Passion for technology and people. This is how one could describe the man who came to Trask with many years of IT experience in the automotive as well as other fields. Former General Manager of IT Manufacturing for Volkswagen in Germany, CIO and Head of Customer Care at Volkswagen of America in Detroit, Andreas joined the business and sales department of our German branch earlier this year. In this interview, he will share his views on the future, on technology and on the opportunities that lie ahead of Trask on the German market.
You have a very rich professional history, including working on space projects to Mars and to Jupiter. Has technology always been your passion?Always. I started programming at school in 1975, I developed software to finance my university studies, after that I worked for several years as an engineer on complex products with digital components, and later I engaged in the implementation of effective and efficient service processes. So, I always was on the technology, IT and digital side and passionate about it. Working on space projects was something special and awesome in this context. I watched digital data coming from out of our solar system and it was quite impressive, to be honest. And of course, to be at the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center and to see the rocket being shot up to the sky was a brilliant way of ending a project.
You have plenty of experience, especially in the automotive domain, namely Volkswagen. Now you are at the other side as an innovative service provider. Why that change?I was in the automotive since 1998 with Volkswagen and I have always been on the application and digital side. Then, during the ten years with my Process Manufactury, I stepped a little bit away from IT. I realized that many managers called for an IT solution at that time, whenever they met with a procedural challenge, and that they ignored solutions based on better collaboration between people. I believe that we need to find ways to integrate the “digital” and the “social” – this motivates me even now. If you asked me back in 1987 what it was, digital and IT, and if you asked me what we were doing in Trask after I first joined in, I would say that it had to do with natural sciences, like physics and mathematics. Today, I say that IT is part of social sciences, because it integrates people.
Your company, whose German name translates as “Process Manufactury”, focused on business process management and organizational improvements.I named it Process Manufactury, because I wanted to find better, more people–centric and less technology-oriented ways to understand and implement business processes and workflows. I knew that I couldn‘t do this in theory only, that I needed to tackle real-world problems. So, from 2007 to 2017, I worked for customers like, for example, the youth welfare office of the city of Hamburg, a government body that takes care of children who, for example, were mistreated in their families. These are very sensible processes and their level of integration was quite low at that time. It was a great difference and at the same time it was very interesting to come from the automotive industry, to try to understand this kind of world, and then to transfer some successful optimization approaches from the manufacturing industry to this type of environment. It turned out that the principles of effective and efficient organization where people are motivated and able to achieve great results are always the same across domains.
You have focused on technical and organizational innovations throughout your career. Which of Trask’s solutions did you find interesting when you first heard of them?Trask ZenID that scans ID documents and mVIS for SKODA AUTO, a visualization portal. IT companies, when you build them, need to be focused on solutions, not on selling to people. What attracted me was Trask being not only “Trask”, but “Trask – enabling innovation”. This ability – to enable innovation – is an attractive USP today, because everything becomes digital, and so almost everything revolves around innovation. Many consultants say that they know how to digitalize, but we are the ones who actually do it – we digitalize. And I must say: I was impressed to see that Trask walks the talk and is very much digitalized itself. I got my tools up and running in next to no time and I can tell from a very recent experience that this is a huge competitive advantage, too. I have at my fingertips – literally – all the documents and applications that I need.
You are part of Trask now, of its German branch. Where do you see the biggest opportunity to innovate or to improve in Germany?What makes Trask attractive across domains is that we offer a wide array of solution components that support end-to-end digitalization of business processes: starting with frontend, building mobile apps, digitizing documents, identifying documents & people, visualizing data and interacting at points of business. In the backend, we have all the technology available to configure business processes with state-of-the-art BPM engines, to monitor them and to integrate them with the existing IT systems. And, last but not least, we have a solution that allows us to enhance and manage digital skills and other qualifications of people – Trask Digital Workspace. It is a comprehensive package. We offer everything from frontend to backend, including the knowledge and the capabilities of our people. That’s really fantastic, I think.
If you should name just one opportunity…For example Mobility. The automotive industry is now under a huge pressure in terms of costs and innovation requirements. Technologies are developing and the expectations regarding the integration of products with the rest of the world are changing. Besides the OEMs like Volkswagen, Mercedes, etc., there are many medium and large suppliers and mobility innovators in Germany. And innovation is our home turf. Last but not least, Germans are quite impressed with the solutions that come to us from the Czech Republic – we perceive Czechs as very clever people who come up with clever solutions. That is an important fact and it will be a great help for us. I think we should sell “clever-as-a-service”.
Talking about the future and about knowledge, what do you think will be the topic of the future in IT and in technology?It will be data and the way how we can successfully model our world in IT systems, so that we can further build on and extend whatever exists now. So far, the IT systems have been rather disconnected throughout the world and many companies make lots of money on integrating them. The purpose of my work could be expressed as follows: get rid of your IT integration department. Why shouldn’t we build systems that do not require further integration,, that fit each other right from the get-go? It depends on how we model and design data structures for those systems. An example: when I was the CIO at Volkswagen, about 40% of servers in my data center had no other functionality but systems integration. Another example: although we had an end-to-end digital process for it, instructions regarding bodywork welding points got lost on their way from engineering to the robots, and nobody knew why. How come? Digital processes, and specifically data structures, are not connecting to each other properly. This is a very valuable field to consider in digital business.
Technical and IT segments are becoming more and more popular. Besides your job, you also cooperate with the University of Oldenburg.Lifelong learning. I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Oldenburg. After the projects in space business, I worked for Dräger Medical in Lübeck, Germany. My role there was more managerial, it was more about people, organization and processes – social systems, at the end. I realized that the real world was a bit wider than my cozy world of technology, and that people and organizations played a crucial role in it. I then turned my focus to hospital processes. We worked on the development of an OR management software scheduling doctors and nurses, patients and anesthetic equipment. Unfortunately, someone else, who was sitting down in the basement, was developing another system to schedule and, more importantly, to maintain anesthetic equipment. These two developments were not aligned, so the resulting schedules overlapped each other.
How is it possible that they were not aligned?That was my question, too. What happens in organizations? Departments create local solutions first and only then they think to talk to their neighboring departments. What kind of support is needed to find a motivation and to remedy this? Let me get back to my example: of course, there are available technologies and principles such as business process management notation (BPMN), but BPMN does not provide a complete picture of a process. It focuses on tasks within one process, but it will not give you a hand to model schedule constraints for resources such as this very anesthetic machine. It is being used in the OR process, but it should be available for maintenance as well. Two processes that need the same resource. This cannot be formulated in any existing standard process management language. It is an example of what I am working on. Another example: the existing notations do not support modeling of possession and of ownerships of things – something that is a matter of everyday concern in the real world. Scientifically speaking, all these challenges revolve around the issue of complexity management in the collaboration of autonomous systems. I work really hard to develop a notation for socio-digital systems, that would mirror the real-world aspects. Thus, it would be easier to build, verify, integrate and operate IT eco–systems in the future.
Andreas studied computer and software sciences at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany. He worked for the Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD, and for Dräger Medical, Lübeck. Throughout most of his career – 20 years – he focused on the automotive sector. He grew up in Northern Germany, in the town of Hagen a.T.W. / Sudenfeld. He now lives in Wasbüttel near Braunschweig, in a happy marriage with his wife, Andrea. They have three adult children and one grandchild. Andreas is a golfer and he likes to travel around the world.