When he thinks ahead to 2030, Christian Deppisch imagines us “working with smart equipment like smart glasses, smart gloves and robots and with a high degree of automation.” He’s a Bechtle innovation manager. His home is logistics. His business is the future.
Standards? Not here. It’s all about finding and developing trends and making them usable. Innovation simply for the sake of it is senseless. There has to be a point to it, too. “Managing innovation means calling some tough shots”, says Christian Deppisch. Everything must be evaluated and re-evaluated and perhaps put on the backburner if “the technology isn’t quite ready or we aren’t yet in a position to get our employees aboard.” For Christian Deppisch, employees are at the centre of innovation management. “We can’t leave colleagues and employees behind.” Of that he’s absolutely sure. “A culture of innovation is not just about being open to new things, it also means encouraging employees to bring their own ideas to the table and then allowing them to actively participate in making them real.
And his part in all of this? “We want to support people in developing their ideas, leading them through the innovation process.” In order to do so, Bechtle sets great store in the Stage-Gate model which sees every idea go through several phases and being evaluated at the end of each. We could call it a doorman model. If the criteria aren’t completely met, it doesn’t make it to the next stage. At each stage, the requirements get tougher. The final stage is implementation—a critical point. “A lot of projects fail at the implementation phase which is why it’s essential to ensure that those who should benefit from them eventually are on the same page from the very beginning to increase user acceptance”, explains Christian Deppisch. Managing innovation is not a one-man show. That’s where Martin Ullrich comes in. The two of them have been on the same page since they both studied industrial engineering at university, and they’ve seen several projects to success at Bechtle, too. And their drive to innovate is by no way limited to a coordinating and supporting role. They are both very much hands on.
At the very heart of innovation management is a culture that embraces progress, and that of Bechtle’s logistics hub was first put to test nine years ago during a project dubbed Fetz, in which employees had a hand in the process and hardware revolution that took place in the company’s warehouse. “This constructive collaboration meant we were able to expand the warehouse and introduce the SAP Extended Warehouse Management System within a matter of months”. This was just the starting point for other innovation projects, For example: Pick-by-Vision with smart glasses. “We are the first company in the world to use SAP’s Pick-by-Vision solution”, says Christian Deppisch, explaining, “we see a lot of potential for this application as the hardware is by no means fully developed yet.”
A new generation of glasses is to increase comfort, efficiency and productivity and thus enable large-scale deployments. The project is garnering international interest, too. Christian Deppisch delivers many presentations and welcomes numerous guests to Bechtle Platz 1, with one meeting in particular sticking in his mind. “The CIO of the Japanese postal service was here”, explains Deppisch. “I did some training beforehand on how to hand over my business cards. Those of a lower rank have to bow more deeply, which isn’t easy when you’re 2 metres tall like me”, he laughs.
Along with these projects the budding innovation culture of Bechtle’s logistics unit began to flourish and opened the door to more ventures and partnerships. “Those who see us from the outside increasingly recognise Bechtle as an innovative company that welcomes change,” says Christian Deppisch. In fact, two years ago SAP and Google knocked at Bechtle’s warehouse door to propose a joint innovation project featuring an autonomous robot. Naturally, Bechtle was on board. “We expect the first robot to whirr around the warehouse in Neckarsulm pretty soon and take on the simple jobs of transporting goods from A to B to relieve its human colleagues,” says Christian Deppisch.
The fact that Christian Deppisch is part of such fascinating projects is down to several coincidences. He studied public administration with a focus on social security law in Ludwigsburg between 2003 and 2006, but once he stepped into his professional life it quickly become clear that his future lay elsewhere. But where? His journey of enlightenment took him to Australia with a fellow student and, when he returned, he went back to university to study industrial engineering. Then he had to tackle his bachelor thesis. But on which topic? That was the question. Rewind one year: the friend he was in Australia with had his first day at Bechtle, where he met another former fellow student, with whom they’d lost touch during the trip Down Under. And it was him who gave him the idea for his thesis now. The trio were back together.
At this time, Bechtle was in the running for a large tender issued by the European Commission, but it wasn’t clear how the project could be approached from a logistics point of view. With the support of the project parties, Christian Deppisch developed a concept in his thesis. Bechtle won the contract and Christian’s process was implemented. “I was in the right place at the right time”, he says looking back.
After a successful second degree came the third in Heilbronn, studying what else? A Master’s in innovation management with the full backing of Bechtle. His Master thesis was titled “Developing innovation management at Bechtle Logistik & Service GmbH.” He had the opportunity to present it to Bechtle’s Executive Board and, they were so impressed with the result that in 2020 he kickstarted his logistics project. The emphasis was on developing an innovation management strategy from scratch to ensure that process and service innovation is no longer left to chance. Process and service innovation are areas that he feels are often overlooked. “A PwC study found that 75% of German companies have innovation management, but just a fraction of them keep an eye on these issues,” he says.
At Bechtle, he works on the basics, he strips down processes, looks at every detail and compares his findings with available technologies. It’s not yet clear where this will lead. He follows an open innovation approach, looking for inspiration not just in-house, but also from partners. And yet, he has a clear vision of the future. “Flexible automation is a critical subject. Smart glasses, smart gloves, robotics and other innovative warehousing systems should relieve our colleagues in the warehouse of simple tasks so that they can work more efficiently.
His current project is a co-innovation with Bosch. “We’re working on collecting data on the dimensions of each item: Length, width, depth and weight. This will inform the brain of our warehouse to improve picking, enhance customer satisfaction and optimise the flow of goods.” In the future, it could well be that a machine can use this kind of data to produce boxes on demand—a sustainable solution that saves packaging materials and speeds up processing.
Ultimately, box dimensions are just data, and data plays an increasingly critical role in logistics. Big data and artificial intelligence are on everyone’s lips and minds. “Real-time data will mean that we can make sure the right people are in the right place at the right time. It will also have a significant impact on warehousing because we will know which items we will need, how many we require and when. This means that we will be able to be selective when adding stock and find the sweet spot for each item to reduce the distance employees have to cover in a day.” This all adds up to reduced process costs and better liquidity, lower warehousing risk, less stock, improved customer and supplier satisfaction, as well as optimised transport costs.
Christian Deppisch likes his freedom to try out new things which is one of the reasons he enjoys working at Bechtle. “I really like the dynamics and openness. Even when I had just finished my degree, I could approach my supervisors with my ideas and I don’t take the trust they have in me for granted.”
He’s looking forward to working towards both Bechtle’s and his own future as his sights are firmly set on Vision 2030. “I’m sure it is a beacon for all employees”, says Christian Deppisch and he’s quite proud of this blueprint for the future. He was part of the circle developing the vision and passed the first gate of the iterative process. Innovation management the way it’s meant to be.