بالبلدي: No tech background required: Worker creates app to help solve company’s inventory issues

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belbalady.net When Wontaek Lee began working in the maintenance department at Doosan Enerbility in South Korea just out of high school, he quickly became aware of an issue that had plagued his colleagues for years.

“We had requests for many different materials, parts and components,” Lee, an entry-level worker, said via a translator. “When we had a failure of equipment, we had to go back and forth to determine if the parts were available. We had to run to the office and check the stock on the internet, which took a lot of time and effort.”

Indeed, the sprawling Doosan production facility in Changwon, where the company manufactures energy solutions for thermal power, nuclear power and renewable energy, required employees to make a nearly 20-minute trip just to determine if stock was available. Additionally, employees could only make purchase requests from their own computers. These were decidedly analog steps for a company focused on upgrading its technology.

“For the last four years, Doosan has been pushing for digitalization across the organization,” Heemoon Yang, general manager at Doosan, said. “With the adoption of Microsoft 365, we’ve been moving toward that direction, to transform our culture and our way of working by putting the focus on communication, sharing and collaboration.”

Lee figured there had to be a better way to solve his team’s inventory issues and help speed up the repair process. But he didn’t have an IT background or professional experience in the development field, having joined Doosan directly after graduating high school.

A man stands in front of a factory floor
Wontaek Lee stands in the factory at Doosan Enerbility. Photo by Jean Chung for Microsoft.

Enter Microsoft Power Apps. The low-code app development platform helps people with little or no coding experience become “citizen developers,” allowing them to build apps that improve business productivity or processes. This includes apps to review non-profit gift donations, manage travel and ensure safety compliance or reduce overtime required to maintain wind turbines.

“When we think about the future of building software, it’s clear innovation and building great application experiences is everybody’s job in the organization,” Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella said during his Microsoft Ignite keynote speech last month. “It just can’t be about data scientists or professional developers. It’s about empowering everyone.”

A person holding a phone depicting the Search Stock app
Wontaek Lee’s app, which is called Search Stock, helps people in the maintenance department where he works at Doosan Enerbility more easily find the stock they need. Photo by Jean Chung for Microsoft.

Lee discovered Power Apps and began studying the different functionalities offered. His goal was to link inventory data found in Excel sheets within the maintenance group to a newly created app that would present availability in a visual, yet readable way. Lee also turned to online videos and found a community of Power Apps users who helped guide him through the process.

In May 2020, Lee launched the prototype of the Search Stock app, much to the surprise of his fellow workers. “They were amazed that the material info could be checked via mobile,” Lee recalled. “My team leader thought it was a great idea, but also gave me some advice to improve the app.”

The first version Lee created could only do a simple stock check, without any specification of where the needed inventory was located. The final version added more details and allowed users to monitor inventory in real-time and order needed materials via the app. The 80-person team to which Lee belongs has access to the app, with the ability to scale up to 200 users.

The results have been impressive. The unit has reported better workflow as employees can check information during maintenance work without having to make calls or commute between plants. This has led to a reduction in facility downtime and higher levels of efficiency in production work and repairs.

“We saw a drastic decrease in downtime,” Yang said. “There were many pain points before. Time was being wasted trying to identify availability. After the mobile app, there was more value spent on work and less spent on the back and forth. There have been many positive effects.”

A man sits in a conference room
Heemoon Yang, general manager at Doosan Enerbility, said the app Wontaek Lee developed reduced downtime and other pain points. Photo by Jean Chung for Microsoft.

Yang added that Doosan continues to conduct Power Platform training to give employees the opportunity to feel more connected to the organization and address the issues they deal with on an everyday basis. “People on the ground know the pain points most accurately and hopefully they are able to develop apps with those solutions in mind,” he said.

For Lee, seeing his work come to life and make a difference at Doosan is a source of pride. More importantly, he hopes it serves as a source of inspiration for other employees who have something to offer but who may feel as if they aren’t qualified to do so.

“What I did was a simple act, but in looking at it, other people in other departments asked for my assistance,” Lee said. “They wanted to a make a version of their own that they could use in their own organization. Three people have contacted me about creating their own mobile app. I’m happy to see that employees like me are able to contribute to the organization even without an IT background.”

Top image: Wontaek Lee, who works in the maintenance department at Doosan Enerbility, used Power Apps to develop an app that made searching for stock quicker and more efficient. Photo by Jean Chung for Microsoft.

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