SAP and CENIT – two strong partners shape the digital future

Interview with Andreas J. Wagner and Peter Schneck

Published 08/14/2023 | updated 02/23/2024

Cloud business, the S/4HANA transformation and the formation of resilient supply chains are just some of the topics that many manufacturing companies are dealing with on their digitalization journey. We spoke with CENIT’s CEO Peter Schneck and Andreas J. Wagner, Senior Vice President SAP Digital Supply Chain Middle and Eastern Europe at SAP, about the strategies and approaches they plan to use to support their customers in transformation processes – and the paths the two partner companies are taking to shape the digital future.

SAP and CENIT – two strong partners shape the digital future

Peter, CENIT is a leading partner of SAP within the Design-to-Operate Solution Portfolio.

The potential to grow the footprint within the engineering and discrete manufacturing customer base is huge. Being a strong SAP partner, how do you see CENIT positioned today and in the next years within this context?

Today, CENIT is a proud SAP platinum partner, and we have a proven track record in working very closely together with SAP. I believe that we still have plenty of potential in this collaboration. Therefore, Andreas (on behalf of SAP) and I decided to shape this collaboration proactively going forward. We as CENIT have more than 6,000 customers in the mid-market segment, mainly in the French and the German-speaking world.

Currently, we are presented with an exciting opportunity, namely the cloud business. Cloud-based business models allow us, CENIT and SAP, to adjust and to better align our common approach. Our customers expect this from us. Some of them have already moved to the cloud. Equally, some of our customers may chose the hybrid version, because of internal settings or because a cloud-only approach would be risky for them. So both of our companies – SAP and CENIT – are challenged to define the best solution for this market segment. And I think that in terms of technology and the team set-up, we’re both in a perfect environment to start this now.

Andreas, SAP’s solution and growth strategy is clearly built around its partners.

Which role do partners play, especially within the Design-to-Operate Solutions Portfolio?

Design-to-operate, or the digital supply chain, comprises one of the broadest and strongest ecosystems within the entire SAP. SAP partners are an essential part of our growth strategy, especially with regard to the digital supply chain. Partners play an important role in the development of our portfolio, and we clearly see that the indirect contribution from our partner network has an enormous impact on SAP’s success as a company.

In addition, we have always relied on our partners in various business-related dimensions, be it sales and presales partnerships, value-added reselling or the development of add-on solutions offered through the SAP Store. If we now look at SAP’s cloud strategy, the role of partnerships becomes even more crucial. Based on their expertise and their add-on and implementation solutions, they will be a mainstay of our cloud-related offerings and processes.

Peter, many of the engineering and discrete manufacturing businesses, at least in GSA and Central and Eastern Europe, are still operating legacy on-premises IT solutions for their core engineering and manufacturing operations.

How does CENIT support these customers to increase productivity and to enable new collaboration and integration offerings for their suppliers, customers and partners?

There is, of course, no blueprint. But CENIT has developed ready-made solutions. These packages – for the SAP Enterprise Product Development (SAP EPD) solution portfolio, we call them Kick-start programs, for example – can be customized to each customer’s specific situation to guarantee a perfect fit. The major advantage for our customers is that they receive a technically excellent solution that is entirely tailored to their needs in return for a manageable cost – or even a fixed cost if needed. Our experts are trained to deal with these types of situations. They ensure fast ramp-ups and secure go-lives on the customer side – without the solution being just a blueprint. Overall, I think this will be one of the most important requirements we will have to satisfy in the coming years, due to the increasing demand for cloud-based or hybrid solutions.

Andreas, the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) topic is not new to SAP. SAP’s cloud offerings in the design pillar have gained momentum over the last 18 months and enriched the company’s PLM offerings considerably. What feedback are you getting from the market on this topic?

On the one hand, the PLM topic is an integral part of our digital core. Based on our mature and proven technology, it’s therefore part of every S/4HANA RISE transformation. On top of that, we have launched a new, innovative public cloud design solution: SAP Enterprise Product Development. We still have a way to go with regard to awareness in the market and our respective industries. But I believe that the ramp-up is going in the right direction. In future, we aim to address innovative topics linked to digital transformation, such as requirements management – i.e. requirements coming from customers, requirements from legal authorities. Or the topic of collaborative solutions – that is collaboration between design and purchasing, manufacturing and operation – to further enable our business network mission.

To really serve the needs of the market, we develop these solutions in close cooperation with our customers, so listening to their feedback is essential. For example, we noticed that the engineering sector is ready to move to the cloud because the industry has realized that security standards within the cloud are indeed higher than those of legacy solutions.

Peter, you took over as CENIT’s CEO one year ago. How does the growth strategy of SAP for their Design-to-Operate cloud solutions meet your own growth plans for CENIT in GSA as well as Central and Eastern Europe?

That’s very easy. As mentioned before, CENIT’s overall strategy relating to SAP solutions is refocusing. We are placing a strong emphasis on the German and the French-speaking countries. This is where we will focus our energy over the next two or three years. We already have a strong presence there and we want to increase it even more.

This means that we will expand our presence in Switzerland as well as in Austria. As you know, part of our growth plan is based on a “buy and build strategy”, the other part on steady organic growth. I believe that, in collaboration with SAP, we can expand our potential substantially. So, we’ll do this first. After having fulfilled this goal, we plan to establish Austria as a hub to enter the Eastern European market. Additionally, our presence in Romania will also allow us to approach this market in a very strategic and structured way.

Andreas, for most SAP customers the S/4HANA transformations in the coming years are both a great opportunity and a challenge. How do you rate this?

I would say that the topics of supply chain and S/4HANA are a very good fit, because many dimensions of the supply chain are a part of the digital process of collaboration. For us at SAP, the supply chain topic is a vital part of the S/4HANA concept, which shows how close these things work together. In the last eighteen months, I have frequently heard the question of how a company can benefit from a S/4HANA transformation and best link a supply chain transformation. It’s very often the case that customers start their S/4HANA transformation with the supply chain segment. For instance, they start with the physical transformation – with the logistics transformation, or even with the engineering transformation – and the S/4HANA transformation follows later.

Peter, CENIT’s position as a certified SAP partner for the implementation of standard software as a developer of new software offered on the SAP price list, but also as a reseller of of SAP licenses and cloud solutions, is unique in the design-to-operate solutions market.

What are the most important advantages for CENIT’s customers?

CENIT is THE one-stop solution when it comes to SAP PLM and digitalization in manufacturing. Our core message to our customers is that if they are running a PLM system and an SAP ERP solution, there is this one experienced partner that can help connect these two data sources. Our background is that we have strong expertise in the SAP world. And we are very familiar with the different PLM systems on the market.

One major aspect we need to work on is, for all our customers and potential customers to think of CENIT as right partner for them. Undoubtedly, we want to go further and become the “one-stop shop” solution for digitalization as a whole. We can integrate an external PLM system and connect it with the SAP system or realize a PDM/PLM directly in the SAP system with the SAP Engineering Control Center. Looking further, we can help our customers connect our digital factory solution to their shop floor. And then of course to connect these data and solutions to their enterprise information management or documentation system.

The result is a fully closed loop. Additionally, we are already able to provide a full range of related services for these use cases. To sum up, when companies speak about digitalization and the whole manufacturing process, there should be the idea that they need to talk to CENIT. Based on our experience and thanks to our proven track record with more than 6,000 customers in this environment, we can claim to have a unique selling point in this respect.

Even much larger companies mostly cover one specific aspect, but they don’t cover the full context. What we aim to do is convince our customers of our potential and our high service level. And coming back to SAP, we also hope that every customer running an SAP system would of course think of CENIT when they possibly think about connecting it to any external PLM system they have. Whether it’s a Dassault Systèmes or PTC or Siemens system, we aim to be one of their choices – and then hopefully their first choice.

Andreas, the relevance of cloud solutions at SAP has overtaken the on-prem offerings, not only in terms of total revenue but also in terms of investment in software development.

This goes hand in hand with the growth of new SAP partners in the market and the expansion of cloud capabilities by existing partners.

How important do you consider the strategic collaboration between SAP partners in the future, especially with regard to SAP’s Design-to-Operate Solutions?

As I mentioned earlier, SAP partners are an important pillar of our cloud growth and SAP’s overall growth strategy. Partners are equally important in sales and development. Our development team is open to sharing relevant roadmaps with partners and discussing where it makes sense for partners to provide add-ons that can then be sold through the SAP Store.

Just take the example of CENIT: CENIT’s experts have developed their own app for SAP. In the future, the importance of partners will increase even further due to the possibilities of the cloud environment.

We are also developing new and innovative partner models for the cloud that will offer both sides greater added value. To strengthen this further, we are currently optimizing and harmonizing our portfolio. This means that in the future we will rely even more on our partners and jointly expand our solution offering, which is sold via the SAP Store. So the future is bright in SAP’s partner business.

Peter, corporate strategy and digitalization strategy are directly linked at the top floor of CENIT’s customers today. Enabling a strategic, long-term partnership with a customer requires not only mutual understanding of challenges at the operational level but also the capability to translate these challenges into suitable solution offerings. How do CENIT process experts and executive consultants enable customers in this respect?

Some of our customers have been with CENIT for more than 30 years. There’s a reason for this: We want to be a trustworthy advisor to our customers. Our goal is to achieve a high level of trust with our customers and to advise them in such a way that they find the best solution for them. This includes saying that a particular solution is not applicable at a certain point in the customer’s digitalization journey. For us, it’s not about short-term sales results but about retaining our customers and building that level of trust.

The second point is, of course, the expertise that our teams have and that we need to highlight. We need to bring that expertise to different levels because of the diverse challenges our customers are currently facing.

In addition, the customer’s decision-making process often focuses not only on the decision to use a specific system or software-based solution but on the entire digitalization strategy. Our role in this process is to accompany the customer through the relevant steps within the process and translate them for various stakeholders in the company, for example a C-Level person on one side and a production expert on the other. They all need different types of information to make their respective decisions.

Besides, most of our customers operate in a brown-field environment. They are not starting from scratch. They have existing systems that need to be considered when mapping the overall strategy.

In summary, being a trusted advisor means being honest, understanding the customer’s challenges and matching the best solution to the customer’s current needs and budget. And finally, helping the customer make the right decision and supporting them in the years to come. And it’s this long-term relationship that we’re trying to build. So far I think we’ve done a good job, but the cloud is a different "animal" and a different challenge, so there’s still some work ahead of us.

Andreas, SAP has recently opened the Digital Factory in Walldorf to showcase the entire end-to-end processes along the digital value chain from the design of new products to their operation in the field.

How important do you consider the capability of SAP and its partners to demonstrate real-life scenarios of the digital factory to our customers?

This is one of my key priorities. It is our new way of demonstrating the added value of our solutions. Software is becoming more and more tangible for our customers. It is a real-life experience: They go to the factory and can really experience software live. It’s impressive, and our factories are fully booked at the moment. I am really happy to see the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers. For the next few years, one of our top priorities is to continue to expand this offering and showcase the new use cases across the board. Right now, we are showcasing different industries and processes, meeting the needs of many companies. Many even say that this is the new SAP.

Andreas, you are responsible for this entire digital supply chain business in Central and Eastern Europe. Do you see any particular challenges in your customers’ adoption of SAP cloud offerings in the different countries?

I would say that the COVID crisis has definitely driven the cloud topic and has accelerated the transformation to the cloud for companies. Moreover, I’ve noticed a shift in the transformation imperative. There has been a move away from looking purely at the costs and parameters like efficiency towards aspects such as resilience, agility and sustainability. Of course there are still some countries with a greater predominance of on-premises based architectures due to specific regulatory requirements. There are also industries with certain regulatory requirements or complex structures that call for on-prem solutions. Hence, we need to be flexible and offer a hybrid approach as well. But overall, the trend towards a move to the cloud is continuing apace.

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Swetlana Isaak

Swetlana Isaak

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