Jörn Volckmann likes to think out of the box, and as Managing Consultant in digitization projects, that is one of his most important qualities when it comes to developing ideas, identifying potential and creating added value. Not only that, as an expert for manufacturing IT, he also has to translate. In an interview, he told us why and between whom.
You work in Global Demand & Business Relationship Management (GDBRM) – What does it mean and what is your role?
We work with our customers within the Fresenius Group on driving digitization in the company. My job is to identify and plan projects – in other words classical business development. Generally speaking, we here at Netcare approach our customers actively, propose improvement projects and see whether there is potential for follow-on projects. We compete for these jobs with external consultancies; however, we have the advantage that we know the internal processes very well. We also have a good idea of what has already been developed, or at least envisaged, so we don’t run the risk of reinventing the wheel. I also carry out some of the projects together with our customers. That’s the project management part of my job.
What projects are these, specifically?
They are always related to digitization and automation. In one of our projects, for example, we are implementing a central integration platform. Its purpose is to transfer data from individual production systems to higher-level systems, for example in SAP, data analysis or other production-related information systems. We need to incorporate these data in order to find innovative solutions that can build on them. Currently, we are trying to reduce the interfaces, which is fairly complex given the large number of machines and systems. We are looking at whether we can extend it to the laboratories, because they still often transfer data using Excel lists or even paper. Our objective is to create a “digital twin,” in other words a digital reproduction of an entire production location with all its systems from laboratories, production and administration.
I’m a translator between business and IT.
And what is your background?
I studied Business Administration in Mainz, majoring in business information systems and marketing. I followed my professor at the time to the University of Giessen to help him set up the department. Then I went to Switzerland to work for a manufacturer of glass products for the pharma and medical industries, which was how I got into manufacturing IT. After some years, I moved back to the company’s headquarters, after which I spent two years with a pharma manufacturer. All of these posts had to do with setting up or improving production-specific IT, including automation and digitization. I joined Fresenius Netcare in January 2018.
So you have been in the pharma industry from the start. Was it a conscious decision?
Not at first. Through my first position, I gained insight into the industry for the first time, discovered its particularities and found them fascinating: Pharma is highly regulated – not just in the IT environment – and the processes are narrowly defined with limited digital processes. That means there is a lot of potential for development in terms of Industry 4.0, and you get a chance to try out and achieve things. I find that exciting. On the one hand, the industry is a pretty safe employer, and on the other you can make a difference. That’s a good combination.
What kind of employer is Fresenius?
What appealed to me about Fresenius was the chance to gain insight into so many different areas. The business segments are so diverse – that’s fascinating and means you can work on a wide of range of projects. In a large company, it is always a challenge to fight your way through structures – but that also makes it interesting and you get to meet a lot of people. What’s more, especially in our team, we have great colleagues who support each other and even get together sometimes after work.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I appreciate all the freedom to develop and contribute new ideas. Of course, we have clearly defined goals that we need to achieve. But we are constantly looking to the left and right of the path to see where we can create added value for the business segments. We have the opportunity to find out what’s going on in the market, and at the same time we have to recognize trends and incorporate them in our daily business. For example, I met a small provider at a conference that links laboratory equipment to IT systems. So I proposed working together and we tested it out. We often find interesting solutions through our many discussions both with our in-house customers and with other external experts. At the moment, this isn’t so easy because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but many conferences and trade fairs are taking place virtually, and that helps us to stay up to date.
And what personal qualities help you in your job?
One major challenge is to coordinate the local requirements of the different production sites with central initiatives. As the plants worked independently in the past, this requires a lot of communication, and change management is also important. I therefore have to communicate a lot in my role and explain why some things are okay and others aren’t. I describe the progress we have made and our success stories to show where we are going. There is often a reason for having distributed systems – and yet we need to find centralized solutions that create synergies from a group perspective.
What are you proud of?
The integration platform I mentioned before was an idea we had around a year and a half ago – and now it has finally achieved awareness and is supported at management level. We presented the business case clearly, stepped up communication and were able to convince many plants to join in. We now even have to decide which one to start with because so many of them want to be part of it. We did a really good job – gave clear specifications, selected good suppliers and communicated it internally in a convincing way. That’s something I am proud of – as well as the fact that our in-house customers know who we are now and often contact us first when there is a digitization project to be awarded.