Döhler - a year on in their SAP journey

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy October 13, 2019
Revisiting a maturing SAP customer that tripled the size of its in-house development team to keep up with functional demands.


We showcased Döhler GMbH at last year's SAP TechEd. I am always keen to run follow up stories on customers to find out what has changed, what has been learned, and what value the customer has received since the last time we spoke. So I jumped at the chance to meet with Winfried Winterstein, who I met in 2018 and who now leads Döhler's whole SAP implementation team.

By way of background, Döhler has more than 7,000 staff, operates in 130 countries with more than 40 production facilities. Since we last met, the company has acquired majority holdings or acquired in Concentra Europe BV, Nutrafood S.r.l.and Zumos Catalano Aragoneses S.A. (ZUCASA.) 

By way of recap, this time last year, we concluded that companies with the 'right' mindset could move quickly. That is saying something for a business founded in 1838:

It strikes me that companies like Döhler when faced with multiple technical challenges but a long history of a particular supplier, are much more resilient and capable of change than we might imagine. In this case, Doehler is taking a wholly pragmatic approach that refuses to throw out technology with which it is comfortable and which meets its business needs while still investing in its future.

By way of background, Döhler considers itself to be an 'SAP first, but not only SAP' shop. This is unusual at a time when we usually see back office landscapes that look like SAP/Salesforce/Workday. There is a method in Döhler's thinking. The company continues with an aggressive functional expansion plan, which has led to a tripling in the size of the in-house development team and expansion in the outsourced consulting operation. Those changes have been accompanied by further consolidation onto SAP systems. As an example, Winterstein told me that the company is replacing Tableau with SAP Analytics Cloud because they get better integration with core SAP systems. That struck me as a surprising move to make because, on the broader market, we see more Tableau (and Power BI), even among SAP shops. 

We know that today, SAC has less functionality than Tableau but the integration question is more important to us. They announced SAC for SuccessFactors, a tight integration and we want to leverage that. Also, we see roadmaps and have a good relationship with SAP which we can use for topics that are important to us. 

However, that close relationship is not consistent among the different lines of business that SAP owns. 

It depends on the line of business inside SAP. Ariba? It is hard but then that's a very big product, C4C we're good and SuccessFactors? Not yet. Each LOB has its own model. 

This point about business models and lines of business inside SAP is the vital point since it directly impacts how SAP allocates development resources, a question I raised with both Juergen Mueller, CTO SAP, and Christian Klein, Co-CEO. But, it says something about the quality of the relationship behind the more than 25-year history between SAP and Döhler that others might consider. 

On upgrades, last year Winterstein said that the goal for 2019 was to have upgrades done in two months. Current upgrades take nine weeks, close to the stated objective, but for 2020, the upgrade goal is more ambitious at five weeks. 

I was not comfortable doing upgrades in nine weeks with parallel branches and retrofitting (because of tooling issues) so to achieve the five weeks ambition we will restrict those to a technical upgrade only and then go live with functional projects once the technical upgrades are completed. 

As regards the use of SAP Cloud Platform, the intention is to turn off the on-premise process integration tool and go with SCP at some point in Q1 2020. 

Our existing PI is very old and running out of maintenance next year. We have many integrations running well using CPI already, so it's one of those situations where it just makes sense. And yes, most of our integrations to date are about data, for example, with customers like invoicing and delivery notes (two-way) and for government tax documentation. 

in other areas, Döhler is working on the introduction of Fiori apps with a slew of apps in mind, including one for the warehousing operations since operators struggle with the current method of using SAP Personas for mobile apps. Machine learning techniques are being applied to payment matching to help in reducing errors in reference numbers. 

80 percent can now be done automatically and we can concentrate on the 20 percent where the reference is really screwed up for wrong references or wrong payment amounts. So we've reduced the amount of manual work and with release 1809 we can better match bulk payments to outstanding invoices. 

On the topic of RPA, Winterstein said:

That's planned. For me, RPA would be for test automation but for the business, we need to evaluate whether we have good processes or bad. Obviously, here is no point in applying RPA to bad processes. Foir that we also use Celonis for process mining. 

In addition, Döhler plans to implement mobile notifications to the time-based employees so that they can see what their monthly additions are for elements like overtime, the electronic delivery of payslips and the ability to push out internal marketing and news. 

As we closed out our conversation I asked Winterstein about the top of mind topics for his organization going forward. He knows that as the company continues to flesh out application functionality and adds more capabilities that the landscape will inevitably become more complex. Yet the need for integration remains a constant. He expressed concern that the current solutions are not really solving the root cause but act as 'healing' methods. That reflects closely what DSAG told Klein in Nuremberg last month. However, Winterstein is keenly aware that SAPA is a large organization with a large portfolio of products so making the kinds of change that companies like Döhler request take time. 

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