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Creating more efficient processes with automated interfaces.

Digitalisation in production controlling – that is what Steffi Kupfer and Slavica Vukoja are working on as members of the Operational Excellence team at Mercedes-Benz. The goal they share: Using automated processes to make controlling for powertrain production even more efficient and providing their business partners with the best support possible through standardised assessments. In this interview, we discuss initial applications of artificial intelligence, the value of lifelong learning, and what really matters for a successful transformation.

Hi, Steffi. Hi, Slavica. What project are you two currently working on with the Operational Excellence team?

Steffi: We are involved in multiple projects right now – such as the use of Power BI dashboards to visualise data and an SAP analytics cloud solution. As the team lead, my current main focus and that of my team is to provide a set of digital tools for colleagues working in Controlling as well as in Production, in order to make processes more efficient. To do this, we also work closely with other digitalisation teams in Controlling.

"By automating interfaces and transporting data from A to B, we make processes faster."
"By automating interfaces and transporting data from A to B, we make processes faster."

Steffi, you have worked in Controlling at Mercedes-Benz since 1999. New technologies, more streamlined processes, flexible boundaries between finance departments: How much has the operating business changed since then?

Enormously. When I started out, we still didn't have laptops, and we had to pore through endless lists of data. Our collaboration has also changed a great deal thanks to digitalisation – whether that means communication via digital tools or shared use of dashboards. And I believe the next developments are already in sight, such as the use of "predictive forecast": How can I use automation as much as possible to forecast the future based on past information? Such forecasts can be created with the help of AI applications, and the controller intervenes selectively in order to enter future events or economic forecasts that are already known.

In terms of new technologies, what advantages do automation, integration and artificial intelligence have to offer for controlling?

Slavica: Here in Controlling, we gain time to analyse data since less time is needed for preparation. AI applications make this possible by using forecasts to identify potential risks and opportunities at an early stage.

Steffi: Exactly. By automating interfaces and transporting data from A to B, we make processes faster.

How is digitalisation changing your everyday work?

Slavica: My day-to-day work has changed profoundly. This has required me to expand my knowledge of databases and analysis applications and to broaden my programming skills. The focus has now shifted from our original manual reporting – for which data are collected, assessed and processed into graphics – to real time data analysis. That was a big adjustment for me at first, of course. But Steffi is both my boss and a mentor who always encourages me to take on new challenges.

Steffi: People are creatures of habit, first and foremost. However, Slavica was one of those colleagues who asked, "Can't we create a digital solution for this?" from the start. As a controller, she started developing suitable solutions along with a colleague very early on. When I was looking to fill the digitalisation position in our Controlling team, I knew that Slavica had the right mindset and customer perspective, even if she needed a bit more of a technical background, which she acquired very quickly

"I get to become acquainted with a great deal of different processes, which makes my job quite multifaceted. My job allows me to develop my expertise and learn new skills."
"I get to become acquainted with a great deal of different processes, which makes my job quite multifaceted. My job allows me to develop my expertise and learn new skills."

Slavica, you have been with the company for over 20 years now, and you joined Mercedes-Benz as an industrial engineer. What brought you to Controlling?

I hear that question a lot. I think it's important to gain experience in different divisions, and I appreciate that Mercedes-Benz has given me the opportunity to do so. I have always been excited about digitalisation and improvements such as CIP, continuous improvement process, that is why I initially went down a technical career path. As a maintenance engineer in production and engine assembly, I was already programming and repairing equipment in the past. Alongside my work, I obtained additional training in technical business administration. I transferred to Controlling in 2017. I'm especially excited about my most recent move to the Operational Excellence Powertrain team last December, because my work on the megatrend of digitalisation is very future-oriented, and at the same time, I can readily contribute what I learned at my prior job. The insight I have into our "customers" in Production and the Finance unit that I gained in my previous experience is certainly a plus here.

Who else makes up your four-person team?

Steffi: Aside from Slavica, we have another digitalisation expert on the team. His original background was also in production, and he then studied business informatics before transferring to Controlling. We also have one business economist on the team who is currently focused on the introduction of our new OneERP system (enterprise resource planning) in our unit, and another who handles various other controlling topics.

"As the team lead, my current main focus and that of my team is to provide a set of digital tools for Controlling colleagues and Production in order to make processes more efficient."
"As the team lead, my current main focus and that of my team is to provide a set of digital tools for Controlling colleagues and Production in order to make processes more efficient."

What are you both enthusiastic about in your job?

Steffi: About new things and learning. I recently obtained additional training in organisational development. It isn't traditionally a controlling topic, but it has a great deal to do with leadership and transformation. Just like Slavica and the rest of the team, I always enjoy continuing to learn.

Slavica: My answer sounds similar. I get to become acquainted with many different processes, which makes my work quite multifaceted. My job allows me to develop my expertise and learn entirely new skills. I really enjoy that.

To you, what makes Mercedes-Benz unique as an employer?

Steffi: For me, it's the variety of opportunities – there are always new ways to develop further and explore new topics. Also the flexibility – for instance, my job gives me the option of working remotely. This means I can sometimes work from my original home of Thuringia (Germany). As long as our workload allows, we can also spend up to 20 days a year working from other countries in Europe, which is a great opportunity.

Slavica: Having a good balance of work and private life is very important to me, too. The company also offers a wide variety of advanced training opportunities. Steffi recommended me for the Data Worker Programme – an internal qualification initiative to teach data management skills to employees. This is currently allowing me to train to become a data analyst. I can apply the knowledge I gain directly in my job.

Aside from a crime thriller, she also has a book on agile transformation on her nightstand. Steffi is fascinated by the subject, even off the clock. To disconnect, she spends her leisure time in the garden or knitting. When she goes back to her native home of Thuringia, she also enjoys switching up her workplace and working remotely from there.
Slavica likes to spend family time with her husband and three children in the mountains and at the beach. Going on hikes together is her favourite downtime. As a Stuttgart native of Croatian descent, she spends many weekends in Allgäu in South Germany doing just this, and periodically travels to Croatia as well.