Gesichter, Geschichten, Teams und Talente

Interview with Benjamin Wiens
  • Benjamin Wiens
  • IT specialist for application development
  • works on the Information Management team; this department was newly formed in 2014 under Group IT and pools competencies and IT solutions
  • in February, he won an idea stipend from the Venture Club Münster together with his colleague, Thorsten Sbrzesny. Click here to visit the Instagram post.

BENJAMIN, WHAT DID YOU TRAIN FOR?

I completed a three-year training as an IT specialist for application development, also known as programmer, at LIS AG in Greven.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU ALREADY BEEN WORKING FOR FIEGE?

That’s an exciting one – Hilmar Wagner (Director at LIS AG) took me with him to Bocholt one day after my exam at the chamber of industry and commerce, to offer support in implementing the TMS. That was my first contact with FIEGE. I worked as a Key Account Manager and dedicated developer for FIEGE as a client from 2004 onwards. I carried out multiple implementations for FIEGE at different locations including Dortmund, Bremen, Lengerich and Lahr. I joined FIEGE full-time in 2009. My client practically became my employer. Initially, I worked as a project manager in programming and support. I was then entrusted with my first own project at FIEGE in Cologne. At the time it felt like jumping in at the deep end, but I felt that they trusted me as they knew me and by that time had known my work for a good five years.

As a team, we customised and successfully launched the entire Transport Management System (TMS) for FIEGE in Cologne, which took almost a year to complete.

FIEGE’s transport management segment runs on a standard system, WinSped. Together with the product manager and implementers I was also in charge of advancement, standardisation and implementation. I had to supervise my own former colleagues from my days at LIS. An interesting role change. Suddenly, I was the client. Quite exciting.

BUT THE COMPANIES CONTINUED WORKING TOGETHER?

Yes, very much so. LIS AG remains a FIEGE partner. It made sense to have someone join FIEGE who knew the product, someone from the manufacturer’s side. This simplified and enhanced the implementation as well as the communication. The other branches were rolled out gradually. My next crime scene after Cologne was Rangsdorf.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS TRANSPORT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?

Quick example: a retailer orders a pallet of confectionary. The manufacturer transmits this job to FIEGE. Orders are generated based on the electronic information. The pallet waiting at the warehouse is retrieved and readied at the warehouse. The TMS accepts these orders in parallel and allows the materials requirements planner to schedule the delivery runs. The necessary papers are printed out and the information on the shipment is sent to the receiving forwarder who then communicates with and returns status reports to FIEGE, so that we in turn notify the client that their products have been delivered. The software can do so much more, and the processes are very, shall we say, challenging.

WHAT IS A TSP?

That’s a transhipment point. They are the receiving forwarders – the transport partners contracted to continue rolling out this job. FIEGE does not really have much of a proprietary fleet anymore and instead co-operates with networks and partners. We drop off the products with the receiving forwarder which then distributes the shipments through long-distance and local traffic. This type of partnering generates only the expenses for personnel planning (driving times, etc.).

SO THE PROGRAMME PLANS THE DELIVERY RUNS IN SUCH DETAIL THAT IT IS KNOWN FROM THE START WHICH FORWARDER WILL TAKE WHICH VOLUME TO WHICH SUPERMARKET?

Precisely. The information also enters all of their systems. What this means is that we have set up bi-directional interfaces. My responsibilities include building and installing these interfaces. This requires conversions because not every system automatically understands those data. First the data must be configured and fed into their system. Part of the job as an implementer is to build these interfaces, set up communication and hook up various third-party systems, like the Document Management System. Case in point: Signed delivery notes are entered in the system again and immediately signal a confirmation of receipt. Orders can be viewed directly in the Document Management System via the software which indicates that I have received a status and that the run can now be invoiced. The TMS is also there for that.

If a forwarding agent receives the job to transport the goods from A to B, it is possible to settle the accounts for the respective shipment. The implementation also required all terms and conditions from the former system to be reflected in the new one. That includes regular price lists and a graded weight scale, while others are more complicated. It was my job to anchor these master data and this logic. At the time, the LIS system had its own language which simply had to be keyed in. Something of a spaghetti code.

WHAT IS SPAGHETTI CODE?

Spaghetti code means that the procedure must be processed sequentially from the top down.

DID YOU CREATE THE WORD SPAGHETTI CODE YOURSELF?

No, I inherited that from my former mentor. That’s IT jargon.

WHO WAS THIS MENTOR?

Was and still is – Hilmar Wagner, the CEO at LIS who, amongst other things, shaped me. He helped to build this software from the start. Even at his advanced age, he sits in his office and programmes the most fantastic things. Sometimes he will even create code that knows which trend to take up, where the software must be developed, for example telematics or real-time tracking. They mostly evolved from his work and the programmers then implemented his ideas. Hilmar Wagner also encouraged me to accept FIEGE’s offer because the world is my oyster here. I realised at the time already that the potential at Fiege is much greater. There are many more systems that I couldn’t wait to explore.

DO YOU FIND YOUR ACTIVITY EXCITING?

Absolutely. The diversity and the complexity of my current activity are great. I don’t deal with the Transport Management System anymore.

I handled the implementation together with Jan Fielbrandt in Cologne. He came from Controlling/Operations and I came from the IT side. We complemented each other very well. I had sourced an analytics software at the time called QlikView, which he also became convinced of. In his capacity as a controller he was very enthusiastic about the flexibility this software provided. We did not have that then.

It can tap into many different data pools in order to generate reports from them. Before that you would use Access, Excel or any other licenced software programme. Everything was extremely complex. With QlikView, analyses can be generated much more quickly, both in terms of data preparation as well as visualisation.

Our Information Management department has been up and running since 2014. Before that, it was more of a 1.5-man show because in the beginning, I operated in parallel universes – with the implementation of the Transport System and with QlikView. That was sort of below the radar, even though officially approved by the Board, but as a pilot. FIEGE gave us the opportunity to try something out.

That’s just part of the mentality here: “We believe in you – now go organise and build a small pilot.” It proved such a success that we were able to infuse transparency into certain processes.

The test phase took longer. The position was not official at the time and a different concept had actually been scheduled up until then. Our plan had been to train FIEGE employees in order to work with something of a satellite system. However, that did not work so well because key users had to handle day-to-day operations and implementations on top of that. We then decided to partner with a company in Belgrade (Serbia). They had a development team that implemented the requirements for us. And that then moved me into the role of a product manager, to advance the product, and partly also project manager because I am close to where things happen and am still actively involved in projects.

THE IMPLEMENTATION IS NOW DONE BY THE TEAM IN BELGRADE?

Precisely. I do the prototyping and the standard, take up innovations and advancements and decide for my setting how things are to continue, naturally alongside the strategic direction of the department. The team in Belgrade is manned with diligent IT specialists and implements our requirements. The team of 15 came on board during the construction of the warehouse in Mönchengladbach. At the time, well-trained experts, SAP consultants and SAP administrators were borrowed. We initially built a team of developers with these IT specialists. That allowed us to implement and realise many projects which otherwise we would have had to contract out. The return on investment became much more beneficial.

WHAT DO YOU DO AS A PRODUCT MANAGER?

The diversity and complexity make this job exciting because we have the possibility to salvage real data treasures here. That is what drove me to push the QlikView software because our data stash many treasures. Even in relation to trend analyses, run-time analyses and financial analyses.

WHAT DOES YOUR BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE SYSTEM DO?

Data are retrieved from the warehouse, transport or order management systems and transferred to yet another system. This data processing step is called an Extraction Transformation Load process, or ETL. After this, the data are modelled, i.e. enriched by master data or linked with other data pools, which is called data modelling. In addition to this processing there is also data visualisation. They are automatically provided to the user via an FBIP portal, with the user no longer having to prepare them them.

WHAT ARE KPIs?

Key Performance Indicators. They include figures that are required to control business operations and to prepare as well as make well-informed strategic decisions. With the help of a BI solution we automatically provide the data to the user so that no time is wasted in prepping the data. The exciting thing about our line of business is that there are hundreds of KPIs that measure process flows and control operations. Many of these indicators even interact with each other and we manage to visualise these in dashboards.

WHAT FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE DO WITH ONLINE DATA, FIEGE DOES IN THE LOGISTICS SEGMENT?

Precisely. Now, many of our own operational systems stand for one solution only and are not connected with the other systems. With the help of our BI system we manage to quickly interconnect multiple systems with each other to generate real-time reporting and to support both controlling and operations.

IS QLIKVIEW AN IN-HOUSE DEVELOPMENT OF FIEGE?

No, we bought in the software package. It is a fabulous analytics tool which big players like VW or BMW also use. The software runs on large data volumes in memory, i.e. in the working memory. This ensures the quick and guaranteed processing of mass data. By comparison: Excel has a limit. The time it takes me to do a large-scale calculation with it, I can grow coffee beans. With QlikView, we have a large server in the background. Its technology means that we can provide those reports to operations.

WHY IS FIEGE A GOOD MATCH FOR YOU?

Because the company caters to my needs. Where I wish to go, FIEGE allows me to and supports me along the way. Currently, we are working on the Data Driven Company project. This means: We want to trial new technologies for the analysis of data. Everyone is following this trend at the moment. There are keywords like Hadoop or Cassandra – they are large data pools into which we upload data and then evaluate them. All data are pooled without any structure and we then put something on top of that. FIEGE recognised the trend and picks up from that very point. That is why I am so glad that we were chosen for this together with the team. As in: you did the reporting project well. Now go for the next step. Meaning: you can implement something that is a lot of fun.

FIEGE is a good match for me because the company caters to my needs. Where I wish to go, FIEGE supports me along the way.

MOST PEOPLE THINK OF FIEGE AS A LOGISTICS OR A FORWARDING COMPANY. ONLY A FEW HAVE AN IDEA ABOUT JUST HOW DIVERSE THE COMPANY’S FIELDS OF ACTIVITY ARE.

That is correct. That goes especially for the IT segment. Before this, isolated solutions were often built and held on to for quite a long time. They missed out on the trend to switch faster. That has changed since we have a new IT boss. He immediately added to his team. He is future-minded and stays close to the trends. He is also someone who inspires me and taught me to think FIEGE on a global and integrated scale.

WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE ABOUT YOUR CONTACT WITH COLLEAGUES?

From the very first day, you are accepted here in the big family. I realise that time and again whenever new people join the team. We treat each other in a friendly and sympathetic manner.

Here in our department, we offer training and coach colleagues until they can handle things autonomously. And the departments also work very well with each other. At lunch time, many of our colleagues often go for a walk outside. You can see small groups forming from the different departments. I think that’s great because people can talk to each other and discuss things – under different circumstances they would not come together. You’ve got IT specialists sitting with those from operations and the finance guys with controllers – a really colourful mix.

And even the Executive Board handles things differently. There is no hacking order. We’re all on the same page. And I really like that. Our communication is informal, and nobody is treated like a stranger. Even when you go to a different branch, people treat you instantly like a colleague. I greatly appreciate that. That is why I love to promote FIEGE when I try to attract new members for our team.

IF AN ACQUAINTANCE WERE TO ASK FOR YOUR ADVICE BECAUSE HE OR SHE SAW A VACANCY ADVERTISED AT FIEGE, WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE?

Yes, go for it! That actually happened recently. There is one thing I always tell people: FIEGE gives you the possibility to unfold your full potential. There are people here whose career started off very simple and who have worked their way up to crucial positions. If you have the will, FIEGE gives you the opportunity to evolve. I can most definitely recommend FIEGE. Of course, I am always on the lookout for new colleagues – new talent. For example, through the co-operation with universities. Currently we have one student with us on our team. We try to market ourselves a little and show how we work here and how flexible we are and everything that we can offer.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO BALANCE YOUR WORK LIFE?

Family and sports. I have been doing judo for 25 years. That is important to me. Likewise, I have had a new passion for the past two years – Strong Viking. That is something of an obstacle course that takes you cross country. My distance is currently 19 kilometres with 40+ different obstacles like clambering, crawling through pipes or throwing a hammer. My two children are also infected.

WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT OF THE PAST YEARS AT FIEGE?

We received an award two years ago. The Management presents awards each year, for example for attracting a special client or for outstanding achievements of a business unit. For the FIEGE Business Intelligence portal – which is our solution – we were awarded an extra intra-company prize. That was the first time that IT had received an award. It’s really cool to receive an award for a product that you co-developed with your own know-how. The award also recognised other colleagues from the team.

Another highlight happened this year when we participated in the Innovation Challenge. FIEGE organises Innovation Challenges where you pitch your ideas. We participated with three topics and received a special award for one of them.

BUT SYSTEM HEADQUARTERS WON THE SOCCER CUP IN KRAKOW…

Unfortunately, our IT team got kicked out at a very early stage of the tournament. But next year the tournament will take place here in Greven and we can play there. I am already looking forward to that.

MANY EMPLOYEES REALLY ENJOYED THIS EVENT. HOW DID YOU LIKE IT?

It was great. You meet people you don’t know. I talked to colleagues from Poland who order pick there. We explained our individual fields of activities at FIEGE to each other. There was an instant connection. The collaboration with our team in Serbia is on the same level. Whenever we are on location, we do our normal business thing during the day and in the evening, for example, we do sports together. At 10 pm you go to bed and instantly fall asleep, tired but totally satisfied. So it’s not just the work that’s fun, but being with people is, too. Our GET colleagues also greatly appreciate this. Whenever they come to visit us, we can show them where their developments are applied. They can see for themselves how colleagues use them and check the value they add. In the evening, we grab a bite to eat together or in winter, we explore the beautiful Christmas bazars in Münster.