Interview with IT-Expert Günther

Program - / IT Manager at Schwarz Druck

Dear Günther, how long have you been with Schwarz Druck?

I started training as a printer on September 1st, 1984. I heard that printers earn an incredible amount of money. That was the incentive for me at the age of 15 (laughs).

How did you end up switching from printing to IT?

I’ve always had a soft spot for IT in my private life. It started in the late 80s with a friend who programmed with Commodore. From then on, I started to disassemble computers to see what the inner workings of a computer were. So I educated myself autodidactically and in 1991 I founded a small IT company, where I assembled special computers for different groups of customers. I customized computers that were not available off the shelf. The word got around in my private environment and so the circle of my customers got bigger and bigger. I grew with these tasks and also constantly trained myself in this area. The good thing was that IT was still in its infancy at that time. I was able to develop with it and it really became a hobby.

How were you then able to get involved with Schwarz Druck?

In 1995, a digital printing press was to be introduced. Someone from technology was needed for this responsible task. I applied for it because I saw it as an opportunity to learn something new. During the project, I realized relatively quickly that the Novell network environment that was offered, which was one of my hobbies at the time, was not designed the way we needed it. It was set up differently and I was able to contribute well. After I was able to save a large amount of money on the investment thanks to my expertise, the managing director at the time asked me to take a look at the rest of Schwarz Druck’s IT landscape after the project. I was able to take a look at the entire IT infrastructure and unfortunately discovered that a lot of money had been spent on a wide variety of systems and that the environment was very heterogeneous. There were few interfaces and many individual systems. Painful, but also an opportunity for Schwarz Druck. I worked out a concept for efficiently changing the IT landscape at Schwarz Druck. One condition for this task was a move to IT, which was a groundbreaking step for me at the time. At the same time, I was playing with the idea of continuing to run my company 100%.

I decided to devote most of my time to Schwarz Druck, submitted the concept to the managing director at the time and was met with enthusiasm. Only some of the owners at the time were still a bit sceptical, so we first agreed on 1 IT trial year. But after only 9 months it was found that it worked well and so I took over the Schwarz Druck IT in 1996. At the beginning, it was anything but easy to slip from the initial trainee into this management role, such as conducting budget negotiations, etc.. But I also found my way into this role relatively quickly and was able to demonstrate my expertise in the field. Other exciting tasks soon followed, such as setting up controlling, project management, risk management, compliance management and finally IT security management.

Schwarz Druck was already a large company back then. Were you all alone in IT?

Until 1998, I was a lone fighter. But then it became too many tasks. Funnily enough, there was another printer at the time who had been customizing PCs on the side for 30 years, had a great affinity for IT, and also had programming skills. After working on the same machine for years, we got to talking about this topic. Thus a regular exciting exchange developed. We were always able to exchange ideas. I even bought my first memory chips for a PC through him in 1991, since I didn’t have any contacts with distributors yet. After he wanted to change careers, I brought him into IT. He did a fantastic job, I appreciated him very much and we had a great time together – until he went into his well-deserved retirement 3 years ago. Initially, I was already worried about his departure, as the world is not seeded with good, reliable IT specialists who are also dedicated to the cause. But we were lucky to find a very good new colleague for IT in Andreas, who masters the tasks brilliantly and more than fills the gap that has arisen.     

How long did you work together?

In IT from 1998 – 2019. And on the press also 3-4 years. A good time, I could learn a lot from him.

IT is a very broad term. What does the IT job at Schwarz Druck involve?

IT is a very broad support process, but IT must never claim to be the leader. IT must always support, keep systems running, look ahead. A big part is security. How do we make sure our systems don’t get hacked? That we don’t catch viruses? That the confidentiality, integrity, availability of our systems’ data is ensured? I have to knock on wood here, I have been running Schwarz Druck IT 24/7 since 1996 without a single day of downtime. Once, an excavator ripped out our telephone lines, but even then we immediately had solutions ready so that people could work.

In general, our lives as a whole are very IT-heavy. We actually need IT in all cases, and you can’t ignore the resulting dangers.

In my opinion, the relationship between usability and security is also very important. IT is hardware, software and processes, but most of all thinking and creating solutions.

For some customers I have worked out software and hardware concepts to process our products electronically, e.g. an integrated card. In some cases, a programmer friend of mine then implemented the solution on the software side. Specifically, I can remember three projects very well. A large flower mail order company needed vouchers, for which we took over the complete production, personalization and logistics (shipping to over 20,000 affiliated houses). Also started in 1996, this was one of our first just-in-time projects. The affiliated retailers ordered on a daily basis and we delivered on the same day, or at the latest the next day. What was also exciting about it was the continuous development of the manufacturing process in order to be able to produce the growing production volumes. This allowed me to change the manufacturing process from one large laser system to several smaller sheetfed lasers that cost much less but produced at a higher overall production speed. We manufactured this product from 1996 until the end of 2018.

In another project, we programmed software for employee ID cards for a transport company in Eastern Europe. There were a few challenges. One was the language – it had to be set up in three languages. In addition, there were many issuing points that were not connected to each other. There was also no infrastructure that would have made this possible. We still had to ensure that no ID card was issued twice. We solved this by manually replicating the data via a courier – unimaginable today 😊 

The third project was employee ID cards for a transport company. Here, the additional task was to include a camera in the software. At that time, I used a commercially available digital camera for which a development kit was available. The software was in use for a long time until the camera became defective after about 10 years. The customer then asked me about a successor. Since the model was no longer available and there was no alternative that supported the development kit, but the customer did not want to pay for an adaptation of the software, I got two via eBay and sent them to the customer.

I have also created hardware and server concepts for products that are further processed in other countries via server infrastructures. Here, however, it is particularly important to us that the implementation of the IT landscape is carried out by local partners, as the distances would otherwise be too long and jeopardize the process.

In the past, I also dealt with customers’ complaints when products from our company had problems in electronic processing, e.g. barcode scanners, printing systems, production lines, etc. I was also responsible for the further development of our ERP system.

But our tasks also include the further development of our ERP system.

You were once described as the heart of the company. That’s a great compliment, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t call myself a centerpiece. I am a part of Schwarz Druck. I’m committed, it’s part of my passion. Schwarz Druck has given me the opportunity to develop and I return it in this way. At school, I didn’t have the prerequisites to be an IT manager. Schwarz Druck has supported me in this. So I see myself as part of the team, which is made up of very many pieces and together they make a whole.

I always try to find solutions and I think my colleagues appreciate that about me. Nevertheless, I think it’s a nice term to use and one that honors me greatly.    

What connects you to the company?

I like this company. We have great products that benefit the market. We can offer support in the area of brand protection and we can provide solutions for the customer that make their product a little bit safer.

Let’s just take food as an example: What all can happen when bad products enter the market, or when a product is highly flammable and endangers lives?

At Schwarz Druck, we deliver good work. We help distinguish genuine, honest products from counterfeits. I’ve grown with Schwarz Druck and I think I can support Schwarz Druck well.

I also have a high regard for the Schwarz Druck team in particular and think that we have new opportunities to make good things happen thanks to new management personnel, such as Marco Castiglioni, our new CSO and the new strategic direction that goes with it. For example, for the first time in the company’s history that I know of, we have set up a long-term strategy until 2027 across all divisions. That then connects me even more with the company. These are characters who make a difference. And that means they move me, too. We really do have a great team. I’m also delighted about our new colleagues, who bring a whole new spirit to the company.

I’m used to colleagues contacting me when they need something. It’s just my job. So I thought it was very nice the other day when Kellen, a new colleague, came into my office and said “Hi.” I asked him what he needed and he said, “Nothing, I just wanted to see you.” I thought that was great, it came from the heart. Things like that make me happy. That’s when I feel a connection. Connectedness to companies always has to do with connectedness to people.

What makes Schwarz Druck in your eyes?

Schwarz Druck makes products that are actually manufactured by large players. Brand protection, tax stamps, tickets, etc. We are often in competition with large companies. Nevertheless, we always get our foot in the door. I think this is because we are very agile and solution-oriented. We have flat structures, which makes us doers, because everyone takes responsibility. We try to support the customer as best we can in their development.     

Customer testimonials say that we deliver high quality quickly and do a very good job.    

In my eyes, we have a brilliant head of R&D in our Dr. Hoffmann, who develops very exciting things in his research department. Topics such as sustainability and environmental awareness are particularly important in our company. We have a great colleague here, our Sarah, who is studying energy and sustainability management alongside her job and has taken up this important topic in all areas and is committed to it. 

We can compete with many others. Schwarz Druck can organize almost anything without artificially inflating processes.

Where do you see potential for the future?

We have great know-how when it comes to the printing process and digital solutions in the field of brand protection and revenue stamps. With our R&D department, we can also offer our own solutions.

The potentials are mainly in international markets, but also with trading partners. We secure, no matter which good! We are becoming more and more consultants.

The digital world is becoming more important. It will deepen more and replace products. We will continue to push counterfeit protection strongly in this area as well.

How do you think the analog world is networking with the digital world?

The analog world will become more and more integrated. Many things that have no justification will be dropped. What I don’t understand, for example, is that receipts are still printed out. With the introduction of TSE, the receipts are even longer. I question the sustainability concept of those responsible, because the environment is being trampled underfoot here for tax reasons. In Germany, people always talk about sustainability, climate, etc.. But simply too little is done for this. Our bureaucracy is mostly a preventer instead of a promoter.

At Schwarz Druck, we try to adapt our products so that they are sustainable. The claim should not be to sell as much as possible, but that it fits for the customers and especially for the environment.

If you were a customer, why would you go to Schwarz Druck?

I would get an honest product from people who think about how they can do something good for the customer. Schwarz Druck has high quality standards and high delivery requirements. In many cases, Schwarz Druck is not only a producer, but also a consultant. We work out solutions for our customers. We point out when the product does not fit his process, even if this means the business is not as lucrative. That is also my claim.

I often see IT providers who sell their customers exactly the goods that achieve a good margin, but do not fit into the customer’s processes.      

We notice this in our field as well. The customer wants a watermark and the competitor offers a printed watermark. Any print shop can print a watermark. But only a paper mill can put a real watermark on paper. Here I have a point where I can generate more security.

If the customer requests a printed watermark, we would point out to them that this does not increase the security of their product.     

With us, our customers get the product that really benefits them. I know that a lot of thought has gone into whether the product is the right one. I know that the quality is very high. And that the delivery reliability is right. And there is a contact person who can be reached when I need him.

We have an exemplary complaints management system. I used to process complaints when something happened in the electronic area. I remember a case involving an integrated card. In this project, I had the task of finding a suitable printer for a certain film material that could process the material. I tested various printers and passed on the suitable product proposal to the product development department at the time. Our customer then purchased the devices we recommended for three output points. Unfortunately, the employee responsible for the order at the time was asleep and used a different material for production – with the result that the foil unraveled during printing because it was not heat-resistant. However, the customer urgently needed to personalize the integrated cards, so the possibility of a new production was not given.  When the complaint came to my desk, I immediately drove to an electronics store, bought an inkjet printer there, tested it, found that the plan worked, bought two more, drove to the customer the next day, set up the printers and everything worked again and they were able to produce. The customer thought it was “top complaints management”.     

Great story. You can see how much passion you put into the individual projects to really make everything possible.

Dear Günther, is there a motto in your life?

I am basically optimistic. There’s nothing that can’t be done. And that’s my passion every day when I get up: finding the best solution for everything. That’s what I enjoy, that’s who I am. 

And because we personally want to tickle out a little more of you to get to know you even better: Is there something you absolutely still want to do in your life?

There’s a lot: A bike tour along the Danube for several days with my family. Traveling through other countries in a motor home. And much more 😉

Thank you very much for your time, dear Günther. It was very exciting and motivating at the same time to listen to you. You see what you can make possible when you are passionate about something and how valuable employees like you are.

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