Offering solutions rather than just products is increasingly the name of the game in today’s business supplies industry. Germany’s independent reseller Kaut-Bullinger has taken the concept to a new level, calling it ‘Workplace 4.0 as a Full Service’. OPI’s Heike Dieckmann speaks to Cordula Adamek, Managing Director of the company’s B2B division (the Büro-Systemhaus), about the brand new concept, what it means and how it’s designed to set the company on a growth path for the future.
OPI: Please tell me about ‘Workplace 4.0 as a Full Service’ at Kaut-Bullinger.
Cordula Adamek: As our working environment is changing at an unprecedented pace, so are the requirements for work processes within the workplace. It is my belief that only innovative and progressive suppliers that address these needs will be able to stand out from the crowd – and indeed survive – in the future.
The idea of Workplace 4.0 as a Full Service at Kaut-Bullinger was first conceived with paper-based documents and their digital processing in mind. Experience has shown, however, that condensing the concept to just the copy and print segment is far too restrictive. Ever-growing digitisation requires a much broader outlook.
Workplace 4.0 for us is the whole package: it comprises an ergonomic workstation; all the necessary IT equipment complemented by the maintenance and service for all systems and devices; the analysis and management of the print fleet as well as the automated and contractually-agreed supply of consumables; and the replenishment of all other products needed.
Workplace 4.0 is a general application and concept, but one that can be highly customised.
OPI: Why is it necessary to create a complete customer solution like this?
CA: In addition to generic market conditions, the specific demands of our customers regarding their sources of supply and what they require from their B2B supplier are also changing. In the past, the focus was often on product, price and delivery speed; today it’s about a comprehensive range of services and solutions that are very much geared towards the individual requirements of customers.
Recruiting and retaining highly-qualified employees has become more difficult – and very costly if you also factor in continuous professional development – for companies. As such, employers want to concentrate on and maximise the core skills of their staff, rather than wasting time and money on peripheral activities, such as researching and implementing new technologies and solutions that allow them to do their work most efficiently.
As a supplier of products and services in an increasingly ‘me-to’ market, this is becoming our job – we have to differentiate our offering and provide added value to our customers. Workplace 4.0 does all of that.
OPI What have been the main challenges in making Workplace 4.0 happen?
CA: Actually realising that the market and its requirements are changing is the first challenge. Developing new solutions such as Workplace 4.0 and then implementing and really integrating them into the fabric of your company with complete employee support is another.
You also need the support of all participants in the process. Inspiring our manufacturer partners to come on board and share our visions and ideas has definitely been a challenge. In order to offer the most innovative products available, we are hugely dependent on this collaboration with our partners as well as the willingness of our customers to invest in new concepts.
OPI: What have been the criteria for selecting suppliers to work with?
CA: In the first project phase, we deliberately limited the number of suppliers as well as customers that we approached. Workplace 4.0 is not at all a one-fits-all concept and as such, supplier as well as customer groups will vary considerably.
Flexibility on our part is a prerequisite for making this work. What we can say already is that all parties have shown great interest in the idea and are keen on working with us.
OPI: So what is the timescale for Workplace 4.0?
CA: The goal is to finish laying the foundations for Workplace 4.0 in the current financial year which, for Kaut-Bullinger, ends 31 March 2018. We’ve worked hard over the past few months on preparing this strongly service-driven solution which also comprises a highly-consultative offering.
Right from the start, we’ve involved our selected customers in a hands-on manner in the first test phase. We’ve also participated in trade fairs and a large variety of other events to publicise the idea. That said, the professional and very specific marketing of Workplace 4.0 is earmarked for the new financial year.
OPI: Can you give a typical example of a service that you might be offering to a customer?
CA: One application for Workplace 4.0 is to, for example, equip a meeting room or a ‘modern lounge’ for a customer. In the past, this has usually been a large table with a number of identical chairs. Now we would offer a height-adjustable table with height-adjustable stools and different seating options. Modern conferencing technologies, including Skype or Teamviewer, are very much part of the package, as are lighting and sound insulation options, and access to our online shop Büro Express for an easy procurement process.
Meetings typically result in documents of some kind. These are now mostly digital and it is our goal to completely remove the need for any paper copies. Our remit is to enable all participants to access original, modified, marked, completed and signed documents without the need to be in the same location. It’s about facilitating the workflow and the process chain.
OPI: How important is it today to have a service as opposed to just a transactional product offering?
CA: It’s absolutely essential for resellers if they want to remain relevant and attractive in the market.
That said, for Kaut-Bullinger, transactional business will also continue to be an important part of the company in the next few years, supported by considerable investments in the areas of marketing, e-business and e-commerce.
In these times of decreasing margins and lower demand, the digital value chain must be in tune with the need for a comprehensive product range.
Both strands of business have their relevance and raison d’être, but I believe the balance will tip in the not-too-distant future, with service and consultancy-based offerings outweighing the transactional side.
OPI: What do you view as the ultimate workplace of the future?
CA: I am not convinced it exists. By the time we think we’ve found it, it will already be outdated again.
What I do believe is that all the tools at our disposal which are at the heart of the communication and global networking of companies – communication networks, mobile devices, software tools – are by no means used to their full potential yet. Achieving this, to me, is the biggest challenge in the future. It’s the core objective for the use of Workplace 4.0 and the associated digital value chain.
OPI: Does the Workplace 4.0 concept span all parts of Kaut-Bullinger or predominantly the Büro-Systemhaus?
CA: Well, we’re still only at the beginning and currently the focus is very much on the B2B sector and as such is driven by the Büro-Systemhaus division. In the medium term and with more customer-specific data and insights, I see further development and expanded implementation as a distinct possibility.
The ultimate aim is to make the concept a standalone business unit at Kaut-Bullinger which, in time, will span all parts of the group.
OPI: Where is Kaut-Bullinger’s Büro-Systemhaus on its growth path now?
CA: Our Büro-Systemhaus has developed strongly in recent years, with a specific focus on the strategic reorientation and expansion of our solutions business. Our objective was to achieve an even higher degree of specialisation and differentiate ourselves as an innovative solutions provider. I believe we’ve already done this to a great extent – our results in the 3D segment, for example, are testament to that.
Workplace 4.0 combines many areas of what Kaut-Bullinger offers today. On their own, some products and services might only offer limited growth opportunities or could already be stagnating or declining. But as an overall concept and provided as an individual customer-specific service package with a very high degree of consultancy, I’m convinced it will generate growth as well as long-term customer loyalty.