From Garage to Global

September 14, 2009 by Frank Voelkel

Ansmann in Assamstadt: Franken auf dem Weltmarkt

The village of Assamstadt in the heart of rural Germany is home to mobile energy manufacturer Ansmann. SAP.info took a trip into the countryside to pay a visit in person. The company’s many products are displayed in glass cases and on the walls in the foyer. Here, we are met by Jörg Mauz – a self-confessed pragmatist and head of Ansmann’s IT department – who spoke with us about the company’s largest and most expensive project to date.

Mauz talks mainly about the technology, but enjoys explaining details from a business perspective. And he talks just as he acts – straight to the point, without beating about the bush. During our visit, we get to know the entire company, including details such as how lunch is organized and the fact that a number of employees are currently on short-time work. As a family-run business, Ansmann traditionally has a close relationship with its staff. Since it was founded in 1991, the company has had to part with only a very few people.

ansmann_it_akku_erp_4

Ansmann worked its way up from humble beginnings in Edgar Ansmann’s garage to an internationally operating company. As a result, a wide variety of hardware and software was acquired over the years, with no attempts to standardize the network at system level. When Ansmann went global, the databases for the ERP system were not centrally located and had to be synchronized more or less by hand.

By 2007, this situation was no longer acceptable for the users, the IT department, or the company management. The search was on for a new ERP solution, and many different candidates were evaluated. Talks took place with Oracle, Infor, and SAP. In the end, Ansmann opted for SAP – naming its international focus and especially its market penetration as the winning factors.

Ansmann isn’t a huge company – but its logistics processes are complex. Goods are ordered through the German headquarters, while production takes place in China, and purchasing is handled in Hong Kong and Macao.

Videokonferenz-System zur Kommunikation mit China

Consolidated balance sheet in an instant

Unusually, Ansmann did not conduct a business case analysis before the new IT system was implemented. Instead, Mauz convinced company founder Edgar Ansmann with arguments: Today, the system provides a consolidated balance sheet or the average prices of products at the click of a mouse. Similarly, an overview of the stock at all branch offices and subsidiaries can be delivered in an instant. What’s more, long-awaited and desperately needed functions are now available in SAP. In 2008, the 200 employees at headquarters in Germany generated sales of almost €45 million.

Ein Paket auf dem Weg zum Versand

Battery power

Ansmann’s products are well known to people – mainly men – who devote a good chunk of their time to browsing electronics stores and catalogs. The company has a broad mobile energy product range – from rechargeable batteries in various forms, coin cells, and batteries for digital cameras, through powerful battery chargers with complex technology. For example, there’s the new Powerline 4 Zerowatt, which automatically disconnects itself from the mains power once the batteries are fully charged. There’s also Ansmann Racing, a division based in the nearby city of Nuremberg, which has over the past four years made a name for itself in the area of remote control models and accessories.

Zentral: Sämtliche Server stehen in Assamstadt

SAP ERP 6.0: master data with 10,000 articles

The SAP software was implemented in stages. Right from the start, Ansmann planned to deploy a standard ERP solution with no modifications. Mauz and his team used the turn of the year to migrate order and inventory data. In just eight working days, all the data was migrated and verified, enabling the first goods receipt to be posted on January 3 and the express delivery company to be commissioned on January 7, 2009. Only transferring the data for the stock in Asia took a little longer than originally planned.

Before the SAP implementation, Ansmann had six different ERP instances dotted across the globe. This led to integration problems, because the software no longer had the necessary bandwidth, says Mauz. Up to the go-live, all the master data was duplicated in different ERP systems.

File-Server mit Hot-Swap-Festplatten

Ten consultants from Steeb Anwendungssysteme and 15 in-house employees were involved in the project. The most important functions were defined in the requirements specifications document. As well as training employees on site, the team performed four integration tests in which the SAP system was functionally tested and the integrity of the data migration was verified. Each individual integration test took between four and five working days and involved all 15 key users. This comprehensive testing set the cornerstone for the successful go-live. A final integration test went ahead without the key users – but with all the remaining end users. This test ensured that all employees would be able to work with the SAP system relatively easily. Video conferencing was used to support people who weren’t based at the Assamstadt headquarters.

The British subsidiary has yet to switch to SAP, but will follow suit on January 1, 2010. Mauz is proud to say that the company hardly needs any external help for the software implementation in the United Kingdom.

Ansmann setzt auf Server von Sun mit Solaris 10

Servers in Assamstadt – thin clients worldwide

The server room at the new office building in Assamstadt contains two Sun SPARC Enterprise M4000 servers. Each equipped with four processors (quad core) and the operating system Sun Solaris 10, these two systems provide the basis for the entire SAP system landscape. The SAP environment for production operation is fully redundant and implemented with high availability. This means that the SAP production system has category five availability – in other words, 99.999% availability or only around five minutes of unplanned downtime a year.

In total, 190 employees access the central SAP system. Most of them use the Sun Ray Thin Client infrastructure. These special ultra-thin clients have hot-desking functions thanks to smartcards, and simplify work in areas such as the warehouse and shipping, where several employees share a thin client. All the applications run on the central servers in the Assamstadt data center, so the thin clients act only as an input and output medium. Head office in Assamstadt is responsible for global administration, and Mauz does not feel exposed to security risks.

Room for improvement?

At the end of our visit, our last question addresses any shortcomings. Is Jörg Mauz critical of the SAP ERP implementation in any way? He says a “more pragmatic approach to bureaucracy,” particularly in the midmarket, could make projects leaner.  Fortunately, he adds, the consultants from implementation partner Steeb were very pragmatic and passed on their pragmatism to others at Ansmann.

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