In the interview pt. I: Sebastian Timmer, Director Category Management VC & Market Intelligence at Corteco
CORTECO is one of the leading suppliers of components for the Independent Automotive Aftermarket. As a member of the global Freudenberg Group, the company supplies over 26,000 products in OEM quality. Independent garages trust in CORTECO spare parts and therefore benefit from the original quality made by Freudenberg.
CORTECO has manufacturing plants/ distribution centres in over 15 different countries, but through the Freudenberg Group, the company reaches customers in 60 countries around the world.
We met Sebastian Timmer, Director Category Management VC & Market Intelligence at Corteco to talk about data and how it’s evolving within the company.
TecAlliance: Hello Sebastian, thank you for having us here in Hirschberg close to Heidelberg at Corteco. Could you explain us a little bit more about your role here and what Corteco is doing in general?
Sebastian Timmer: Sure. Thank you for joining us here today. We are here in our distribution centre, we are near Heidelberg and also near Weinheim, where the Freudenberg group has its headquarter. I am with Corteco for 10 years now. My role is Director Category Management VC & Market Intelligence and part of that role is also to lead the data management which is responsible for everything related with TecDoc.
TecAlliance: In your role you arr the person who needs to make sure that CORTECO brings its data as accurately as possible into the TecDoc format?
Sebastian Timmer: It’s not only me, but also a larger team by now. Arnaud Portalez is our data manager for Europe. The data area at CORTECO has developed from a small team to a large, focused department.
TecAlliance: So, you are involved in bringing the data to the TecDoc format for your whole time here at Corteco?
Sebastian Timmer: I have always been involved with TecAlliance. Along my career at CORTECO I’ve worked in product management and about 4 or 5 years ago I started to build a dedicated team as we at CORTECO decided that we need a full team to take care about data management and TecDoc. Today this team is integrated in our category management team.
TecAlliance: If you compare your work today with what you have done 10 years ago, how has it changed?
Sebastian Timmer: That’s a very good question. When I think back 10 years ago, everything with TecDoc was really related to the printed catalogue and these print catalogues where like pieces of art.
TecAlliance: Like a big phone book!
Sebastian Timmer: Yes! You had this big project to create the catalogue for the next year or two. And of course nowadays everything has moved to the digital side, and that brings a lot of important changes. Because in the past, we wanted to be as individual as possible, we wanted to do things differently than the competition, and now we have to make sure that our customer can use our data as efficiently as possible. So we have to standardize. We all had to agree on a common understanding, and I would say that’s one of the biggest changes we’ve seen here.
TecAlliance: Would you say that there was also a shift within the company regarding the importance of the data topic? So nowadays data is much higher priority on a higher level than 10 years ago?
Sebastian Timmer: Exactly. We can see this in many different forms. I would say that traditionally, let’s say 10 years ago, a lot of the data was managed or created as part of the process in the different departments. So when you create a new product, you also take care of the data for that product. This has now evolved into a specialized function with its own team, because we understood that nowadays this has an importance that can no longer be managed on the side, but requires its own targeted activities to make sure that the customer gets all the information they need to really reliably identify the spare parts.
TecAlliance: Now working with data is like a dedicated expertise you are building up. It’s a central role instead of having it spread across the departments. Can you confirm this change?
Sebastian Timmer: Yes, absolutely. It’s really become a central role because, of course, we’re seeing a shift from manual research to a more and more automated task. And with that also comes a specialized IT expertise that is needed for more advanced tools. Nowadays, we have this data management team that has grown a lot over the last years and serves as a service function for our product specialists and our category management, working very closely with them and taking care of everything related to the standardization of our data KPIs and, of course, data delivery. I think if we were on our own little island and the customer could just buy CORTECO, we wouldn’t have to change anything, right. Because there are many ways to present your products within a data standard and they are all good, they are all correct, so I think for me it is also always important to explain to the team that there are new KPIs and not about correcting mistakes. But of course, these days our customers need to integrate our data into their systems, they’re all doing big digitization projects in ordering platforms and webshops, and for our customers the value is really in standardization, in making sure that they can learn a way to search for a product and it’s always the same no matter what brand they buy. So, we have to be driven by the needs of our customers, and that’s why we’re also investing time and effort to move from a well-functioning, accurate system to another one that is now standardized.
TecAlliance: You spoke about our KPIs, so in the beginning of the year we started to introduce some new KPIs – some would say harder KPIs – and we also introduced a new data quality standard, which is the TecDoc premier data supplier. You at CORTECO where some of the first companies who achieved that. What is your opinion of making the standard better? Is it like you receive an email from us with the introduction of the new KPIs and you think there is still so much more work to do or is it also appreciated from the data management perspective?
Sebastian Timmer: We really appreciate that and of course it was a big announcement at the beginning because we were informed that there are new KPIs and what that means for us. What we really like is that your team of experts, let’s say the DQM department, was willing to share with our experts from the beginning. There was a lot of exchange, and when we understood what was behind it, that it was a real customer need to standardize a lot of things, we said, okay, this is something we have to support, so we have to invest to make it happen. And you mention that we made it happen, that we achieved it in the first month of delivery. That’s something that we and all the teams are very proud of.
TecAlliance: Yes, as I said you where one of the first companies who achieved that. So, congratulations from our side! This is really a big deal and we know that there is a lot of work behind it!
Sebastian Timmer: Absolutely, and it was really a team effort of many different members, so I mentioned data management and of course in the data management team we tried to do as much in mass analysis as possible, but you always reach the point where you will need the product expert to really go into detail, check individual cases, takes decisions. So, it was a lot of different teams involved: our product specialists, category management team and the data management team. It required some very dedicated project with a lot of effort throughout the year. It’s one big effort but afterwards we really get the benefits of having clear standards and data.
TecAlliance: It’s like learning a new habit, so now you have these new KPIs and if you achieve them once it will be easier to achieve them in the future as well.
Sebastian Timmer: And we all, as data suppliers, need to invest that time and effort to drive standardization for the customer, because this is one of those things where the more companies that participate, the greater the value of standardization.
TecAlliance: Yes, I agree. And I think also, because we talked earlier about the fact that also you at CORTECO and everybody in the TecDoc agrees with this standard, but they are competitors and they compete very strongly in some areas, and so I think that also in the future, of course, companies will want to be different in their data and have better data than others, and that’s also the reason why we introduced the Premier Data Supplier. So instead of just being certified, we made it a little bit harder to have a higher standard. So people or companies could show their customers that they really provide the best data quality possible.
Sebastian Timmer: Absolutely. And I mean standardisation doesn’t mean that all data in the end is the same from the content.
TecAlliance: No, far from that, that is sure.
Sebastian Timmer: For us, of course, it’s always a big priority to make sure that we expand our vehicle links, that we have the most up-to-date OE numbers, and I would even say that’s always the first priority, so that’s why we built this team where we invest in special tools to optimize that, because of course that’s the biggest value for the customer. They can just install the product that they find in the catalogue, but it also comes down to how easy it is for them to install it, I mean, search it, how easy it is for them to integrate our data into their systems, and that’s where those KPIs come into play for us. We’ve always had our internal policies on what’s mandatory for which product group, and we were happy to basically change them now with the new centrally agreed rules that everybody is behind.
TecAlliance: And I assume that for you at CORTECO, internationalization also plays an important role, that you can ensure that you prepare the data for TecDoc and that it is the same in Germany, Italy, Russia, Africa and China.
Sebastian Timmer: Yes, of course. CORTECO has sites in 12 countries, but obviously we sell all over the world, and that’s a very important part for us. Let’s take the European market: we have a catalogue that works the same in all languages, and of course that is a great value that TecDoc brings to the market. I think this is a very unique situation. There are not many industries that archive something like this in a catalogue for standardization that is really foreign.
TecAlliance: No, it’s a bit like Google, but Google is a very bad comparison because it gets some bad publicity, but definitely it is good, because you know I put my data into TecDoc and its available on every POS across the world basically.
Sebastian Timmer: Absolutely.
TecAlliance: Ok, now we talked a bit about the past so where CORTECO is coming from, we talked about the new art which is premier data supplier. In your opinion, what’s next? What is the future of data and replacement parts data?
Sebastian Timmer: I think we’ve seen a little bit of a taste of that in the last couple of years, that the speed of digitization projects has really increased dramatically, so that even the most traditional industries or customers are now investing in web stores and ordering platforms, and of course that’s a great trend that will only accelerate the need for better and better data quality. So I think we definitely need to work towards that, and at the same time I would say that manual research will decrease, these issues will need to be more automated, of course the availability of information and the relevant legislations in Europe will also play a certain role. And what that means for us is that we need to set up our teams so that they have the appropriate skills. So we need to hire young, talented people with IT backgrounds who can work with the growing mountain of data. And we need to make the transition from manual to automated processing.
TecAlliance: How are you affected by electrification of the car park and also cars sending data now themselves to the car manufacturers in the first place?
Sebastian Timmer: All of our parts have in common that they don’t record information themselves. We have ceiling products, we have robotic-to-metal, anti-vibration parts, we have filtration, but of course the information that is collected on the vehicle provides valuable inside information about how a car part is performing, how many miles have been driven. Of course, these are all strategic indicators that can be used throughout the process.
TecAlliance: This is great. So thank you for these insights at CORTECO and I guess you will have a great future with creating data ahead of you.
Sebastian Timmer: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure having you here!