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In thyssenkrupp’s Steel division, digitization has been underway for years – it started with SteelOnline. Today, all customers can manage their business dealings quickly and directly.

(Interview: Judy Born)

Mr. Heitkamp, what is SteelOnline?

This platform is an information portal that customers can use to securely view their order and production statuses – around the clock, from anywhere in the world. It can also be personalized to include all relevant updates. Finally, customers can also download documents, such as invoices and quality certificates, from SteelOnline.

Is it similar to a shopping portal?

Yes, in a way. However, SteelOnline does not serve as a sales platform yet. At the moment, it provides full transparency for conventionally placed orders. Customers can also use SteelOnline to view their finished materials, and to decide which of these materials should be delivered at which time. We are considering the possibility of expanding the portal so that customers can also place orders through it.

Delivery can be tricky when it comes to personal online shopping.

That is true. In those cases, you often have to hope that your package is delivered on time and that you are at home when the delivery arrives. We offer a Shipping Allocation application that lets our customers specify delivery times themselves. This allows customers to speed up scheduling.

Who are SteelOnline’s target users?

Basically, all of our customers, insofar as they do not already exchange business and process data with us via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

How does EDI work?

EDI involves two computers exchanging electronic data with one another. The parties involved define data formats together in advance and send data back and forth between one another.

What resources do you need for EDI?

Not as many as you might think: a computer, an Internet connection, software, and someone who knows what they are doing.

Who benefits from this method of electronic data transfer?

Customers who are already working with SAP or another standard software. They do not have to have the same system as us, but they need to be able to import and export data. We then specify the interface and technology together so that our computers can ‘talk’ to one another.

That sounds easy!

It is. We have been working with EDI for about 20 years now, so we have a lot of experience. We use various types of messages and formats to help the two IT systems with interchanging the information. It is our job to define these messages and formats together with customers.

So your department creates these kinds of e-business solutions together with customers?

Correct. Generally speaking, customers turn to these kinds of solutions when they want to stop working with paper and only communicate with us digitally. We check what this conversion would require and decide whether we can use EDI with the customer in question, or if they should use SteelOnline instead.

What is the difference between EDI and SteelOnline?

When customers work with EDI, they work in their own system environment. EDI also supports nearly all business processes: ordering, providing ready messages, specifying shipping details, invoicing, and the like. Everything can be automated.

The EDI connection, especially the order EDI, lends itself well to items that are repetitive. Electronic data exchange is a process of give and take, so it enables customers to send large volumes of data. SteelOnline, on the other hand, is an online platform. As such, it is an additional service that we offer for customers without EDI capability.

We want to digitize business processes with all of our customers to the greatest possible extent.

Ansgar Heitkamp, Head of E-Business & EDI
How has the customer response been so far?

Very positive. For example, around 60 percent of orders for ­thyssenkrupp’s Steel division are placed via EDI. We want to increase both EDI and ­SteelOnline usage – and our customers want that as well.

How difficult is it to establish an EDI connection between thyssenkrupp Steel Europe and a customer?

That varies strongly. It depends on the customer’s IT environment and the information that needs to be exchanged. We have to start by precisely defining this information together with the customer. We can often work with standard formats, but sometimes everything needs to be customized.

What additional options does electronic data exchange via EDI offer?

EDI also enables the exchange of CAD data – with large automotive customers, for example. In those cases, as with all other transactions, we set up a proprietary and secure data space between ourselves and the customer, since new and further developments naturally concern highly sensitive information.

What is E-Business’ long-term goal?

We aspire to digitize as many business processes as possible, together with our customers. That way, we can work with one another without using paper.

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