Automation Solutions for SMB

Automation Solutions for SMB

Our Co-Founder Sebastian Heye was allowed to talk with the digitalization expert on Tobias Grebestein 's Klabautermann podcast about the possibilities of automation, what it means for SMEs and SMEs, the Corona crisis and his passion, cooking. Read the entire episode again here.

Podcast episode on Spotify

Tobias Grebestein: My guest today is Sebastian Heye. He is co-founder of the automation company wemakefuture GmbH from Gießen. In this episode, we will try to bring the topic of automation or cloud-based automation closer to SMEs and all companies in a somewhat simplified way. Welcome Sebastian.

Sebastian Heye: Hello Tobias. First of all, thank you for taking the time today. It's super cool that I can be part of it and with your Klabautermann podcast - that sounds really good. So far it's really fun to listen to. Yes, thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today and for answering a few questions. In order for all listeners to get an idea of who you are and what you actually do, it would be nice if you could introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.

Yes, with pleasure. My name is Sebastian. I'm the co-founder of wemakefuture GmbH, as you just said. We do automation. And we sometimes say that we are the first automation agency, probably the first automation agency, in Germany. We forge complex automation for companies.

A little bit about my background: I did a classic banking apprenticeship, and banks are also very, very process-oriented, then I studied IT management, worked in a management consultancy and very quickly realized that many processes in companies, but also in SMEs and small companies, are still done manually, which could actually be automated using tools that I had already used in my sideline business, which I had for a long time, with customers. And that companies simply need a helper in order to successfully take the next step towards automation after digitalization.


Automation in Times of The Corona Crisis

In my episodes, I will always start with the topic of corona, as long as it is current and dominates the media and everyone is dealing with the topic. And I and the listeners would be very interested to know: How did an automation specialist perceive this? How has his way of working changed? You also work mainly from home. How did you personally perceive all this? This crazy situation.

To be honest, very little has changed for us, fortunately. We even have a lot of orders at the moment, because many customers are saying, "Well, now I have time to take a look at my processes in order to automate things that were previously done by employees who have either been laid off or are being laid off. On the other hand, we currently have the challenge that many companies are saying, "We don't know what will happen next, and that's why we're automating it now to see what happens in the future.

The Situation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and SMEs

Before we get straight into the subject, I would like to talk a bit about the general situation in the SME sector. I know it's difficult, not all companies are the same, but we work mainly in the SME sector, in the small and medium-sized sector, and what do you think is the current situation in Germany? As far as our digital status is concerned?

Let's zoom out: I would like to underline it once again with a current topic, which I just read this morning, which also stems from an old project or from a sub-project of the last few weeks. Let's take a look at the schools. Let's look at where education takes place. Before young people enter companies, they go through school, and what you see there is very, very sad. The schools are not really digital. They talk about hardware, but actually the more important topic is software: how do we reach the people, the pupils, didactically? That is not considered at all.

And you can compare this wrong situation with Estonia, for example. They are super successful there and have a very clear digital strategy. And our politicians have overslept a lot in the last few years. A proper smart card is still missing. There is also no obligation for citizens to participate in digital procedures. It would be a very, very good opportunity for companies, too, if there were a chip card or if there really were a digital authentication possibility to automate and verify processes: "This is you, Tobias Grebestein. You are authorized to carry out this process. And these are only small examples.

But it simply manifests itself that people are still relying on "trainer admins", as they say in IT, and that cloud solutions are not preferred, which is a wrong decision economically and simply in the current technical situation. And just last week, we also had together that people always go back to local software, even today they still buy local software that does not run in the browser. And we'll compare you with that, because that's the most illustrative thing for the customer. If you have to install software on a PC, that is actually the wrong software today if it is to be used throughout the company. It has to run in the browser, because then it is really cloud-based. That's a rule of thumb, it's not always quite right, but you can say that.

What Does Automation Mean?

Your company offers automation as a core service. And in this podcast episode we want to try to lower the inhibition threshold for entrepreneurs on this topic. And with automation, we send the customer or the customer data on a journey, a so-called customer journey. Tell us about automation and the customer journey, what does that mean in simple terms?

That's a very good question, namely to direct the interest of the companies to how a good customer journey can be automated, which I had again just yesterday evening in a conversation with a bank. The issue is that the customer journey ends with the advisor. That is wrong. A customer journey must be able to run completely automatically. The employee, detached from this process, has little to do with it. Let me give you a very, very simple example of something we have very, very often. The first contact. Every company, whether it is business-to-business or business-to-customer, has initial contacts again and again. And here there are sometimes a hundred different ways in which customer data enters the company.

It is important to standardize and then send a nice welcome email. Then next, to send a reminder, for example at a hotel, to say a week before arrival: "Here you have the opportunity to make an excursion with us nearby. This is a cooperation partner. Look, it has 4.5 stars on Tripadvisor or here, this is the restaurant that currently has 4.8 stars in our region and we recommend it because it uses local organic products and, and, and." It is precisely this automated forwarding of data and information that you aggregate as a company. And no employee has to do that. A server does that. The cloud does that in the background. And then it goes on: then the guest is informed about how he can perhaps check in at the hotel on the day.

But this can also be applied to manufacturing companies: How do they do their sales force? How do they do their sales? For example, we currently have a stone construction company as a customer that automates its entire sales department. It happens again and again that the sales department doesn't think about the fact that there is an open ToDo and so on. Send a reminder.

Also to build an internal employee customer journey, an employee journey, how the employees run in these processes. And it can't be that the employee who has forgotten about it in the end also triggers this journey again, but that it runs automatically. And there are so many little things where we can go into more detail, which gives companies the opportunity to A fantasize and B say "I just want to inform us about this. What's going on?"

Automation as an Opportunity for SMEs and Mid-Sized Companies

The question I'm asking myself now about the whole situation is the exciting topic of automation, and especially smaller companies or companies that can't afford so many employees can, so to speak, hire an employee with automation, a virtual employee who takes care of the processes in the background. Why isn't that the case? Why doesn't everyone have it? Why isn't it going through the roof right now?

That is a very, very good question. And when we founded our company, we once jokingly said that we actually needed an economic crisis so that companies would say: "Now we're going to automate our employees. Personally, I would like to emphasize at this point that I am very socially committed. As you can see right now: I'm wearing the Kids Camp T-shirt from Rotaract, and I also believe that we people should also look at Richard David Precht:

We are really on the verge of a great upheaval. But automation will come more and more. The beauty of automation is that we don't take jobs away from people, but we take redundant, dull, sometimes very, very sad work away from them. It doesn't make anyone happy if they have to copy the same things from A to B for three days, from one Excel list to a Word document. That doesn't make anyone happy, you can automate that.

And I believe that companies still lack the knowledge of what is actually possible. What can I automate? And what are my processes that are redundant? And many managers, also in the companies, do not even deal with the detailed tasks that the employees then carry out in order to achieve a work result. As a result, they don't even look at whether there is anything in the process that my employee is doing there that I can automate, that is redundant?

And that's where we come in, where we take an analytical approach and then look to say: "Hey, automate this". And currently, when we have also passed the bottom of the Corona crisis, there will be two options for companies: Either to rehire staff and say "You do the process. You take the online form where our customer data goes in, transfer that to the CRM system, then you create a file, then you remind the customer again after a week, please..." Or to say: "We'll automate the whole thing". Because that would be a classic process that we can roll out overnight within a few hours, where in the end almost an entire position is eliminated in a company.

That means that by now, at the latest, a light should go on in most people's heads, because no one likes sitting in an office, no one likes this dull work. And that also goes for writing invoices, writing quotations, entering orders, sending out delivery notes. Of course, certain things have to be looked at individually. Some offers are still individual, definitely. But the entire forwarding of data can be completely automated.

Yes, absolutely. And I think there is another step we have to take in the topic of digitalization: We have to get much, much closer to the point where digitization doesn't just mean placing online ads, doesn't just mean having an online shop, but actually having systems in the background that are cloud-based. You said that very, very nicely at the beginning: cloud process automation. Because, when companies in digitalization decide to use local software or decide to use local applications, it's a big challenge to automate these things.

There is RPA; Robotic Process Automation, which is currently a very, very often mentioned topic in various management circles. However, the challenge is that this is not worthwhile for small, medium-sized and sometimes large companies, because these robots, like employees, have to be trained again and again and adapted. The things we do cloud-based are interface-based. This means that they have a very, very high, long operability, so that little needs to be adapted. And they are based independently of any robots. And that is simply a huge advantage. But the first step to making companies successful is to introduce the right software.

I don't want to advertise different software here either. There are thousands of possibilities, and that is also independent, which we also do, we are not like that now, that we only give one software to the customers, but we are absolutely independent. And that is also important to us, because we don't earn any commission. We simply earn from the service, from the programming, from the maintenance of the processes. And there is no moral hazard, as they say, in wanting to sell any software.

Is this entire business model designed for certain industries, or is it basically open to anyone?

That is a very, very good question. To answer it in two directions: On the one hand, the size of the company - we are extremely flexible there. We have a company that is a classic one-man operation. partly still, sometimes one-man, just small business that wants to automate a small process. But we also have a 94,000-man global company where we are niche specialists and automate parts of the processes. We are currently moving more and more in the direction of the large companies because they have simply recognized the potential to say: RPA, legacy software automation does not necessarily make sense, it is too bulky, too tedious to maintain. But we also have a broad mass of customers there in the second direction. We are completely economically independent.

We have heard about one of the largest farms in Germany that we have automated, and it is really such a case, it had 30 employees before, it is now down to a single-digit number. That is really, really very, very significant in terms of the capacities they have saved. And on the other hand, we are also active with service providers. Where it is still a bit of a challenge is with really manufacturing companies. But there, too, there are service processes in marketing, in HR, that is, in sales, in management, in accounting. In other words, all the auxiliary departments for the manufacturing companies. We can also roll out automation there. And that is also our current focus, that we say we help across departments, and we actually help all companies that are in a position where they want to automate their service processes in the company, as well as themselves as service providers.

Cloud-Based Software Is a Basic Prerequisite for Automation

This means that in the future, companies will have to ask themselves the question: Which software do I switch to? Is it legacy software, i.e. locally installed on the PC, or is it a browser-based version? Which do I choose? And what else is involved? I know this from day-to-day business. You talk to medium-sized companies and then you get all these objections, such as: "We've always worked with this software" or "It costs a lot of money first", "My employees will definitely not accept this new software". What would you recommend to these companies?

The current situation that we have right now is caused by Corona, so that companies that, for example, have a local Exchange Server - Microsoft still brought out an Exchange Server last year - I've also often seen that customers still said in 2019: "We'll do this Exchange Server", are currently regretting it. Of course, having to spend 50 euros per employee on software every month is a new way of thinking. But quite honestly: I even go one step further. I say that a company today must invest five to ten percent of employee costs in software, otherwise they will not be successful in the long run. Because that's the only way an employee can work effectively today.

This is a very, very challenging statement for small and medium-sized enterprises - I know this from consulting, also from daily business - no question about it. But the figures prove us right. And that clearly means a software changeover for companies. Cloud first is absolutely necessary today. And to think that way. Also to look: when I decide on a software, to ask the provider: "Please send me your open interface documentation." Again, emphasize this word: open interface documentation, and if he doesn't send that directly without grumbling and growling, then I would be very worried as a decision-maker. Because that means that the software is closed. That means that no one is letting any data in and no one is letting any data out.

And it is super important today to let data out of software. We'll leave data protection aside, because these are authenticated processes that are allowed to release data at that moment. But that also means that it is super necessary that software that I introduce today firstly has a good interface and secondly is in the cloud, because then I can simply connect this interface. That's what that means. And furthermore, there is also the possibility of training the employees during this software changeover, during this challenge. That is extremely important. Not only data protection. Whereby data protection is quite honestly the smallest problem. You simply have to record it, you have to document it, you have to keep track of it, you have to monitor it.

But the biggest challenge is in the daily use case with the employees, and these employees must also be taken along on the journey. Because just because the process is now perhaps done by a bot, is done by a robot, is based in the cloud, that doesn't mean that the employee is unemployed in the immediate moment. The employee is still there for the customer.

And we have had a very, very nice example in a veterinary practice that has now automated their processes. And the staff take the time to deal with the clients' concerns. This has given the doctors more information about what the animal really has. And the satisfaction of the customers has grown so much that they have got several hundred new customers in the last few months, while the competitor had got worse and worse ratings on Google, because they didn't take as much time for the customers. And then you don't lay off employees as a service provider.

Craftsmen as a Target Group for Automation

That means, to summarize once again: The entrepreneurs must now think about pricing. The inhibition threshold must be lowered. Let me project this onto a craft business, for example. A few days ago, I was at a large painting company in the region, and I was flabbergasted at the hardware they have that the craftsmen have to work with in the end. There were various painting and spraying machines for spraying plaster on the wall, 6000 to 7000 euros, various drilling machines, drywall screwdrivers.

They can quickly run into a few hundred euros. Everyone drives around with the company car. It has to be equipped. We're quickly talking about investments of tens of thousands of euros. In the end, what is 50 euros per employee per month to free up 25 or 30 per cent of your time? Because everyone knows: time is money. It's just such a silly saying, but it's the reality in the end. If I have more time to focus on the important things, my company can grow and I can generate much more money and turnover in the end.

At the beginning, when we founded our company, we actually focused on craftsmen because we said: Which companies are currently or were currently extremely busy and have little time? These are craftsmen. It takes a very long time to get an appointment with a craftsman, for example a painter or electrician. And if a craftsman can already click directly on the building site: I have installed this, installed that, installed that, and then it goes directly to his office. The secretariat can check it again, or his management can check it again to see if it is plausible. Theoretically, you can also skip this step. And then the invoice goes directly to the client. The working time is recorded, the process is direct and straightforward, from the construction site directly to the bank account, so to speak.

And the craftsmen didn't buy it. The craftsmen said "No, that's not a problem, we'll do it like that." But let's be honest. The time they spent afterwards to write these invoices and until they reached the customer or to make an appointment with a craftsman... That's a classic for us. Online appointments - totally easy. Before Corona: difficult to sell. Customers who clearly wanted it got it from us. Now currently we're being asked so much, "Can't we arrange it online somehow?" And I think that's the future for craftsmen, to be able to book an appointment online.

I actually had a tradesman recently, without mentioning his name. My wife was remodeling the dentist's office, and it was a heating and plumbing company from the region, a relatively large one. And the employee came to the construction site with an iPad. Then he took fifteen minutes before he went on, clicked on the materials he had used. The larger materials were already stored in my customer file anyway, because we ordered them on the basis of quotations, so to speak. He entered his hours there. Behind the hourly factor was a multiplier with the hourly rate. I signed it for him. He countersigned, clicked on send, and on the same day I had the invoice and the process was completed, so to speak, stored in the tradesman's software in the boss's office. I would like to talk to you again about life after the crisis.

I have the feeling that we are at a crossroads. Entrepreneurs have applied for emergency aid, have introduced various other emergency measures and are now waiting for that day x when the floodgates open. The market is opening again. The federal government and the state governments are relaxing all the measures that were adopted. And then life goes on as before. Do you think it will go on as before? Or will something fundamentally change in our society?

I compare this with an economic example. Before that, I would perhaps go into what it was like in the past. You actually cultivated the field when the weather was good. And in the end, as a farmer, you secured your yields and worked for the long term. Companies have invested little money in digitalization, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, even though they were in a good economic phase. And I believe that this will now change significantly after the crisis. And if we look at what that means: Firstly, it means that those who have invested now will probably survive more strongly and those who have not yet invested will clearly have challenges to survive. And I'm curious about that, because I don't believe that our companies will simply carry on as before.

The decisive factor will also be what I invest in. What I am currently observing with dismay is that so many providers, portals, local marketplaces and whatever else are sprouting up and people are looking for a lifeline and in some cases sinking good money, or throwing good money after bad money, instead of saying I will take care of my company now. Even as a small company, I have the chance to turn the wheel on the market regionally, with my own small online shop, with my own automation, with good advertising on social media, with advertisements, with a good placement in the search engine. I don't have to attach myself to portals, which usually don't offer any benefit to the end customer. I go there, I have a kind of business card.

In principle, I don't need a portal for that. That's what the search engine offers me, the voice control. I don't want to talk to it now, otherwise my mobile phone will turn on, but when I say "OK, Google, where is the nearest tradesman, the nearest gas, heating and plumbing company here in the region, it spits out the result. I don't need marketplaces for that.

And that's also when we look at what Amazon, what the big players simply take in commission every time per order, it's much, much more expensive and of course in the long term also much, much more cost-intensive than a one-off investment. Especially since the investment that is made as a company is also eligible for subsidies.

Regional Marketplaces as an Opportunity for SMEs

I have just mentioned the topic of marketplaces. I would be personally interested. I used to work for a large company that had a kind of marketplace and app sales. Have you had any experience with this? Or what is your opinion on the subject of marketplaces?

I tend to think a marketplace is good. What I can imagine very, very well, which we also discussed in Gießen, is that there should be companies that sell their products online locally. Because what differentiates companies locally? I can buy it today and receive it today. With Amazon, I have to wait a day or two, currently a little longer. And this possibility of giving companies a local marketplace that is possibly also supported by cities - the cities should please not develop the software, but they should hand it out to professionals, but they are welcome to initiate it.

Then this can be a successful model, because quite honestly: the customers know that. Customers know that they can buy "My Pouring", simply as an example, and can then buy their products locally. But that also means for the companies that they have to enter the products there, of course. They have to somehow automate this, we can help with that. And then the whole thing is also very, very lucrative for them. And especially since these investments tend to be possible through a wide variety of funding program and support that are currently available from the federal government, but also from the state governments.

When you're not sitting in front of the screen, you like to get off the cooker. One of your great passions is cooking. And when it comes to cooking, I'm not talking about slapping spaghetti and tomato sauce in the pan and then watching something happen, but you really love to cook passionately. What components are important? How does that work for you?

I definitely go for fresh spices, preferably from my own garden. On regional products and, above all, on quality, it has to be said. Tonight, perhaps as a little spin-off, I'll be serving homemade burger patties with an avocado-mango cream, accompanied by deep-fried mozzarella, topped with cheddar cheese and fresh tomatoes, a little basil on top and a honey-mustard sauce.

Do digital media still play a role?

Partly, yes. What I like to do is watch these Tasty videos, but I think they fry a bit too much. But despite all that, there are still some cool videos that you can just watch, even while listening to music, of course.

That's a good keyword, because I personally associate these tasty videos or cooking videos with automation. I imagine that when you make your burger patties: you need meat, you have to fry the onions, maybe you bake the bread yourself, the dough is kneaded beforehand, the vegetables are cut into small pieces, and that all takes a certain amount of time. In the videos it's always so cool, they put all the ingredients down, hit the table once with their hand, then the cut comes and the finished burger is on the table. That's how I actually imagine the customer journey: something comes in at the front. I hit the table. In one millisecond, the entire process, which actually took three quarters of an hour, is completed in one millisecond.

Yes, that's how automation should be.

At the end of my episode, each guest is asked the all-important question: Book or series?


Okay, then I would like to know which one. I'm assuming Netflix or one of the other big name series providers calls you today and says Sebastian, please choose a series that you have to watch until the end of your days. Which one would that be?

I would consume Breaking Bad until the end of my days. There are three reasons why I would watch Breaking Bad. On the one hand, because Walter White, the teacher, has sold his company, Krey Matas, and is mourning the whole thing. And blindly greedy for money, he doesn't even notice that he's actually reached his goal a long time ago and exaggerates excessively. I think we should always be aware of the fact that our lives are much, much shorter than just living to work, work, work. And that's also a bit in the automation in the end, that we have to work less and have more time for our families and for our people in our society.

The other point is that Jessy, such an unrecognized talent, actually a smart guy but unfortunately never really became successful due to the odds of society, shows that we really need to invest in education. Now our education, in my opinion, is much better than in America. But despite all that, we need more investment in education, especially when it comes to digital education. In my opinion, every child needs to learn programming, today. There is no way around it. But it's such a challenge with our teachers. The second thing about the series in general is just the setting, that it's fun to watch.

Sebastian, thank you for the nice conversation.

Thank you, Tobias, for having me.

And anyone who now has questions and lots of question marks about automation is welcome to get in touch. I'm sure we can answer further questions individually.

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