In Part 1 of our interview with CTA GmbH, we talked to Managing Director Hans-Dieter Worch about digitization in SMEs, what challenges it brings, and how SMEs can meet these challenges to benefit from digitization.
In the second part of our interview, Andre Brenner, Head of IT at CTA GmbH, joined us to talk about their experiences with IT projects at CTA, working with Actyx, and advice for software companies selling to SMEs.
MAX FISCHER: Mr. Brenner, thanks for joining us. What are your tasks at CTA?
ANDRE BRENNER: As head of internal IT and a member of the management team at CTA, I have been responsible for all IT projects in the company for more than five years. A particular focus lies on the digitization of internal processes. We work a lot with other companies such as Actyx, but also have our own developers who develop solutions for us.
MAX FISCHER: Mr. Worch, you mentioned in the first interview that company culture plays an important role in driving digitization forward. What have you done at CTA to make sure that your workforce is willing to drive digitization forward?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: Digitization projects, as well as other topics, that brings along significant changes for the workforce, only work with an openness to change, indeed also an openness to try something out and tackle new things. We attach great importance to open communication with our workforce, also to allay fears in advance. We have noticed that such projects are accompanied by concerns about one’s own job, but also by worries that immense pressure is now being built up. Due to the open communication as well as the involvement of the workforce, these worries could be dispelled. It is equally important that the entire middle management is 100% behind the plans and involved from the beginning. This is the prerequisite for involving the workforce and eliminating fears.
MAX FISCHER: How would you assess the acceptance of your workforce now?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: Very good. For example, we carried out a project in which we transparently displayed real-time data directly on the line and clearly presented the goals. At the beginning, there was a lot of concern about how to deal with the situation, if, for example, an order was slightly behind schedule. So, we started with a few lines as examples and showed the employees step by step that it was all about working together to implement improvements rather than putting pressure on our workers. As CEO, my main concern is to support my employees. For example, we saw in the data that our production employees often had no material. As a result, we equipped our internal logistics with tablets. Now, our forklift drivers know where material needs to go at all times. This has had a huge impact on our efficiency and employee satisfaction. In the meantime, our production employees are open to IT projects because they understand that these projects are carried out to make their lives easier.
ANDRE BRENNER: I can only agree with that. In the meantime, I am also hearing more and more often that colleagues in production are happy to be able to work with tablets instead of paper. On the one hand, because it is fun for them, but above all because they feel valued that CTA is investing in them. That is why I am now seeing a steep learning curve among colleagues. At the beginning, when employees do not know something, they have a lot of respect for it and do not have much confidence in themselves. But now they all understand what it is all about and are open to new tools.
Andre Brenner has been with CTA as Head of IT for more than 6 years.
MAX FISCHER: What were the biggest lessons learned for you in terms of digitization?
ANDRE BRENNER: My biggest learning is quite clear: digitization can really be quite simple. One example of this is a banal process that we have digitized. At the line, the worker reports that he needs goods. The forklift truck then receives the order and picks up the goods directly. The forklift driver no longer must get down from the forklift, go to the office and look where the stock is and where he should take it. He now has all the information directly on the forklift and always knows where to go. In addition, the moment one forklift takes over, the order is blocked for other forklift drivers, which has enabled us to prevent multiple deliveries of the same material request. This has great effects, such as time savings and fewer interruptions within the production. This is a simple change in the process and technically not a big effort, as we were able to build this with Actyx in two weeks. But the effect on our business, the processes in production and the work of the logisticians in the factory is immense.
MAX FISCHER: What is your position on this, Mr. Worch?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: As CEO, I naturally always want things to move quickly. Patience is rarely one of the virtues of a CEO, and unfortunately, it’s certainly not one of mine. But you cannot underestimate the change process for the employees in production. For them, the world is changing completely. They have been working with paper for 40 years, and now they’re suddenly expected to use a tablet. It is therefore also important to pick up the shift supervisors at an early stage, as they are best placed to support the workers.
MAX FISCHER: Moving on to the topic of factory software – what points are important to you when you decide on a provider?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: Of course, you want a reliable, trustworthy partner, that is the be-all and end-all. And this applies to everything from consulting to implementation and aftercare. As a medium-sized company, you want a partner who does not just check off standard criteria but shows you what new possibilities there are and delivers a flexible solution with which this can then also be mapped.
ANDRE BRENNER: I can only agree with that. Of course, it is important to have a partner who can deliver quickly and holistically. It is also important for us to have a partner with whom we can scale step by step, as with Actyx, so that we do not have a high risk. Furthermore, the solution should bring a clear added value. If a worker has to wait 5 seconds every time he enters something into a tablet, employees simply won’t accept that. It is also important that the system is easy to understand and easy to use. Complex software often requires complex operation. But we have noticed that there are other ways to do it. Unfortunately, many providers have not yet understood this. Particularly when working with modern devices such as tablets, it is very important that the user interface is adapted accordingly, is easy to understand and operate, and can also be used by employees who, for example, have had no training, perhaps come from another country, and are now having to deal with such software for the first time.
MAX FISCHER: What would you recommend providers not to do?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: You’re often contacted by salespeople who quickly tell you that they do not really have any idea what it’s like in your industry. We are all under pressure and have a lot to do. My tip to providers is therefore to first understand the challenges of a medium-sized company and then offer suitable solutions. Many things are simply not practical for small mid-sized companies because they are too complex and expensive. Often, software has functionalities that large corporations need, but SMEs do not.
ANDRE BRENNER: There is also the issue of standard software. Many suppliers always tell us, “Yes, we can do that”. But when they visit us on site, they quickly realize that they cannot map the complexity of our production. Sometimes you get the feeling that people are only interested in selling, not in creating added value for us. Customers who then want to adjust are not really wanted there.
HANS-DIETER WORCH: That’s a very good point. The software providers want to make a quick deal, but for us the process only starts there. We are not finished until the process has been optimized; the software is only a tool for this, but not yet the solution. As a medium-sized company, you need solution providers.
MAX FISCHER: What role do startups play in the topic of digitization, especially for you as a medium-sized company?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: The main advantage of start-ups is that they are always very hungry at the beginning and want to implement great projects that they can then market afterwards. That is why you simply notice that start-ups are much more motivated by nature.
MAX FISCHER: What are some tips you would give startups to help them succeed in this industry?
HANS-DIETER WORCH: It is important to think in terms of solutions. Not simply selling the software but trying to understand the complexity and the environment of the customer and offering added value in the process. This is especially important for medium-sized companies. Many companies do not even have an internal IT department. They then need more than just a software as a product, but a solution provider. Mid-sized companies can do little with software without an overview of the overall solution.
MAX FISCHER: Now you have had a start-up partner in Actyx. How was the collaboration? What did you like, what didn’t you like?
ANDRE BRENNER: We had very intensive and close cooperation, which was ultimately the key to success. A big plus is that you can discuss problems that arise at any time. With large companies, you sometimes must wait a few days until the ticket is processed and you can’t reach anyone on weekends. With startups, you can just call, and everyone tries to find a solution right away. But of course, we also thought about the risks at the beginning. For example, we asked ourselves what would happen if the start-up no longer existed in two years. Then you might have software in the factory that is no longer being developed and only half of it works. It always helps to have a concrete plan B and to stay in close contact.
MAX FISCHER: So why did you decide to work with Actyx anyway?
ANDRE BRENNER: For all the reasons Mr. Worch mentioned at the beginning. As an IT specialist, the platform convinced me. It is very flexible to use and allows us to scale step by step. That convinced us at the beginning, that we could start with one use case, but knew that we could also do a completely different project with you next. That is very important to the developers. It also has its advantages in terms of collaboration. You are young, dynamic and have new ideas. If you have ideas, you have no problem trying them out. In corporations, there is a corresponding hierarchy. First everything must be approved, then the budget has to be released. And until it comes to fruition or until you can try it out, a lot of valuable time simply passes.
MAX FISCHER: Mr. Worch, Mr. Brenner, thank you very much for the exciting interview. I look forward to working with you in the future!
HANS-DIETER WORCH: Also from our side, many thanks for the partnership and reliable cooperation. We are looking forward to the new projects to come.