The Mobilizers: team “App Factory” digitalizes customer contact
Digitalisation and industry 4.0 | innovation | trends of technology | Many people have ideas for apps but a new team at thyssenkrupp is dedicated to putting them into practice: the App Factory. The digital experts are thus helping to take thyssenkrupp's digital customer service to the next level – group-wide.
Things are looking serious. Oil is leaking from the excavator undercarriage – from a roller that holds the chain in position. If the leak is not stopped, the construction vehicle will wear out more quickly or fail completely. This means urgent action is called for. In the past, that required an employee of the construction firm to contact the thyssenkrupp’s subsidiary Berco – proven experts for undercarriage components for tracked vehicles – by email to describe the problem. Berco’s service team would then get in touch and ask for the part number and details of where it was being used and how long it had been in operation. The customer, in turn, would send those details back – and so on and so forth.
[ggf. Motiv easy support App]
However, the days of those back-and- forward email exchanges are over. For a while now, the construction company has been able to report problems quickly and easily using a mobile app. All the customer has to do is open the “easy support app” and answer a few simple questions. After that, they can also attach a photo of the damage – and that is all. “This gives us, in a structured form, all the data we need to be able to decide whether it is potentially suitable for repair under guarantee,” explains Dr. Tobias Posner, head of the US spare parts business at thyssenkrupp Berco.
Thanks to the app, the customer receives a response within a week – it sometimes took much longer than that in the past. “This saves a huge amount of time both for customers and for Berco,” says Posner, who came up with the idea of the “easy support app.” It was also put into practice very quickly – in less than six months the idea had been turned into a finished app that Berco’s customers can download free of charge.
App Factory: All-inclusive package for digital customer service
It was made possible by the App Factory, a new team within thyssenkrupp that specializes in helping mobile apps become a reality. “We look after every step, right up to go-live and beyond,” says Daniel Schorzmann, the head of the in-house app maker. Any thyssenkrupp employee from any business area who has an idea for an app can approach the team and will be supported in putting it into practice. The App Factory helps with planning the project and refining the concept, and the digital experts also manage the development of the software and handle the necessary tests. “We offer an all-inclusive package,” Schorzmann says, summing it up. What emerges at the end is a finished app that can be downloaded in the normal way through Android’s Play Store or the iOS App Store.
Of course, the idea of mobile apps is nothing new at thyssenkrupp. Some business areas are already using apps, but these are individual cases, where each area has driven its own applications forward with the help of outside service providers. This means expertise in mobile apps has indeed been developed, but it has happened only in individual business units. Furthermore, the various app projects in the group have often known nothing of each other. “So there was no transfer of expertise,” Schorzmann reports. The creation of the App Factory means there is now a central contact point that not only turns out mobile apps quickly but also pools the relevant knowledge so that it is available throughout the Group.
First internal customers are enthusiastic
The mobile app makers’ first customers included thyssenkrupp Schulte, a leading service provider for steel, stainless steel, and nonferrous metals. The company supplies metalworking companies, for example, with materials such as bars or tubes. Customers have traditionally submitted their enquiries by telephone, email, or fax. At the end of 2017, the idea came up within the company of offering an additional, simpler way of making contact – a mobile app. “This attracted a lot of interest from customers,” recalls Andreas Kellermann, head of the Munich site. And so, they got in touch with the App Factory. A rough concept was worked out, and after just a few months, a first version was ready. “We then went to one of our customers and presented it to them,” Kellermann continues. The business partners were excited there and then, but they also wanted to be able to do more – not just submit enquiries but also place orders at the same time. In collaboration with the team from the App Factory, this wish came true. The finished “easy supply app” has been available for download from the app stores for iOS and Android devices since October 2018.
The small program makes buying steel beams as easy as ordering shoes online – maybe even easier. It is based on the QR codes that are found on every product. Customers can, for example, attach the code directly to the shelf where the relevant parts are kept. If it is empty and needs to be restocked, all an employee has to do is launch the app, scan the QR code, and enter the required quantity. The order is then automatically transmitted to thyssenkrupp and processed. Fundamentally, therefore, the app performs the function that used to be handled with kanban cards. “The key advantage for our customers is that they can now send us their requirements around the clock,” Kellermann says.
App development: Focus on what is practicable
With the “easy supply app,” the App Factory has shown that the concept of using digital technology to bring ideas to life works. However, this “interface work,” as Schorzmann describes it, is not always straightforward. On one side you have the app inventors, from whom ideas simply pour out and who come up with something new every day for which their program could be used. On the other you have the App Factory team, who have to focus on what is practicable – questions such as what can actually be programmed, whether it complies with data protection rules, and whether it observes IT security requirements. “Sometimes the inventors expect us to perform magic,” Schorzmann says with a grin.
The core work involved in creating an app – the actual programming – is performed by a thyssenkrupp subsidiary in India. This company is home to ten Internal service providers for all parts of thyssenkrupp who are responsible for activities including the development of mobile apps. The “easy support app” and the “easy supply app” were also their doing. The Berco executive, Posner, is enthusiastic about the ease with which his company cooperates with its Indian colleagues using an electronic project schedule. “You can submit tasks and immediately see them being worked on,” he says. However, even the development of apps does not happen entirely without any conversations. “I am on the telephone to India every day,” Schorzmann reports. What is more, their colleagues on the subcontinent work on German time in order to make coordination easier.
Feedback for continuous improvement
Just as important as contact with the developers is contact with customers. “We involved users from the very beginning,” reports Kellermann, the man behind the “easy supply app.” With every new test version, his team went out to customers and collected feedback on every detail, however small. “We spent a long time talking about the design of the data entry fields to enable employees to get through the app quickly,” Kellermann says, citing one example. This is a dialogue that continues even after the program has gone live. After all, a good app is never finished. Kellermann is continuing to talk to customers about mobile possibilities, and additional functions are already being worked on. “It is all about sensing needs before customers even articulate them,” he explains.