Record sales of 9.98 billion euros, but still the company just failed to hit its target of ten billion: In 2012, the economic crisis in southern Europe slowed the growth of hardware accessory wholesaler Würth, which employs more than 64,000 employees in over 400 branches in 80 countries. Despite this, Head of IT Jürgen Häckel reports on how the company is also benefitting from the problems in southern Europe.
SAP.info: Mr. Häckel, as Chief IT Officer at Würth, what currently concerns you most?
Jürgen Häckel: Generally, we are doing well. The only problem is the huge shortage of skilled talent. In IT, we are currently recruiting specifically from the southern European region. It’s a bit like the 1950s, only this time, we are looking for highly-qualified talent. Last year, our internal IT service provider Comgroup recruited more than 20 people from southern Europe, and we still need more. Our centralization projects mean that Comgroup will have to grow from the current 160 employees to 200.
How do you manage to attract young IT talent from Spain to Künzelsau?
The IT director of our Spanish subsidiary posted adverts in Spain, which resulted in four new employees in just the first wave. We also use a recruitment agency in Spain, which works on our behalf. These partners then choose young candidates from the local applicants who may be suitable for our German offices. A lot of Spanish people are willing to learn German and stay here for a long time. With the high unemployment rates in Spain, we can attract really top-class graduates.
Next page: Helping the Spanish settle in
And are they happy here in the long-term?
A colleague of mine from Malaga told me it’s too hot for her down there in the summer anyway. And with other local companies also recruiting in Spain, we have started seeing regular Spanish get-togethers throughout our region. Not only that, but those who are already here chat to their friends back home and tell them to come to Germany. We help new arrivals relocate by offering a Location Package. We help them with everything from moving their belongings, setting up a phone line, right through to providing the right trash cans. We even lend them a car for the trip to IKEA. And we help them identify the right prospects for their family. In my opinion, Germany, and our region in particular, is very attractive for Spaniards. German IT talent prefers to head to Berlin or Munich. They want everything to be cool and trendy. Generally, that doesn’t really fit our small-business culture.
Mobility a key role
What are the other big topics at Würth IT? As a company with 30,000 sales personnel working in field sales, mobility plays a key role. How do you drive that area forward?
We have developed our first application for the iPad that supports the sales process. It wasn’t an IT-driven development, but rather communication-driven. By that, I mean it isn’t targeted at specific individual products, but focuses instead on the topics that the salesperson intends to discuss with the customer on-site. We are currently in the process of testing the app. We are still unsure of which other mobile operating systems we will release the application on. Personally, I would prefer to use just one platform. If we release the application on multiple platforms, maintenance and development costs soon spiral.
Next page: Standardized process models for e-Commerce
You mentioned centralization projects. What is happening within the structures at Würth IT?
With 400 subsidiaries, our structure is highly decentralized. At the same time, we are currently building a centralized IT structure. Centralized IT structures are something of a trend at the moment. I recently met with a group of CIOs from other large companies in the region, and almost all of them are reconsolidating their IT, centralizing their SAP systems, and building data centers. At Würth for example, we need standardized process models for e-Commerce. Unfortunately, because of our structure, centralization takes a very long time. However, we can capitalize on the fact that many local companies are reaching their limits when it comes to their IT structures in ERP, e-Commerce, and mobility. We can make them an offer, and incorporate them into our centralized structures.
Key processes at the touch of a button
How far do you want centralization to go?
We want key processes such as invoicing to be completed at a minimum of locations. Previously, our Chinese subsidiary had its own ERP system, and managed its own invoicing processes. Ultimately, what we would like to see is for someone here in Künzelsau to be able to press a button once a month, and for the invoice to be printed out over in the USA or China. This would of course mean that someone would have to be monitoring our entire operations around the clock. And naturally, we would always have to bear in mind all the international public holidays.
What is your schedule for centralization?
We want all processes of our most important companies to be centralized by 2016/2017.
Rolling several ERP systems into one
You also mentioned the various ERP systems: What does the ERP landscape look like now at Würth?
ERP systems are reaching the end of their lifecycle at many local companies. This is the best time for us to incorporate them into our central system. Acquisitions and the growth of our Group meant that, at times, we had up to 90 ERP systems. At our head office, we have been using SAP ERP for a long time, and this will gradually be rolled out to our subsidiaries. This allows us to introduce many processes at our smaller companies, which makes networking easier. For me, it is vital that we concentrate on one major supplier with strong prospects.
It was recently announced that the Group management would be reduced from seven to four members. Does this impact the status of IT at Würth?
No. The growing importance of e-Commerce changed our status within the Group. The area is no longer regarded as an IT thing, but is gaining importance as a key customer contact strategy – not least because revenue shares are growing so fast.
And that’s bound to cause some friction, right?
Sure. Direct sales are rooted deep in the genetic make-up of Würth. Now, this channel and e‑Commerce are regarded as one integrated component. The role of direct sales is changing. In the past, it was strongly driven by order generation. Today, the sales team are effectively account managers. On the IT side, this increases the importance of Content Management systems and Production Information systems. In the times of pure direct sales, this was less important. It’s a very exciting change for Würth.