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Digital ambassadors: Digital Strategy

Schaeffler is a company in which the digital transformation matters – everywhere and at all times. Digitalization projects in all fields are making a significant contribution to enhanced innovation, agility and efficiency. The Digitalization Roadmap and Digital Agenda provide the framework for all activities undertaken in this mission. Three digital ambassadors, Marc, Jürgen and Christof, from the central IT and Digitalization units give us an insight into their work and explain how to make digitalization a success.

The Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Data centers, stores, servers, and networks, as well as digital workplaces using client systems, mobile devices, and the corresponding office applications: Marc Votteler and his team are responsible for the entire lifecycle, that is both development and operation, of the fundamental IT services used by the Schaeffler Group – at around 170 sites in more than 50 countries. This includes software platforms employed all over the world for ERP, HR management, communication, collaboration, and internet and intranet content management, which are now primarily based in the cloud.

The most important driver behind the work that Marc and his team do is the need to successfully realize the digital transformation at the Schaeffler Group based on agile principles. The aim is to translate technological possibilities, which either already exist on the market or which can be shaped by programming software, into commercial added value. Marc sees himself and his team as enablers, pushing ahead with digitalization in the Schaeffler Group. He refers to himself as a digital surfer, who is constantly keeping an eye on digital trends and waves so he can identify the ones that best suit Schaeffler, then harness them.

Marc Votteler, Head of IT & Digitalization and CIO of the Schaeffler Group

Using the right technology in the right place, identifying the solutions that are a good fit for us and those that are not so suitable – this is a real art and it’s my team’s strength. It’s like a surfer who looks to the horizon, picks out exactly the right wave from those that are heading their way, then harnesses that wave successfully.

A holistic perspective on the whole of IT

By collaborating with other departments, this is how new solutions are created, which could be real game-changers in the world of work. One example of this is Guided Quoting, an intelligent pricing solution based on artificial intelligence, which helps with the quotation process. It was developed in conjunction with sales colleagues from the Industrial division and won a Schaeffler Award in 2021.

Another aspect that is not in the spotlight so much, but is no less important for that, is data security within IT systems, which also falls under Marc’s purview: “Ideally, users shouldn’t even notice IT security, other than maybe having an innate sense of safety when working with our systems.”

The achievements of his IT team – one of the best in the world, he claims – motivate Marc in his day-to-day work too. His responsibilities include listening very carefully, so he can offer support at an early stage should any challenges arise, and purposefully inject new ideas based on discussions with other departments.

The digital strategist

Initially, it was “just” a consulting project as part of the IT2020 initiative – the first contact that former consultant Jürgen Henn had with Schaeffler. That was 2015. The focus was on the digital transformation for which Jürgen developed the initial strategies and got the first major projects underway. Interest and activities for Schaeffler remained, grew, and in 2017 he moved to Schaeffler. There the Medical Informatics graduate set up and established the brand-new Strategic IT Department. Through a couple of changes over the years this became the Strategic Digitalization department.

“Our task is to structure, continually fine-tune, and implement our digitalization roadmap,” explains Jürgen, adding: “That ranges from the digitalization strategy, strategic, coordinating, and governance tasks, as well as establishing efficient structures in the company and mobilizing employees in all Schaeffler organizations, through to identifying synergies and bringing together various aspects and people.”

Getting everyone onboard with digitalization

To successfully implement the goals of the digitalization roadmap, Schaeffler needs “very good, very professional digitalization and IT individuals in the company,” says Jürgen. For that reason, Schaeffler is devoting more time and effort to getting all employees onboard when it comes to digitalization. The focus is on developing the right skills, optimally using digital tools as part of their daily routine, and identifying and implementing new digital solutions.

Jürgen and his team are providing the blueprint for just that as part of their daily work, which is characterized by an agile way of working and the use of relevant digital tools. These include digital collaboration and communication tools, along with digital brainstorming, and virtual boards for task management within the team. “We no longer (just) produce many of our results as PowerPoint presentations. We also present them straight away as new digital solutions.”

The Strategic Digitalization team interprets and embraces the transformation as the interaction between business, data, and IT. In this spirit the team structures digitalization topics “relating to our products, our value chain, our factories and machinery, as well as to our employees’ workplaces.”

The use of artificial intelligence is also becoming more important at Schaeffler. Here, Jürgen Henn is focusing not only on work-related aspects: “At the moment, I’m experimenting, for instance, with artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT and am looking at how I can improve my personal productivity and creativity with it. This then also often opens up interesting applications in the personal sphere, or even vice versa.”

Jürgen Henn, Senior Vice President Strategic Digitalization in the Schaeffler Group

We must understand the rapid developments fast and leverage them optimally for Schaeffler. It is therefore crucially important that we work together with employees to further develop their skills and experiences. Digitalization affects everyone, and everyone can also play their part in the further development at Schaeffler – know-how and enthusiasm are the keys to success.

The innovation broker

What does digitalization mean for Schaeffler? It's the question that Christof Heurung hears most often in his role. He has a degree in business information systems and works in Strategic Digitalization, where his particular focus is on further developing Schaeffler's digitalization strategy, promoting digital innovations, and managing the company's strategic partnerships, including those with SAP and Microsoft.

Christof Heurung, Strategy Professional Digitalization at Schaeffler

I am fascinated by new technologies and possibilities: I love experimenting with them and try motivate others to do the same. At the same time, I'm connecting people so they can be more successful together, both inside the company and outside, for instance when it comes to our strategic partnerships with SAP and Microsoft.

Up until 2014, Christof was busy climbing the classic Schaeffler career ladder higher and higher – starting off as an SAP administrator and eventually heading up Global Technology Services. He then switched to Strategic IT, which evolved into Strategic Digitalization over the years that followed. What prompted this change was his daughter: as a single father, he wanted to have more time for her. His boss, colleagues, and employees had a great deal of respect and admiration for his decision. Little wonder then that Christof is very grateful for all the opportunities on offer at Schaeffler and, above all, for the freedom and flexibility he has to tailor his career in the way that suits him best. He sees himself as a great example of how to really achieve a good work-life balance, instead of just paying lip service to it.

The switch was a fantastic match from a skills point of view too: In his role as Strategy Professional Digitalization, Christof can really bring his enthusiasm for digitalization to bear. "I try to get colleagues from all areas of the business excited about the possibilities of digitalization, inject my passion for the subject, and highlight all the positive outcomes, both within our company and beyond."

Sniffing out digital trends and putting them into practice

Christof and his team identify, analyze, and put into practice any digital innovations that are around on the market, so Schaeffler can achieve even more success through digitalization. This is why he calls himself an "innovation broker". He also promotes the opportunities offered by digitalization, for example by actively communicating with colleagues on topics related to innovation. His achievements in this area include setting up the company's successful DigIT-Meetup series and creating a real fixture on its calendar of events with the Digital Innovation Days. Every year, the Digital Innovation Days gives every Schaeffler employee the chance to learn about digital innovations and get inspiration from internal and external speakers.

Christof uses new technologies such as generative AI not only when he's at work, but in his home life too. He is also very interested in quantum computing and the metaverse. For Christof, the exciting thing about his work is getting together with other people to be creative, try out new things, and break boundaries in a positive way.

October 2023

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