Innovation and sustainability. These two values are becoming an obvious choice for every business, and nowhere more so than in the road construction sector. The Belgian Road Research Centre (BRRC), for example, is always looking for ways to promote sustainable innovation. One example of this is PradoWeb, a smart tool used to calculate the right asphalt mixture. Cegeka developed this software with the help of the OutSystems low-code platform, in very close collaboration with BRRC and its users.
Engineers, geologists, chemists, urban planners, laboratory assistants and technicians. BRRC employs a broad and diverse team of experts. Among other things, the team looks for ways to make roads smarter, safer and greener, and they share that knowledge with road contractors and road authorities. And they are increasingly using digital technologies to achieve their goals.
Technology as a true enabler
Victor Marinus, who has been BRRC’s IT manager since 2010, has observed how digitalization has become a strategic focus in recent years. "Today, everyone at BRRC understands that digital technology is an enabler that can help us do more. When we decided to replace our existing PradoWin software (Program for Road Asphalt Design and Optimization – Windows) with an up-to-date platform, we received full support from our management."
PradoWin helps road contractors to create exactly the right asphalt mixture they need for each application. Victor explains: "The tool was innovative when it was launched in 2002. But the asphalt industry has changed a lot since then. We were no longer able to integrate the latest developments in raw materials and techniques, nor the newest insights. The platform had also become slow and was therefore being used less. So, it was high time for an alternative."
In-depth expertise and the right scale make for an ideal combination
Victor was looking for an experienced partner with the right expertise, to work as professionally and efficiently as possible. "We wanted a breath of fresh air, a professional mindset, and the know-how of an expert who has plenty of experience in Application Development", he says. "We needed this for the project to succeed. Internally, for example, there was a lot of scepticism about using an online tool. Calling upon an external partner with proven security experience was a smart move to get everyone on board."
"Cegeka also turned out to be an ideal partner, thanks to their 'perfect scaling'. They are big enough to guarantee expertise, sufficient resources and continuity. At the same time, they work very closely with their customers. That combination is a huge asset."
In very close cooperation
'In close cooperation', which is Cegeka’s motto, was taken very literally at BRRC. Cegeka worked closely with asphalt researcher Joëlle De Visscher, who became the project manager. She formed a team with several fellow researchers who were using the tool, and with the IT person who had been involved in the development of PradoWin. In addition, three more external PradoWin users helped us during the testing phase.
As Joëlle explains, "The software is an extremely important tool for optimizing the composition of asphalt mixtures, particularly with a view to sustainability. For us, it was crucial that our target group was actually going to use the new software. So, it was very important to find out what they wanted. We did a survey first, and later came back to this during the workshops. From colleagues, road contractors and road authorities to COPRO, the certification body for construction: everyone had a seat at the table during the foundation phase to map their needs."
Using low-code to innovate
Each software project which is developed by Cegeka starts with a Foundation Phase: a design phase to gain insight into the business drivers of the project. Our consultants use this information to make a list of the functional requirements. Then they take a look at the technical scope.
BRRC had the choice of developing PradoWeb either in JAVA or with low-code. They chose the second option. "We considered both options extensively," says Muriel Van Craenenbroeck, Project Manager at Cegeka. "Our exercises showed that low-code met BRRC’s functional requirements and budget the most."
For Victor, the innovative aspects were a big advantage: "Having often read that low-code is the future, I decided to go for it, despite the licence fees. BRRC positions itself as an innovator, which means that we must have the courage to innovate in terms of software development. I was impressed by OutSystems, among other things because of its high ranking at Gartner."
"BRRC positions itself as an innovator, which means that we must have the courage to innovate in terms of software development. That’s why we chose OutSystems."
Victor Marinus, IT Manager at BRRC
A challenging roadmap, a solid support track
PradoWeb is a highly scientific software which offers a lot of models and calculations. Victor: "Errors are a no-go. Every detail must be correct. Using low-code software for this project was quite ambitious. We managed to complete the project, but not within the short time frame set (which was three months). However, Cegeka continued to provide us with excellent support, together with the OutSystems team. They supported us through the process and are still available for questions and optimizations, even today."
Source of new insights and optimizations
PradoWeb has been available since December 2020. The tool was also launched internationally in June 2021. Joëlle explains: "We have received very positive feedback: The tool looks good, is very user-friendly and has lots of functionalities. The predictive ability, for example, is much better than before. We see that our target group is now actually using the tool in order to determine the right asphalt mixture."
Joëlle, being a researcher herself, is extremely pleased with this innovation: "Every day, we are looking for ways to make asphalt more sustainable, by reducing CO2 emissions during the production phase, ensuring that the asphalt lasts longer, and finding ways to reuse it with high quality standards. These insights are all included in the tool. Moreover, PradoWeb teaches its users how they can improve the performance of the mixture. The tool is thus contributing to better, more innovative and more sustainable asphalt mixtures and roads. PradoWeb can also easily be expanded, which allows us to quickly integrate any new insights or methods."
"PradoWeb is contributing to better, more innovative and more sustainable asphalt mixtures and roads."
Joëlle De Visscher, Asphalt Researcher at BRRC
Not just users, but ambassadors
Joëlle looks back happily on the co-creation process with Cegeka: "We really enjoyed the collaboration. If I had to change one thing, we could have used some extra time to fine-tune the results from the foundation phase. As it turned out we had to adjust the scope in the course of the project, which caused some delay."
"Cegeka deliberately chose a very agile approach so that adjustments could be made gradually. This approach has its limitations, but agile development remains the best approach."
Victor concludes: "It was the first time that BRRC entrusted a big project like this to an external IT partner. We were very impressed with their approach. By involving all stakeholders in the foundation phase, for example, you create buy-in from all those involved. As a result, you end up with ambassadors instead of users. We have learned a lot from this project, and we are even inspiring other institutions to accelerate their digitalization. Our role as innovators has been confirmed once again."
"By involving all stakeholders in the foundation phase, for example, you create buy-in from all those involved. As a result, you end up with ambassadors instead of users."
Victor Marinus, IT Manager at BRRC