“We used to invent 13 wheels – now one’s enough”
More centrality is one of the key objectives of the Tech Transformation at MediaMarktSaturn. One of the projects being carried out is the creation of a common IT infrastructure for all our country organizations. We spoke to Johannes Wechsler, the MD of MediaMarktSaturn Technology, about how the Global Infrastructure concept benefits customers – and why size matters.
Whether it’s your home broadband or your phone network at work, we only pay attention to IT infrastructure when it’s playing up. Why is that?
Today, like electricity and running water, digital infrastructure is indispensable in all areas of life. Be it domestic appliances at home or the systems here in our company, these days everything is interconnected and relies on the underlying infrastructure working properly all the time.
But unlike electricity and water, networked devices and systems are still relatively new – and they’re evolving by leaps and bounds. This is great for MediaMarktSaturn as a retailer because we sell the corresponding equipment. However, for MediaMarktSaturn as a company, this is also an enormous challenge. If we suddenly start showing customers 8K instead of 4K content in our stores on 50 TVs, the bandwidth required doubles at a stroke. And this of course impacts the Wi-Fi system. Our size is an enormous advantage when it comes to coping with changes like this.
In what way?
Every IT challenge requires a solution. If I’m a proprietor with just one single shop, I only need to find one solution to the Wi-Fi challenge described – but I can only use it once, of course. In the past, when we developed one solution per country, we were able to use it in Germany for example 420 times, i.e. in each store. Now, thanks to Global Infrastructure, we’re using it over a thousand times – in other words, right across Europe.
So does the Global Infrastructure project mainly boil down to a common, more powerful Wi-Fi system?
No, this is just one of seven subprojects. Global Infrastructure also covers topics such as cybersecurity, service management and service desks, on-site support for our stores, a shared data centre, and the technical design of workstations.
The overall aim of these seven subprojects is to concentrate our entire IT infrastructure expertise, especially our team. Metaphorically speaking, whereas we used to invent 13 wheels, now one’s enough. This approach means resources can be saved and diverted to other matters instead. And this in turn enables us to solve more problems and introduce more innovation faster. After all, our systems need to be constantly improved.
How does the Global Infrastructure project help the customer?
Well, our customers are always in indirect contact with our infrastructure, for instance whenever they want to try out a product, ask about the price, pay for it, have it delivered or repaired, or if they want to cash it in at a later date. Nothing works without a smoothly operating digital infrastructure.
In addition, if an IT hotline salesperson takes less time to come up with a solution, or if the Wi-Fi functions more smoothly, this frees up more time for advising customers. Global Infrastructure is therefore a building block which will make us more customer-focused as a company because it simultaneously supports all four strategic initiatives.
That sounds like a vast project. Isn’t it at odds with our intention to move away from major multi-year programmes and focus instead on agile, quickly visible changes?
Well, that’s exactly how the project has been set up. Rather than meticulously preparing something for years and then suddenly going live in a Big Bang (along with a series of bugs), we’re working step by step. To give you an example, we roll out our new WIFI network in three or four stores every week.
As a result, this is also helping us become more efficient because rollout problems in the first country organization won’t be repeated in the second one.
By the way, being one of the company’s first truly global divisions, we’ve also had to solve many aspects of collaboration in order to implement this. In recent months, we’ve learned to work in virtual teams across language barriers and international frontiers – and with almost 300 members of staff. For example, the global head of the service desk is based in Spain, even though most of the team work in Germany.
How much persuasion did you have to use – on both the management and your team? What were the main arguments which finally swayed everyone?
We quickly managed to convince the business managers – i.e. the management teams in each country organization – of the basic logic. After all, it’s self-evident that, in theory, common infrastructure is far more efficient and effective. Above all, we had to persuade them that this would also work in practice. A good argument here was the size of the project team. The smaller country organizations in particular benefit from the availability of substantially more resources now to solve acute problems.
Have you already managed projects on a similar scale? If so, what are the differences from Global Infrastructure?
Many members of our team including myself have experience of major infrastructure projects. Basically, they’re always the same – huge projects of fundamental business relevance that have to be carefully planned and then consistently executed. Then again, they’re different every time because the technology is constantly evolving.
In addition, the respective requirements vary greatly. For my previous employer, ProSiebenSat1, the main challenge was the enormous amount of data required to transmit moving images. At MediaMarktSaturn, by contrast, the point is to ensure that a €20 billion business runs continuously – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How could the project fail?
As a whole, it basically can’t fail because we’re implementing it bit by bit. For example, a two-digit number of stores in Germany have already been switched to the new Wi-Fi system. And the availability of the internal IT hotline has improved significantly. Nevertheless, we’re naturally dependent on receiving input from users – i.e. the staff in all departments – so that we can keep swiftly improving.
But why can’t it possibly fail?
Because of the team. We have plenty of highly qualified, enthusiastic employees, an inspiring culture of collaboration, and the firm goal to achieve great results for our company and, of course, for our customers.