when you really want to move fast, and digitize with speed and be agile, that's where low-code would really help you.
Chad Perry (18:24):
Yeah. And I think that there's a fine line between adopting a tool and looking at it and saying, "Okay, this is going to solve all of our problems," and really understanding how it fits into things. So I'm curious, I'd like to play devil's advocate here. I'm curious, what does the effort look like to actually move from nothing to a low-code solution? What is the least amount of work that you can do to get some result out of it?
Peter Rifken (18:56):
So it all comes back to the fact that it's a journey, but it doesn't mean you can't have small wins along the way. So when we talk about a transformation journey, you have to meet every organization where they are. Some organizations have been digital for years and we're augmenting that. Others are paper pencil for years and we're talking about a new way to interact with information. And so I think it really has to start with, the smallest win usually involves solving the simplest problem where you can get some impact and result. Using that as the case study for scaling a new muscle across the organization.
Peter Rifken (19:36):
So the promise of low-code is we can react to market forces faster and adapt and be more agile and all that great stuff. The first problem you're going to solve is maybe digitizing your quality checks. And that could be as simple as taking a spreadsheet that was on a shared drive and putting it into an application and getting everyone comfortable with a new way to interact with a 20-year old system. So I think it's something we advocate for with all of our customers, it's really important to do what you said earlier, which is fail fast. But you're not failing in a catastrophic way. You're taking a bite size, mini problem, if you will, using this as a case study for how to maybe solve a problem in a low-code way. And then learning from it to figure out, "Okay, well, how do we scale this? Or how do we add more functionality to it? And then how do we maybe create a part of our organization that is good at this thing called low-code applications?" And then do a second application.
Peter Rifken (20:40):
And then as you do that, it really becomes important to think about the ecosystem and the architectures and the journey, which is, "Okay, so we solve for this little widget that everyone can make entries from a quality standpoint, but how do we actually solve for the hundreds of widgets out there and which one is the highest priority and who is going to be responsible for creating them?" And that's where we have that conversation about governance and roles and permissions and the new swim lanes in a digital-manufacturing organization that need to exist to support doing this on a larger scale.
Chad Perry (21:15):
Yeah. And what response do you typically see from the line level, day-to-day people that will have to use this? I mean, I know that there's this idea of digital champions, and they can come from anywhere in an organization, oftentimes, the least expected places. But there's also a tendency with all of us, as humans to resist the change. So on the one hand, you could be very excited because, "I'm a huge nerd, and I like low-code solutions. It's really exciting." But to somebody who's just trying to get something done day-to-day and are comfortable with the way things are done, if you have an organizational leader who comes in and says, "Okay, we're going to look at this low-code solution." What response do you typically see to that and how does that transformation occur?
Peter Rifken (22:04):
It's tough. And I'll find that maybe there's a small percentage that fully, and especially manufacturing, that fully embrace change like this. But for the most part, a lot of the technicians that I work with or the operators, they've been literally doing a very similar motion for sometimes 10, 20, 30 years. So just, I mean, I get the fat finger joke all the time, is fat fingered it. So the second you show them a process in a mobile screen versus a piece of paper, that in itself is uncomfortable.
Peter Rifken (22:39):
And so a lot of the times you have to push through that early resistance, but there's a lot of things you can do from a training standpoint to mitigate some of that risk, but you're going to have resistance. And that's why strong leadership and a strong game plan, as to what are the macro benefits we can get out of this? Are going to overcome some of the short-term pain of getting individuals to interact with data differently, look at reports differently. But I think you win a little bit when you start to show them, "Well, here's how your work might get easier."
Peter Rifken (23:13):
And to the extent to which you can tell that story, estimate, "Okay, you're going to maybe interact with data differently, but here's a report that's going to be real time and live as opposed to something that somebody has to take a week to process. And you're not going to have to enter in this information anymore, because the data is connected. So maybe you'll save time and not have to do this work at the end of the day." So while there's going to be change in how work is done, I think there's also a lot of benefits to point to overcome that potential resistance.
Chad Perry (23:45):
Yeah, absolutely. And that's really the difference between a command and control mindset top-down, that frankly, is no longer going to work as well. The difference between that mindset and encouraging your team to embrace opportunities to make their own lives easier. To free up their time, so that they can spend that time doing more creative work, instead of doing the same old, boring routine stuff over and over again. And the manufacturers, the successful small manufacturers that I've talked to, they all say the same thing. And that is that once they show their team the benefits, they really just have to offer the guidance of, "This is what we're trying to achieve as a business in terms of growth," or whatever it is. "Now, tell me what you need to make your life easier. Let's explore potential solutions." And of course, low-code could be one of those solutions.
Peter Rifken (24:50):
Yeah. And that's it, more creative work, showing the team benefits and then the top-down piece isn't going to be, "Thou shalt do this." It's more of a you have to nurture and guide along the way and say, "There's some [inaudible 00:25:04] and this is an initiative that we want to take," by articulating, "this is the value that we're hunting as a small business." And like you said, it's going to be a culture thing. I think 90% of the battle is getting the culture aligned to this, and then the processes, and then the work falls in place around it.
Sunniya Saleem (25:25):
I think also, one of the things that we say all the time at Quickbase, and we truly believe in low-code across, is that we empower those closest to the work. So with small manufacturers, you often see that the person who's leading the operations is doing many, many things. And there's a lot of manual processes. So by giving them low-code software and understanding the problem that they're looking to solve, we're really empowering them to take back control and speed up the process and then save on that cost or better their operations overall. So it's really coming to them with, "Let's understand the problem together, let's explore it. And then let's help you solve it by taking control through these low-code solutions.
Chad Perry (26:11):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And that's a really striking message in contrast to this idea that technology is going to take jobs. Really what it's going to do is, yes, it's going to lower costs. But the reason it's lowering costs is because it's taking away the need for a person to do something that a person is not best suited to do. People are better suited for creative tasks that require problem solving, and the ability to bring together multiple pieces of information, multiple opportunities in some novel way that creates a competitive platform. So it sounds like that's really a win-win all around, is everybody benefits from this.
Peter Rifken (26:59):
Yeah. You hit it. With humans to feel engaged at work, they've got to be problem solving in some way. There's going to be folks that prefer to check in, do a certain task and check out and those are the folks that tend to be the source of resistance, but healthy organizations with, healthy cultures and healthy performance, you're hiring problem solvers, not repetitive [pressers 00:27:22] of a certain stamp.
Peter Rifken (27:24):
So they're increasingly expecting their companies to embrace processes to continuously improve, they're expecting continuous improvement. And they're expecting that the things that they learned coming out of college, 21st century education and manufacturing technology, the next generation of workers is expecting that the companies that they land in are going to embrace that technology and that their systems are going to be good, their data is going to be connected.
Peter Rifken (27:53):
So it's also a long-term viability thing, unless you adopt some of these low-code, no-code technologies, you're quickly going to face competition from having your best talents recruited away. And that's another trend we're seeing that shouldn't be ignored.
Chad Perry (28:13):
Yeah, that's the hardest part, or one of the hardest aspects of this transformation is, even though we call it a digital transformation, really, it's a cultural and mindset transformation. Because what we're seeing is it's not like technology is new. Yes, technology is maturing. But that's exactly my point, is that technology is becoming mature enough that we can now use it in ways that we haven't been able to use it before. It's now cost effective enough. And so what's happening is the generation or really anybody for that matter, who doesn't embrace that and doesn't look for ways to utilize that, they're not able to maintain a competitive baseline.
Chad Perry (28:58):
So we're not even talking about a competitive advantage here, we're just saying what is the minimum necessary to make sure that you can acquire good talent or acquire and keep good talent and be able to use them in ways that are effective, and that allow them to stay happy?
Peter Rifken (29:16):
Yeah, and I'll underscore your point, because I thought that was really interesting is, it's a cultural transformation, and also it's a convergence of technology in a way that the general population now has access to its entire power, in that someone like me, where three or four years ago, I didn't know what a database was almost, I feel like I am empowered to solve all sorts of problems that maybe I couldn't 10 years ago .Because to create integration between two disparate systems, I don't need to know how to code, I don't need to know how to do this ETL stuff. It's really a drag and drop experience.
Peter Rifken (29:55):
So I have a solution in my head to a problem that I've identified in my organization, I can, within hours have a prototype ready. It's a database, it's robust, it's fully integrated, there's error logs, there's checks, and it's something that can be deployed to production. And so it allows anyone now that has that creativity on how the world can work better to actually act on it. And the challenge then for organizations is harnessing the passion. The next wave is going to be, you're going to find a lot of very excited, very hardworking folks going out and creating solutions with these low-code tools, and then organizations are going to have to back into, "Well, we've got all this low-code out there, accidentally almost, how do we recover and put a strategy around it?"
Peter Rifken (30:45):
And so forward thinking organizations are saying, "This is coming we need a strategy." Some organizations are totally shutting it down, and others are having to react to the fact that their employees have found it, and now they need to curtail it. And that's just where we are right now, I would say, at the beginning of the curve, if you will.
Chad Perry (31:04):
Yeah, I think that's a really good segue into maybe some practical examples of this. Because we've talked about a few things. One is there's this idea of cultural transformation, cultural adoption. And so there's points of resistance, there's points of enthusiasm. Can you think of a particular example that would highlight some of that, that we've talked about?
Sunniya Saleem (31:30):
I can give one, which is a small actually manufacturer, that is one of our customers. It's a sandpaper company out of Miami, they produce toilet paper, facial, tissue, paper towels, napkins, for a lot of the national retailers. And they also specialize in sustainable green products that are really set apart by high quality and innovation. So one of the challenges that they were facing were that they wanted to increase their volume and grow their logistics operation too so they could overall increase their entire operations, they were really stuck in spreadsheets and manual processes. And it took them very long to scale their operation.
Sunniya Saleem (32:10):
So once they implemented Quickbase, they were able to more easily see the end-to-end process and automate all of their tasks. They created custom dashboards. And then our low-code platform also enabled them to get alerts when they were moving their logistics ahead and shipping to the different retailers across the board. And they're very quickly adding new applications and functionality too.
Chad Perry (32:37):
So I was just going to caveat here, I understand that you may not be able to share all of the numbers, but I'm curious about things like how long did that take? And what did it actually look like? Where did they start from? What did Quickbase face? What did your team see when they first came in? And how did you get the train moving? Because it sounds like it's just so tough to overcome that momentum.
Sunniya Saleem (33:01):
Yeah. So this is one of the examples where we have a case study. And in this case, the IT director was also very involved. And he was the one who was also tasked with working with us to figure out how they scale their operations. So they were manually entering shipping orders before they looked into low-code. And similar to the things we've been talking about earlier, they had a lot of Excel sheets, and they were faxing them over to all of their carriers, and then they were using the Excel spreadsheets back to manage all of the orders and look at who was bringing back what, which of the products have been shipped, and where do they need to add more. So keeping track of all of that, especially when your operation is scaling really fast was really hard.
Sunniya Saleem (33:47):
So what they told us was that they needed something that was easier and less time consuming. But I think in all of these examples, the customer often comes to us with a specific problem they're looking to solve. Like this case, if they were trying to automate their spreadsheets and move faster. And then our teams, a combination of Peter and some other folks would do a deep discovery with them and really understand what are those end-to-end processes.
Sunniya Saleem (34:16):
So think on the small business side, the process of discovery could take maybe a couple of weeks. And sometimes we'd start with a smaller deployment, but on the larger size of manufacturing, it could take us fairly a few months to map out all of the different processes across the organization that we're looking to transform.
Chad Perry (34:41):
Peter, do you have anything to add? I've got a couple of more questions around that.
Peter Rifken (34:45):
Yeah, my story's a little messier because I've worked with some of the larger manufacturing automotive companies in the world and it'll be years before something gets wings where the pain is enough to think about another way to work. I mean, in my story, I worked with one plant making engines, and they were getting shut down from creating application, doing things... No, they were not getting the support they needed from IT to create an application to track equipment breakdowns. And some of the KPIs that they really needed to measure for those pieces of equipment, including the processes around finding the root cause, why did it break down and putting in the countermeasures, so it never happens again.
Peter Rifken (35:29):
And they found Quickbase, by doing a... They took a trip to an airline company that was using Quickbase, Southwest actually, is a well documented case study, they stumbled upon Quickbase. And long story short, is they ended up solving that one problem with the tool and we really struggled to start a conversation about well, low-code as a platform. And it wasn't until years later where we had another plant come to us with a bigger problem. And that started a conversation where we got IT involved, central IT corporate. And now we have a movement for a low-code, governance structure and all the stuff we talked about. But it's messy, it's multiple years potentially. And it looks a little bit different for everybody.
Chad Perry (36:18):
Well, I was going to say, I think the principles apply, though. Because you've got this change in the organization that has to happen. And everybody who is affected by that change the stakeholders, if you will, need to be on board, because that's really where the failure comes from, in IT projects, is that people just don't use them or they just don't get what they need, and therefore they don't use them. So I want to come back to the small manufacturing example because what I heard you describe Sunniya, was that you had this customer that had a lot of different moving parts that were potentially integrated in some manual and automatic ways, but you just had a lot of messy moving parts.
Chad Perry (37:04):
And so as a small manufacturing business owner, what I would hear when you propose replacing all of that with a low-code solution is that I'm going to have to do all this at once, and bring in and replace everything. And that's a huge risk to a business. In fact, that's a terrible idea. So I don't think that that's really what you guys are doing. So can you talk a little bit more about how that incremental transition happens?
Sunniya Saleem (37:31):
That's a good point, that the incremental transition does happen. Because we are perfecting, or helping businesses perfect their unique processes. It's not a deploy once and never change, but it's more like, how do you constantly innovate and change the application to meet the needs of your business? So in the example that we discussed earlier, they may have started with just digitizing their spreadsheets and looking at a logistics app and tracking their delivery. But now they've moved on to also project managing on the shop floor, they can use their mobile devices to look at the production schedules and look at what are the plans for what is needed next, as opposed to going back and forth on their spreadsheets and manually tracking everything.
Sunniya Saleem (38:19):
Their IT team is able to see the visual reports of how much tonnage is required for production today, tomorrow or even next week. The folks at the docks are able to check on their drivers and see who's coming to pick up and when are the deliveries scheduled. So it's across the board that their operation is now moving to digital. And it is transforming but it's not that we are replacing jobs with low-code software or that we are putting rigid processes in place, but it's more like as the business is growing, the people closest to the work are feeling empowered to think creatively and solve those problems and then connect their apps together and have one platform that meets the needs of their business in turn.
Chad Perry (39:04):
Okay, so let's say you have one particular piece. You want to start with something small. So in your case you had this client, this small manufacturer, they would pick something like one of their spreadsheets, you mentioned that they might want to digitize it. So they can use something like Quickbase to replace that one piece of their larger flow, of their larger workflow. What returns can you expect to see on doing something like that immediately? Is that something that you have to do that a couple times over before you really get any benefit out of it or what how could you justify making that investment?
Sunniya Saleem (39:47):
On the ROI side, the ROI is instantaneous as well, because once you're digitizing you're saving time, you're starting to save cost. The manual labor that was going into maintaining all of the spreadsheet is now digitized. So that ROI is there right away. But we've seen customers have huge savings on their operations overall. And in this particular case, if you want, I can find the case study and give you the dollar figures on that too.
Chad Perry (40:19):
Sure. Do you want to pull that up and then maybe let Peter jump in here, if he's got anything to add while you're looking for that?
Peter Rifken (40:24):
Yeah. My thought is that ROI is one of the hardest things to calculate in any just transformation effort. I know because I ask every day, "What's the impact?" And I try to put dollars and cents and metrics to it. It's an important question and I think that some manufacturers really only justify investments with hard savings. So you have to tie any investment back to number of hours that you're... Literally FTE that's reduced by cutting out an inefficient task. But in other scenarios, it's part of the exercise as a group is coming up with, well, what are the assumptions we can make as to how we're going to improve? How many hours a day do we spend compiling reports? How many hours a day do we spend going back and forth on a certain topic?
Peter Rifken (41:15):
With a lot of manufacturers, there's actually an aspect of ROI around virtualization because it's very expensive to travel and get folks into a room. And to actually talk about a project where you've got all of your KPIs printed out on a whiteboard and diagrams. And so there is also a really good case to be made for the savings associated with virtualization, and being able to give everyone the insight they need and the dashboards they need and the work so that they can have more of their touch points virtually. And that's something that's been coming up recently as well, as a definitely a major ROI lever.
Chad Perry (41:53):
Yeah, that's a really interesting point because on the one hand, you do want to be able to make an objective decision about, "Am I going to get a return on this?" But on the other hand, it can be really difficult to identify exactly what that is. So in a lot of cases, you might have to come up with proxies to, "What is this really costing us?" Or, "What do we think this is costing us?" Or, "How do we actually, if we can't directly measure success, what is a good substitute?" So you can't just go into it with this idea of slash and burn cost savings, or you're missing the point entirely.
Peter Rifken (42:34):
The other way to look at it is, a lot of organizations have some executive priorities or initiatives that have a budget. And if you can align the tools supporting an initiative and having an impact on a key priority for the company, then you can take the angle of, "Well, it's not a cost savings tool, it's an enablement tool to help us to get closer to this goal of reducing X by Y. Or improving X by Y." And that's another angle that sometimes helps to justify an investment.
Sunniya Saleem (43:07):
And actually on that, one of the examples that we cite a lot on the marketing side is our customer [inaudible 00:43:14], who has saved like six engineering man months. So that's a good indication of the type of ROI too, where you're thinking about, not just cost and time, but also how are the resources that I'm deploying on this being better used for something that's more critical?
Chad Perry (43:34):
Yeah, that's a really interesting point. Because you're not really just talking about... Those aren't six engineering man months that you're just going to get rid of, those are six months, that somebody could be spending that time on something that has greater value downstream to the customer.
Sunniya Saleem (43:57):
Yeah, I think that's a good point because when we position that [inaudible 00:43:59] was able to six engineering man months, that also really resonates with a lot of the manufacturers that we target and talk to because they don't want their top resources often to be tied into a lot of spreadsheets and doing the manual work, which could be automated, but thinking more about bigger projects and creative solutions to take the business forward.
Chad Perry (44:23):
Yeah. And I can think of a specific example. So if you had a manufacturing engineer who was responsible for your scheduling, if you had a smarter system that was pulling data in from Quickbase, or from any integrated system like that, and you could free that person up, to figure out perhaps how to schedule more efficiently, or how to improve the production process, you could be talking about not just direct savings of the time as it equates to full-time employment costs. But you could be talking about the opportunity cost of radically making improvements to your business that could have huge, we're talking in the millions, of impact on a business. And for a small manufacturer, that's really the holy grail, is to figure out what those opportunities are to grow and compete.
Peter Rifken (45:19):
Yeah. A lot of manufacturers talked about hidden costs. And there's a huge emphasis on reducing waste in hidden costs, but notoriously difficult to quantify that. And so I think that's why it takes a certain cast of characters to make this happen right. In that cast of characters is leadership that can see the vision beyond the short-term costs because we know how difficult it is to put a immediate ROI on an investment like a Quickbase or a similar low-code tool. It's actually not expensive to get started. So that's actually a good thing.
Peter Rifken (45:59):
But you have to be able to see the interconnectedness and see what is the value of taking that latent creativity that is all that millions of dollars worth of value creation that you've referenced from not doing something in an automated way, and going out on a limb a little bit to say, "This is something that can really be a good thing for us, but it might take years to really get the engine revving and to realize the full benefit."
Chad Perry (46:26):
Yeah, that's a long-term outlook. And we're going to have to wrap up here pretty soon. But on that note, I want to ask about something that's a little bit more timely. And that is, of course, right now we're going through the coronavirus quarantine, and that is going to have substantial, indefinite impact on the future and how people work together. And I think personally, I believe that this is going to accelerate, not only the actual reality of digital transformation, but it's going to necessitate this even more. So I'd like to get maybe a quick comment on how you see things changing over the next couple of years and how low-code solutions can play into that.
Peter Rifken (47:10):
Yeah, you're right. I really think you're right in that coronavirus has been an accelerator of a lot of trends that have been maybe bubbling. Definitely one is working collaboratively remotely. Manufacturing is a tough industry because, honestly, you need to be present for a lot of that. But there's no reason why in a time like this, I'm actually hearing a lot of companies focusing on process improvement. Focusing on tools and systems in a way that they could never do it in the past.
Peter Rifken (47:43):
So it's a weird silver lining in this time that we're actually having a chance to have some conversations that we couldn't have otherwise. And it's also going to push us to improve the processes that are maybe right now all based on paper because we can't necessarily assume we're going to have access to everything that's physical.
Chad Perry (48:08):
Sunniya, do you want to add anything to that?
Sunniya Saleem (48:11):
Yeah, I think what Peter said is really true. But as we're thinking through coronavirus and what's happening with COVID-19, one of the trends that I've picked up on is that you really need to adapt fast. And as everybody is working remotely, and even folks who are considered essential workers right now and are going into work, even they have to change and adapt really fast. And low-code solutions are something that can help them do that. Because you now have an even smaller workforce than you did in the past, that is of those essential workers who are on the frontlines trying to deal with a lot of this. So then, how do you make them more effective and give them the tools that are going to help them be successful and scale the things that they're trying to do?
Sunniya Saleem (48:57):
And I think the other trend, that's also come up a lot is the need to support the emergency responders and the workers who are on the frontlines. Like the healthcare providers. And this is something, I think with low-code solutions that play a really big role there too, because you don't want the healthcare providers right now to be bogged down by spreadsheets or by thinking through all the manual tasks. So if you had something like a low-code solution that could take care of that for you while you're focusing on the most important work.
Chad Perry (49:29):
Right, right. You don't want to be riding in the ambulance to the hospital and the paramedic is like, "Sorry, there's all this paperwork that I got to do," or, "I can't reach my colleagues," or, "I can't access the information about your condition, because I just don't have the right tools to do that." And it's the same in the manufacturing business as well, of course.
Peter Rifken (49:50):
I like those Sunniya's comments on adaptability. I think that was a really good point is, if anything, this has taught us how important it is to be ready to mobilize. And to mobilize, you have to have all your data stored in order, so that you can connect the right things very quickly to create the experiences and that patience you need to solve a problem that you need to solve today. And that's just not something that's going to happen overnight, we have to plan to be ready to act fast. And I think we really support that vision.
Chad Perry (50:22):
Absolutely. Yeah. And as a software engineer, I mean, it would be easy for me to think, "Oh, my God, low-code is going to replace the need." But I actually see this as an enabler of doing things that should not be really a big deal, to free us up to everybody. To free developers, software engineers, to free up leaders, to free up line workers, everybody to be focused on the things that actually add value.
Chad Perry (50:50):
So on that note, I'd like to ask you to leave us with one key takeaway that you think that small manufacturers should be considering right now. And especially as that pertains to the potential to use a low-code solution.
Peter Rifken (51:09):
My advice has been pretty consistent across the board. I think one is take action, but then it's easy to get overwhelmed with, "What do I do?" So get a group together, agree that you want to take some action, and find a problem to solve. And to use that problem to solve to learn about how to do things differently. And in that journey of solving that problem, the risk is pretty low. You'll end up with the solution to a small problem, but the upside is huge. And then you might have stumbled onto something that could change the way you do work. I think if you take it one bite at a time, that's how you, quote, boil the ocean of transforming to an organization centered on innovation at the edge, season developments, low-code, whatever you want to call it. But you just got to take the first step.
Chad Perry (52:00):
Well said. Sunniya, do you want to add anything to that and maybe tell us how we can get in touch with Quickbase?
Sunniya Saleem (52:07):
Sure. I think Peter hit on all the topics. But what I can add there is that my one takeaway is that really enable your problem solvers in your organization, regardless of their technical background. And help them with the right tools, so they can come together and create and in a way, then really develop that ecosystem of applications that can scale your business. And I think low-code is something that can help them do that.
Sunniya Saleem (52:32):
And to your second question on how people can get in touch with us, they can do to quickbase.com, and fill out the contact us form which is really quickbase.com/contact-us and we can get back to them on any needs that they have very quickly.
Chad Perry (52:50):
Okay, perfect. And Peter, if there were any manufacturing engineers who are out there, who wanted to also maybe get in touch with you directly, what would be the best way to do that?
Peter Rifken (53:00):
Yeah I mean, I would just recommend they reach out to me by email. I don't know if you have the spelling below, but it's going to be [email protected] I might not be the best point of contact for the inquiry, but I'm happy to at least be an initial sounding board and to get you on with the right team to support your transformation effort or just to hear your ideas out.
Chad Perry (53:21):
Great. That would be P Rifken, R-I-F-K-E-N @quickbase, Q-U-I-C-K B-A-S-E .com.
Peter Rifken (53:32):
Yep, that sounds right.
Chad Perry (53:34):
All right. Guys, thank you so much. I really appreciate everything. It's been great talking to you.
Peter Rifken (53:39):
Thanks, Chad. This was a lot of fun.
Sunniya Saleem (53:41):