You’ve found a frontline operations platform that is no-code, IIoT-native and can replace your MES partially or fully. You are excited about augmenting human workflows, flexible deployments, and continuous improvements — but you have to do your due diligence and prove ROI.

We get it! Frontline Operations Platforms are new to the Industrial and Manufacturing technology landscape. Even though they were developed for a different era, traditional Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are a tried and tested means of coordinating, executing, and tracking manufacturing processes.

With any new major investment, you may have questions about the total cost of ownership, such as:

  • How much of a time commitment and monetary investment will this require?
  • How about over the span of its lifetime?
  • How will this new system impact productivity?
  • How soon will we see value from this solution?
  • Will we be reliant on vendors?
  • What is the update process like?

We’ve summarized the answers to these questions with four different aspects of Total Cost-of-Ownership beyond software licensing and hardware:

  • Time-to-Value and the Cost of Implementation
  • The Cost of Validation
  • The Benefit of Empowering Workers
  • The Cost of Maintenance and Updates

In this post, we will guide you through what to consider when thinking about the Total Cost of Ownership for No-Code App Platforms vs Traditional MES solutions.

Time-to-Value and the Cost of Implementation

Traditional MES

Traditional MES solutions are rigid and highly hierarchical, requiring a significant effort to plan and build a system. Large organizations can see implementation projects lasting multiple years. That’s multiple months or years of non-value-added time.

Time-to-value illustration of deploying a traditional MES
A timeline of the traditional deployment of an MES system.

As complexity increases, vendors become gatekeepers to the success of projects. To configure the solution to meet your needs, vendors often charge high fees for professional services, as these systems require extensive technical expertise.

Frontline Operations Platform

Where the MES approach is rigid, top-down, and all-or-nothing, the no-code deployment approach is flexible, bottoms-up, and gradual. Using a no-code platform, you can still implement data models or system architectures, but with a lot more flexibility.

You can start with a few apps and gradually add more use cases and introduce more complexity over time. You can scale the deployment at your own pace and see value in months, rather than years.

Time-to-value illustration of deploying Tulip
A timeline of the deploying apps to support operations

You can enable those who know the process best to pioneer the app development process by training them and enabling them with standardized apps. Some Enterprise Tulip customers build central libraries of best-practice apps for the entire organization while supporting independent app development and configuration. Process Engineers become Citizen Developers, creating intuitive apps for frontline workers that seamlessly present useful guidance and collect valuable data.

The flexibility of apps with the structure of governance gives companies the best of both worlds – localized problem-solving by domain experts empowered with no-code tools and global best practices and knowledge sharing.

The Cost of Validation

Traditional MES

Validation requirements for an all-encompassing system implementation with a complex data structure make MES adoption a long process, requiring extensive IT support. Learning the process, standards, and system and validating those only extends adoption further, delaying the time-to-value of the solution.

“You have to validate all of the configurations and master data, all the processes that you put into the [MES] system. And that takes a long time; you need to learn the standard and learn the system as well. We’re talking, a good six to twelve months, if you’re really good at it.” – Gilad Langer, Manufacturing Practice Lead at Tulip

Hear more from Gilad Langer as he broke down this very topic during a recent panel session: The Future of eBR and eDHR: No-Code App Platforms.

Validating a traditional system in regulated industries and the life sciences is exhaustive. Any bug fix or upgrade comes at the cost of validating what can be a very complex IT system that touches every piece of your organization.

Frontline Operations Platform

Rather than needing to validate the full system with every update, you can validate Tulip’s platform and then check and validate each individual app before releasing it to production.

For GxP environments, Tulip has an auditable QMS and provides a fully validated platform release every 6 months.

Illustration of Tulip's approach to time-to-value
Tulip’s Validation Approach

In the context of validation, apps based on customer business needs are considered configuration and are in themselves the documentation of the MBR. You can access these version-controlled MBRs within Tulip. When they are executed, apps generate a fully compliant history record that is fully digital and linked to the MBR version.

The Benefit of Empowering Workers

Traditional MES

In a recent survey by Gartner, 59% of manufacturing industry respondents rated “Improving Employee Decision Making and Competency” as extremely important criteria for MES investment justification. (Gartner)

Rigid MES systems with complicated procedures and extensive training required, support “employee decision making and competency” in a very limited way.

Frontline Operations Platform

With apps, you can build digital workflows that guide engineers and operators through tasks — making their jobs easier and improving their productivity. Process engineers can shift their time from building documents and spreadsheets to building apps that seamlessly inform and collect data from operators.

Tulip machine terminal app
A Machine Monitoring Dashboard App in the Tulip Library

The Cost of Maintenance and Updates

Traditional MES

Maintaining agility is becoming increasingly important across all industries. For agility, it is not only important to be able to rapidly update production, but the systems that support production as well.

MES Solutions are typically monolithic, built and updated with a heavy reliance on 3rd-party integrators, and often require ticketing systems for any updates – large or small. If you want to update something (new equipment, machine, UI fix, etc.), it could take weeks. If you want to adjust the data structure or add a field, you might need to wait months for the team to include it in the new version of the MES.

Frontline Operations Platform

With a Frontline Operations platform, you can keep more system expertise in-house and significantly reduce release cycles. Depending on their permissions, an engineer can set up a new sensor and add it to the system in a single afternoon.

Additionally, faster, more frequent release cycles mean rapid innovation and ultimately a better solution. You could argue that an additional cost associated with monolithic MES systems lies in the lost opportunity for innovation.


As digital technologies evolve at a rapid pace, it might not make sense for your organization to invest in a rigid, expensive solution with a long time-to-value. Thankfully, digital transformation brings more solutions than just MES.

Automate data collection and improve productivity with Tulip

Speak with a member of our team to see how a system of apps can connect the workers, machines, and devices across your operations.

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