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IT solutions at ALSO – An interview with Simone Blome-Schwitzki

In this series of interviews we want to introduce you to some of our team members and delve a little deeper into their job roles and responsibilities. First on our list is Simone Blome-Schwitzki, Senior Vice President Solutions at ALSO Group. She has been working at the company for over 20 years and will give us some insight into the IT solutions ALSO offers to its resellers. Let’s get started.

Simone, You’re responsible for ALSO’s “Solutions” area. Please tell us exactly what your job responsibilities entail? For which problems do you have solutions?

What are your tasks and responsibilities?

Simone: My task is to establish ALSO’s Solutions business with a sales-oriented, customer-centric approach. Building a solution is more than simply bundling products, it means having a deep understanding of the needs of endcustomers i.e. our channel partners’ customers. Our task as a Vertical Solutions sales team is to build the right solutions addressing the challenges and needs of and relevant trends for (end)customers in their specific industry or sector. We do this in close cooperation with our resellers, as they are the local experts we need to sell and implement the solutions.

Which problems do your solutions solve?

Simone: The key point – as I mentioned – is to address the needs of end customers. Each specific solution is compiled taking our whole portfolio into account – and consists of hardware, software, platforms, and services. The team comprises of people with a broad range of skills across all ALSO countries, who cover a huge variety of solution areas. These include topics such as Modern Workplace, IoT, IT Infrastructure, Data Center, Backup and Storage, etc. For a good overview and more examples, check out the IT Solutions Business Team’s page.

What does it take to be a good ‘Solutions architect’?

Simone: We don’t actually refer to them as “Solutions architects” in our business, since, then technical guys might spring to mind. In reality their tasks consist of:

  • Scanning the market for trends and technologies.
  • Understanding the needs of the end customer.
  • Building solutions by themselves , supported by our technical architects at ALSO.
  • Defining the route to market including a proper value proposition and customer segmentation.
  • Considering the right marketing approach to sell the IT solution most effectively.
  • Offering and, of course, selling the solution to partners and supporting them in their work.
  • Providing professional project management support when it comes to implementing the solution.

As you can see, there is a broad range of responsibilities here. We call this position Solution Business Manager.

Quite a number of big IT projects were put on hold due to the pandemic. At the same time, many companies set up remote workplaces, sometimes in a matter of days. Do you think this way of working will continue even after the pandemic?

What do you think about remote working and how daily life has changed?

Simone: There is no doubt that this pandemic will affect our everyday working lives permanently! And there are many reasons for that. We have all seen – what we could never have imagined two years ago – that remote work still means productive work. This has enabled many companies to be successful even during a pandemic. Also in the long run, we need to think about whether we really need to travel in order to create and maintain a successful business. We especially need to think more about environmental challenges and whether we really want and need to go to an office every day, now that the pandemic has taught us that we’re able to combine work and private life in a much less time-consuming way. This will lead to a lot more options for employees when they’re considering where to live and how to spend their time efficiently. It also means that the right talent for your business doesn’t have to be turned away because of location and other factors.

What did ALSO do for its employees during the pandemic?

Simone: ALSO’s employees have already been working remotely for more than a year. In January 2020, when we realised the impact the pandemic would have, our management immediately took all necessary actions to enable employees to work remotely. At the same time, we installed the highest safety measures and rules for those who had to stay in the office or at the warehouses due to their specific jobs. All these measures started in early March last year and since then the health of our employees, our partners and their families have been our top priority, taking into account the individual circumstances of each of our colleagues.

IT is probably one of, if not the most rapidly changing industry there is. How are the solutions you are creating affecting our daily life?

Simone: As I explained when talking about our general Vertical Solutions approach, one of our aims is to introduce new technologies to our customers. In short, you could say it is our mission to turn technological development into reality. We want to make new technologies useable in everyday life.

A simple example is the initiative we took right after all the lockdowns started last year. We noticed that elderly people living in retirement homes were suffering the most, as they were more or less cut off from the rest of the world and therefore extremely lonely. We immediately came up with several technical ideas to enable them to stay in touch with their families – all the while considering their individual circumstances and health status.

Laptop on a wooden table surrounded by images related to IoT

What are the three solutions that currently create the most interest?

Simone:

  • First of all, obviously everything that has to do with remote work! Right now, we are kind of in stage 2.0 of collaborating remotely. Whereas last year it was everyone’s priority to somehow set up remote working to keep their operation up and running, the focus has now shifted to the security of these remote workplaces spread around the world. This ranges from the security of each individual employee’s digital workplace to advanced technological security solutions fitting individual company requirements.
  • Furthermore, it’s important to mention the IT solutions in the field of IoT. The pandemic has shown that having your processes digitised and automated means that they are much more likely to withstand a crisis. For me, the IoT is a hidden champion for SMB channel partners and has a great deal of potential. While corporate resellers have even developed specialised business units, the small and medium-sized partners have just begun looking into the options.
  • Finally, the digitisation of the education sector is currently a very hot topic. We are all noticing that governments are struggling to ensure that kids are still able to learn during the lockdowns. To improve this situation, a structural change is necessary and this needs to be served by sustainable solutions.

Everybody is talking about verticals. As an IT company, is it really a good idea to focus on one industry?

What are the pros of focusing on one industry?

Simone: On the one hand, it’s an advantage to focus on one vertical because you will be recognized as an expert in this vertical. Understanding the challenges, processes, decisions etc. will make you a worthy competitor. You will then be an asset to the client by being the right partner in this vertical .

What are the cons of focusing on one industry?

Simone: On the other hand, customers don’t usually want to work with partners who also work with their competitors. What’s even more relevant is what we can see now due to the pandemic. Focusing on one vertical can be quite risky as you are depending on positive economic development in this one vertical. So from our point of view, it makes more sense to be specialised in a few topics, respectively technical solution areas and spread this out over a broader customer base.

At ALSO, we see ourselves as a technology provider, which means it is our profession to provide a broad range of technologies and IT solutions to a broad market range of channel partners and verticals.

One of the verticals ALSO is focusing on is education. Can you share any helpful learnings or insights for customers who are thinking about entering this market segment?

Why did ALSO choose to focus on education?

Simone: Education is quite a complex vertical for many reasons:

There is a large number of people involved in the decision-making process – you have teachers, the school principal, and the stakeholders of the community where the school is located. Then there is a complex rule set about obtaining public budgets and different budget sources and programs you need to understand and combine. Having experience in public tenders is one important entry qualification.

Besides that though, there is a real opportunity in education as there is a lot of room for improvement. Selling a solution is a holistic concept. Sure, you obviously need devices, but it’s just as important to have a proper ecosystem: access to internet, a wireless network, management software to control the devices in the lessons, the IT management itself, and a support concept. Furthermore, you also need equipment onsite in the classrooms for collaborating and presenting, and of course you need training concepts so teachers are able to get everything up and running during the lessons. Finally, what is also very important is the digital content for the lessons. There are tons of content so you have to find out what is valuable, what you can recommend, how to use certain apps and when, what for, etc.

I think this shows the complexity of educational projects! And exactly this complexity is what motivates us. Our purpose is to make technology tangible, to use technology for the benefit of our customers and not just to sell in order to get the latest stuff out there. In terms of education, that’s why we created initiatives such as #schuledigital in Germany.

Historically, ALSO is a distributor. Quite a different value proposition to platforms. What enables you to offer IoT solutions?

Why does ALSO offer IoT solutions?

Simone: IoT is one of the most important technological trends and a great opportunity. The platform is a kind of basis to bring all the different sensors, gateways, protocols, etc. together to build IT solutions that bring value to your processes.

Coming from the history of distribution, carrying a big vendor portfolio of products and having access to these and other vendors with additional technology portfolios, we know the market and its products extremely well. So it’s a logical step for us to create an IoT solution strategy. Besides, IoT is a market opportunity, which should be picked up by the IT landscape of partners as well as further industry partners like the electronic components channel. This will make it a reality for all the verticals – you will see IoT solutions out there in every office, every store, every warehouse, every manufacturing facility. We see ourselves in the right position for translating a complex ecosystem with elements ranging from products to connectivity, security and an IT platform into concrete beneficial real-life scenarios.

What are some of the IoT solutions that ALSO offers?

Simone: Looking at ALSO’s platform-based IoT solutions, you will find our track and trace solution called Dolly+ which is a trolley that enables high value goods to be locked away safely and transported under constant GPS surveillance. Further track and trace cases can be built based on this. Another solution called Workplace+ incorporates sensors for measuring the air quality, temperature as well as CO2 emission, humidity, etc. in combination with the room and workplace occupancy so office space can be used efficiently and good working conditions are provided.

Our platform builds the base to connect all different sensors and makes them controllable, analysable, and gives them rules. Based on the platform, you can build individual apps to make the processes and rules visible.

Learn more about the IoT and how resellers use it to grow their business in the ALSO video of the 50 Global Leaders Series featured on Bloomberg.com https://also.com