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Author's profile photo Sandy Hathaway

The Freudenberg Approach: A Federated Model for Low-Code Governance and a “Buildathon” to Jumpstart Citizen Developers

 On 4–5 April 2023, Freudenberg Group launched their new low-code center of excellence, the “Confactory” and held a “Buildathon (a low-code hackathon) with their aspiring citizen developers, who created solutions using SAP Build and came up with ideas for more use cases.The Freudenberg Confactory is led by Simon Jarke, the Head of Corporate Digital Business Innovation and Katja Narawth, Business Architect for Digital Transformation and Innovation, at Freudenberg Corporate IT.  During the event, I sat down with Simon and Katja to talk about low-code governance, how they are getting started, and their vision for the future 

This is an edited version of the conversation. 


Simon Jarke and Katja Nawrath, Corporate Digital Business Innovation, Freudenberg SE

Hi Katja, hi Simon – Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. There’s lots of excitement in the air today, so please tell us about your new low-code center of excellence, the Freudenberg Confactory. 



  • The purpose of Confactory is to build low-code solutions together with citizen developers who come from the business units. These citizen developers have in-depth knowledge of the processes, and our role is to provide them with the technical abilities, data sources, and APIs they need to create their own processes. 
  • We are involving these citizen developers from the business because the business perspective is essential for low-code development – the processes they are digitalizing are run within the businesses. They have the ideas, knowledge, and expertise in areas like legal and accounting, which IT employees may not have. Involving business employees in the development process also increases motivation and satisfaction, as they feel empowered when they can help themselves. 


  • I agree, the purpose of Confactory is to make digital building more enjoyable. The reality is that nowadays in large companies, it’s difficult for people with ideas to bring them to life. They must talk to many people and get approvals for using software. We believe that to be truly innovative as a company, you have to make it easy for those who want to change something. That’s the idea behind Confactory: Make it easy and fun for the doers and the makers who want to build innovative solutions. 


How will low-code change the way Freudenberg Group drives digital transformation? 



  • Through low-code tooling, it’s possible to distribute, or rather democratize, the solution-creating process more. Today’s pattern in companies is to bring problems to the tools instead of bringing tools to the problem. We think we can change that with low-code tooling. 


  • I think low-code will change digital transformation in Freudenberg by enabling us to create solutions more quickly and with more resources. Since we’ll have the true process knowledge needed to build each solution by involving citizen developers, we’ll be able to create better solutions than if IT were working alone. The business perspective is crucial for low-code development because it ensures that solutions meet the specific needs and requirements of each process. 


What are some of the critical governance points to consider when operating a center of excellence for SAP Build? 



  • For the Confactory approach, we have a more federal governance model in mind. We don’t want to enforce a lot of rules from a central place but rather maintain a balance between central requirements that must be enforced and more decentralized rules that individual business units and fusion teams with local IT may come up with – that’s the concept of being federated. 
  • So, I think the most critical thing in operating SAP Build is to have a clear concept of responsibility. What is the responsibility of the platform provider internally? What’s the responsibility of the IT function? And what is the responsibility of the citizen developer and the fusion teams building solutions? It’s a really tough topic to achieve a clear separation of responsibilities between these two groups. 


  • I also think that governance from the IT perspective is crucial, but there are more technical aspects as well as the people aspects to consider. From the technical side, there are two main tasks: security and API management. We must ensure that our data is secure and that employees do not expose sensitive information. When providing an API, consider how much of it can be used. It may be beneficial to create an API entry point, providing only the necessary and safe data for specific departments. 


Great, and can you tell us more about what is happening here at Freudenberg today with the Buildathon and SAP? 



  • Sure – today, we are hosting a Buildathon with SAP on the SAP Build products. Around 40 people are participating, creating processes and apps through a series of six challenges to guide them into the future of building their own digital solutions when they go back to their daily work. We hope that many will be excited about this and continue this low-code journey after the event and become true citizen developers. We are conducting this Buildathon with SAP and colleagues from our business departments and other IT teams at Freudenberg.  


  • SAP is a long-time partner of Freudenberg, and they’ve helped us a lot in finding our path in digital transformation, providing good software and inspiring us in how to use it. Today, we used SAP Build Apps and SAP Build Process Automation as low-code, no-code tools, and they worked really well – I saw a lot of happy faces today. 


What was your motivation behind getting started quickly with low-code and citizen developers via Buildathon event? 



  • The best way to learn is by getting hands-on, so we began our low-code journey with this hackathon – getting started with any new initiative is always difficult, especially when you need many people to get moving. We wanted to create some momentum and enthusiasm right away. So far, I think the participants are really interested in the concept of low-code. Many people see the potential for using the tooling in their daily lives to make it better. It’s a journey, and we want to prove the value of low-code to them with real use cases in the near future. 


  • We wanted to have the Buildathon with SAP because we wanted the participants to have firsthand knowledge of the product and start creating right away. The goal was to dive into the subject directly and efficiently, with the help of experts on-site. The acceptance of the low-code tools by the participants is great so far. We received a lot of positive feedback and some constructive criticism on how to make the tools more user-friendly. The idea behind SAP Build is accepted, and participants are already starting to develop new ideas for building processes. 


What are the lines of business and roles of the people participating in the Buildathon – and do any of them know how to code? 



  • We have a diverse group of people from different areas, work departments, IT, non-IT, corporate level, and business group levels. It’s a good mix of different perspectives coming together to solve complex tasks. There are a few people who know how to code, mainly from IT, but most do not do it daily. It’s great for them to see how they can use SAP Build apps occasionally to build digital solutions. The question for us and everyone is whether the concept of a citizen developer will last? Will businesspeople in departments have the time to learn the skills to be citizen developers? We think there is more power in the concept of fusion teams, where you have different competencies in a team that pairs a business expert with an IT expert, instead of finding all the competencies in a single person. 


  • The citizen developer at Freudenberg is anyone working on the business side who needs to optimize processes in an automated way and is willing to learn to use SAP Build. That means anyone who would like to participate is invited to do so. Today, we have here a mix of participants, some with no coding experience and others with a little coding knowledge. In fact, I think the only true pro here would be my colleague, Simon. A mix of participants is perfect for the event because they’ll test SAP Build as it’s meant to be used and provide valuable feedback on improvements and enhancements.  


There are many participants from finance – why is there such high interest from this line of business in SAP Build?  



  • We have many people from finance here today because there is a lot of potential for automation and making processes leaner and faster in the finance area. Lines of business, like finance or human resources, already have a lot of operating procedures and processes to follow, so the thinking is already structured around processes to be built. 


  • There are usually many administrative processes to be optimized, and most of them that are in the finance and controlling departments are already well structured, as Simon says. However, I think if we held this session at another time, other departments would attend as well, such as legal or human resources. Today’s timing, in April, just happens to work for finance and controlling since they have just finished their year-end tasks and were available to try something new. 


Do you, as IT innovation leaders, have any use cases in mind that you want to develop after the Buildathon?



  • There are many potential use cases for SAP Build in the area of collaboration between corporate entities and different business groups. Often, there isn’t much digital integration, and paper is sent back and forth between entities. This is a huge opportunity for low-code and no-code tooling to implement digital processes. For further ideas about use cases, we plan to proceed with a community concept. We’re excited about the ideation rounds and pitches that are happening today to get collective knowledge about interesting use cases for SAP Build Apps and SAP Build Process Automation. We’ll follow up on these use cases afterward. 


  • I have many use cases in mind, starting from tomorrow. For example, there are numerous processes within the IT department that could be automated to reduce paper and email usage. Additionally, I’m aware of processes in accounting and controlling from my own experience that need improvement. I’ve already heard people discussing these processes today and brainstorming solutions, so I believe we’ll be successful in addressing them. To identify and prioritize use cases, we’ll consider the time spent on manual tasks and the cost factor. For example, if a process takes more than four hours per month manually, it could be a candidate for automation in an app. We’ll also compare the costs of manual work versus automation. In the past, automation was expensive due to the need for programmers and developers, but now it can be done more affordably. Another factor is the potential for errors. If a process is prone to errors, it should be automated. 


What is your vision for the future of Confactory and low-code at Freudenberg Group? 



  • My wish for the future is that we continue this momentum, building a community within Freudenberg for digital builders and problem solvers to address the most significant issues facing humanity and work toward a better future. One year from now, I expect that we’ll have a global builder community in place, involving all different countries, business groups, and functions, with a vibrant exchange of ideas and solutions between people. 


  • I would love to see people outside of technical environments become more interested in this technology. We use apps on our phones daily, and it would be fantastic to engage all Freudenberg employees in this field. Encouraging them to think about their everyday challenges at work and finding ways to improve their work routines would be great.  
  • After the Buildathon, we will conduct more hands-on sessions, where we will go into the products, build apps, and automate processes. We will teach participants the functions of the tools, as requested. Then, we will be there for them when they start their own projects, answering questions, and providing data and connections. Eventually, we will slowly retreat and let them build their own solutions. 
  • I hope the builder community will grow to 200 or more people in a year. My dream is to have at least two participants from each department of the German Freudenberg divisions, and if we could reach out to other countries, it would be absolutely fantastic. 
  • Success would be reaching a level where we regularly build processes and apps in the departments and receive enough feedback to further build up our Confactory center of excellence, create APIs, and so on. We will see the success with SAP Build and citizen developers in the following months and years, as more processes are built and we know we have taught the people in the right way. 


Watch this short video to get an impression of our live conversation:

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      Author's profile photo Pierre COL
      Pierre COL

      Great blog post Sandy Hathaway, it is really inspiring to understand how customers are considering governance for their of low-code projects: governance is such a critical topic for our customers and partners! 👍🏻

      Author's profile photo Sandy Hathaway
      Sandy Hathaway
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Pierre COL, totally agree! It was an inspiring discussion and the Buildathon was a lot of fun, especially for the citizen developers. 😊