Temel Kahyaoglu, Chief Analyst TGOA, in conversation with Robert Schneider, CEO w&co MediaServices, on the rising significance of integrators
Since 2009, Robert Schneider has been the Managing Director at, and a shareholder in, w&co MediaServices GmbH & Co KG, a full-service media services provider based in Munich, Germany. Prior to this, he had been a manager at the company for ten years and was appointed to the Management Board in 2002. Before this, Robert was a Member of the Management at, and a shareholder in, the media services provider Köhler & Lippmann in Braunschweig, Germany, a Graphic Group company.
Software partners are increasingly focussing on holistic system solutions in enterprise content marketing instead of directly approaching companies. The reason: with their many years of practical experience, they have specialist knowledge of specific sectors and requirements. Consequently, software partners are often better positioned for implementing, customising and operating client-specific solutions, using targeted, innovative technologies in the process. Integrators such as w&co also offer the required change management – resulting in high user acceptance and maximum ROI.
Mr. Schneider, software companies have in the past predominantly implemented their projects themselves, with project execution a fixed component of their business models. How is it that so many software companies have developed partner programmes over the past few years?
Here, many reasons play a role: to be able to hold their ground against global competition, software companies must become more international and acquire significant market shares outside the Germany, Austria and Switzerland region. At the same time, development cycles at software companies are increasingly short, while the level of innovation has become a decisive competitive factor. The third aspect here is the fact that software solutions usually have to be specifically adapted to sector-related or individual company requirements to be able to reveal their full performance.
This is a typical project business that frequently also involves long-term operating and development tasks within the companies. Only very few software companies succeed in catering to all aspects requested and the entire project business with industry specialisation on their own.
So, what do integrators do for these companies?
Integration partners drive both marketing speed and project execution. Furthermore, they tap into new target groups in terms of sectors and/or regions. In other words, the fastest and most efficient growth for software companies is achieved by means of a decentralised growth and marketing strategy through partners.
What challenges do your client companies currently face when searching for suitable software to support their product communication or implement selected software with your support?
A software solution is never a means to an end. It is a tool designed to allow corporate and strategic targets to be implemented more efficiently and – within the overall context – more efficiently, hence generating a competitive edge.
Today, companies are required to approach their customers holistically – in other words, with consistent information simultaneously across all communication channels. The prerequisites for this are consolidated product data and a central content source for all communication activities, controlled by system-supported business process rules that result in the automation of marketing initiatives.
Software offerings are diverse and complex, and new technologies are constantly changing the market. This makes it more difficult for companies to find the ‘right’ solution – right in the sense of the objective that was the incentive for selecting the solution – and to identify its specific added value and then to optimally implement and use it.
What general benefits are there for companies to introduce software using an integrator and hence consciously separate the choice of software (and therefore of the software company) itself and the choice of the integrator?
In general, integrators have user-side background experience and frequently are, or have been, users of software solutions themselves. For these reasons, they are often better than software companies with regards to using and deploying software for a specific application with the aim, on the one hand, of achieving the objectives associated with the investment and, on the other hand, optimally integrating the user.
What are the specific customer requirements that a software company is rarely able to provide to the level of an integrator? And why is this the case?
Practice has shown: many companies implement software that users do not accept, that only insufficiently – or not at all – supports them in their work and results in more work rather than efficiency. Often, solutions are not fully implemented or are only used in parts of the business. An integrator with practical experience excels by being very familiar with the change process associated with the introduction of each software solution and, as a result, by being able to implement it across all departments.
In addition to selecting the appropriate software, finding a suitable integration partner for project execution is therefore often decisive. What do you believe is particularly important here?
It’s all about finding an integrator that – on the basis of its own practical experience – is familiar with the added value of a system and ‘knows’ how to implement and deploy it. This is the only way that users can experience optimum support in their everyday work and the solution provides measurable, positive results. What is important here is, on the one hand, the integrator’s experience and how many projects it has successfully implemented to date: regardless of whether we are dealing with a specific market segment or a certain product group, internationalisation or supporting various communication channels such as print, eCommerce, mobile commerce, social media and point-of-sale.
On the other hand, it is important that an integrator is able – in terms of its company structure, ability to innovate and resources – in the long term to reliably and sustainably accompany and support companies.
Every integrator has its own history, having originally been an agency, printing company or provider of Internet services such as websites and eShops. What was the development at w&co? What are the focal points as a result of this development? What is your ‘mission’?
w&co itself was founded 62 years ago, providing holistic support for trading, mail-order, publishing and industrial businesses in implementing their specific omnichannel communication strategies: from the design and creation all the way through to the implementation. For this reason, we know from our many years of experience as a user and integrator how a software solution has to be implemented to ensure that it offers maximum benefit for the entire company. And this is something that our customers also appreciate, customers who put their faith in our experience and expertise in implementing software solutions. Numerous projects stand testament to the commercial and strategic success of the projects implemented by us.
Here, we always think and act holistically to provide cross-department solutions that create added value for the entire company. Our ‘mission’ is to implement our customers’ individual communication strategy as a total service from a single source: this reduces the number of interfaces, cuts costs and increases both implementation speed and efficiency within the process. In many cases, we are practically a ‘general contractor’ for our customers.
With which software companies does w&co collaborate as an integration partner?
For censhare, a supplier of one of the leading publication systems for complex print, online and mobile communication processes, we are a specialised partner for mail order, among other things. For eCommerce or online store solutions, we deploy the OXID software and implement total solutions: these include graphic responsive design, front-end developments and back-end add-ons, along with the complete online shop operation, incorporating content management and campaign management.
As an Adobe Solutions Silver Partner, we develop solutions for optimising and automating media production. Here, the portfolio ranges from automation scripts and plug-ins for InDesign, customer-specific add-ons for editorial and publication systems all the way through to in-house database publishing systems in conjunction with InDesign servers. As a long-standing Werk II partner, we roll out ‘priint:suite’ with ‘priint:comet’ as a high-performance print solution in conjunction with various data sources and systems.
As one of the Across service providers, we implement the Language Server for multi-language publications by multinational companies, hence securing consistent system-supported translation management and translation memory processes.
Although w&co is an integrator, it also develops software itself. How can these two activities be reconciled and sensibly linked?
On the basis of our sector and software experience, we know the specific requirements of companies in terms of certain functions that generic software solutions are unable, or insufficiently able, to fulfil. These requirements are frequently so customer-specific that software companies are unwilling to cater to them with their products. For this, we develop targeted supplementary modules and stand-alone solutions in-house, which we link to the standard solution using modern interface concepts. With these, we create added value as a software partner and integrator, which benefits user companies and software makers in equal measure.
As an integrator, you therefore remain on the one hand in tune with the times with regards to customer challenges, but on the other hand you have to always be completely up-to-date in terms of the software developments of your partners. How do you ensure the latter, and what responsibility do the software companies have in this regard? What is the optimum structure of this partner relationship in your opinion?
The solutions that we look after as a partner and integrator are part of our core business as a full-service media services provider. We work with these as a user and system partner on a daily basis and know the benefits and pitfalls of the most up-to-date technologies from a practical point of view. Therefore, our collaboration with software companies is very close and we are involved in the respective further development roadmaps.
The software companies are responsible for developing their solutions in a future-oriented manner based on industry standards, which are fundamental for sustainably successful system environments. In the ideal case, there is therefore an active exchange on the timely testing of innovations and the continual optimisation of the core solution.
As a full-service provider, w&co MediaServices has established itself with complete holistic omnichannel marketing services. In addition to implementing online shops and shopping apps, its range of services includes photography, creation, pre-media and media IT for holistic enterprise content marketing.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2017. Picture credit © w&co MediaServices