In part 1, we spoke to Friederike Kammann, who is responsible for HR at CIM and a member of the expanded management team, about working in the family business and finding the balance between family and career. In part 2, we’ll be talking about growth, new forms of organisation and what the future holds for the logistics software market.
Part 2 - organisation and looking to the future
You’ve already mentioned the company’s transition to a new generation in management. Is your job primarily focussed on this goal?
Yes, by necessity. But that transition is just part of what I do. I also look at growth and how to structure it, guide it. Basically, I took this on because no one else had. And someone has to do it. There has to be a driver. The process is huge and you have to think about a lot of things before starting. Where’s the company heading? What’s compatible with the company? You really have to do a lot of research and think outside the box before moving on to shape the process and guide it along. The impetus has to come from us. We have of course had help and advice from external sources but it’s up to us to initiate and implement the process itself. Basically, one person is not enough to do all this. Really there should be two or three people working on the project. Lots of things need to be defined and there are so many issues to be thought about - there’s just an incredible amount of work to do. When a company grows, you automatically get to the stage at which you have to think about organisational structures. It’s clear that we can’t continue working with the old model, with two managing directors who made most of the decisions and who were involved in all aspects of the company. Quite simply there are too many people and projects running simultaneously now for that. So things have to change. How do you make decisions if the existing structures can no longer keep on top of everything? We spent a long time thinking in great depth about exactly this point. That’s when things really started to happen.
Well, the first thing we did was to think about the form of organisation we’d like to use. Should we have department heads? Should we have several management levels? Those structures are familiar and proven but they also have well-known drawbacks. We at CIM are and always have been a company with flat hierarchies. We’ve never had classical department heads. How would employees feel if we were to suddenly pick a person and say ‘You’re the boss’? This leads naturally to the next question: Who makes the choice? How is the choice made? And then there’s the question of the company’s management structure. How do we want to run the company? What’s important for oneself? Where is the company going? What vision do we pursue as the future management? There are no easy answers and the process that my sister and I have initiated together with my parents is ongoing. For Hannelore and I, it’s important to preserve our corporate culture. This means flat hierarchies, or rather no hierarchies between people. We’re in the process of moving towards a model based on self-organisation and collegial networking. In this model, there is no classical top layer. This is the best reflection of our (my) style of management.
Can you briefly describe what this means for the transition in generation?
There are no more hierarchies between people in the company. The only hierarchies are between processes and roles. The difference is crucial. Of course you have to have an official managing director to take up the reins if need be. But there is no ‘top layer’ in the conventional sense, with everyone else underneath. Instead, there is a network of persons, roles and processes, all contributing to the company’s success. The first step is to create the prerequisites for a network like this. It seems paradoxical when you want to set up a network-based structure - someone has to get the ball rolling and at the start this can only happen from the top down. At some stage in the process it should change to bottom up. Pulling, not pushing. But in any case, the expanded management team must drive the process at the start.
Where do you see the company in ten years?
The whole sector is currently undergoing a major transition. It’s clear that the logistics software industry is facing a phase of consolidation. In ten years, only a fraction of the WMS providers currently active in the market will still exist. Only technology frontrunners will remain independent, carving up the market between them. Intralogistics is becoming increasingly technical and requires a high level of technical know-how in software development. Providers offering WMS functions as a part of their ERP system are already having major difficulties meeting market requirements. The rate of automation will continue to accelerate, big data will become integral to intralogistics and there’ll soon be useful applications for artificial neural networks. When that day comes, it will no longer be feasible to put in a small side offer for a WMS system from some full-service provider. CIM is certainly one of the best positioned companies in the DACH region. In terms of technology, we’ve been leaders in the field since PROLAG®World was introduced in the 2000s, with its browser-based WMS as a cloud solution. To this day we see ourselves as leaders in technology and we continue to see ourselves this way moving forward. Looking back on the last 10 years and how the company has grown, we can afford to be optimistic about what the future holds.
You’ve mentioned the DACH region but not international markets. Does that mean that CIM will be concentrating on German-speaking regions?
No, not at all. We already have many international customers. PROLAG®World is up and running in more than 16 countries - in the USA, Qatar, the Netherlands and France for example. We’re already well established in these locations and opened our external office in The Hague so that we can maintain a better overview of the European market. It’s pretty clear when you look at recent developments in PROLAG®World that the system is designed with internationalisation in mind. This is not a given with software, because you can’t just focus on selling the product. The system also has to be capable of handling multiple languages. Software interfaces must be intuitive by design so that they can reflect many different cultures and not just those of one or two countries. So internationalisation starts in the product code and consequently in development, UI design and software ergonomics. At CIM, we are proud to say that our workforce includes employees from many different countries and cultures. Diversity is a valuable asset in software development and makes the move to international markets possible in the first place.
We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for CIM! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.