Schacht One supporting digital ideas for Haniel

Family equity company Haniel aims to provide fuel for future growth and opened a separate unit at the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site in Essen in April 2016: Schacht One is not only intended as a showcase, but also to promote digitalisation at Haniel in its various business units. An interview with CEO Dirk Müller.


Mr. Müller, Schacht One has been pitched as the Haniel Group’s digital workbench. What do you create at this workbench?

Haniel comprises a portfolio of companies that we invest in and try to professionalise. And digitalisation plays a major role in this. The aim of Schacht One is not to invent new things in a vacuum but connect very closely to the business units. The term digital workbench is meant to reflect our support for these internal customers in generating and implementing new ideas. We don’t just have a bunch of programmers sitting around, we keep close to real-life applications in our activities.


How do you support your customers?

Haniel has a very wide variety of business models, and this means different approaches in our work. It could be anything from classical e-commerce projects to the Internet of Things in the mechanical engineering context. However, our customers also extend to our colleagues from sales and marketing or production development.

Nobody that doesn’t belong to Haniel?

We often have enquiries from family enterprises and SMEs as to whether we’d serve others in the way we serve Haniel. There’s good reason for that – we see digitalisation as more of a positive thing. A frequent approach says, “do it now before it does it to you.” Our approach holds that “your company has an awful lot to offer – you just have to go for it, and we’ll help you along.” Schacht One might only work internally for Haniel, but we do have a spin-off – Schmiede Zollverein, the smiths of Zollverein. They do exactly what we do, but for external customers.


Ask an expert about digitalisation, and things always get very theoretical.

We’re very practical. We don’t start on discussions talking about Excel, although that could be where we end up. We try to create new and specific ideas together with our customers in workshops or other formats – ideas that we can develop into something real.

Could you quote an example?

Let’s take a project to create an online sales channel for our clothes hire. We wouldn’t write reams of ideas but get together with our potential customers early on to find out what it is they need. We aim to try things out quickly to see whether this or that idea will work. We don’t want long sessions of theory and PowerPoint slides. Instead, we can quickly tell them “look, we’ve already tested this, and our customers thought it was great. Let’s keep at it.” We’ve completed some forty or fifty projects up to now. Small and large projects, some have also launched real business models onto the market. Our role in these processes is to say “great, let’s get on with it,” or “ok, let’s give it a miss.”


Does digitalisation mean we all have to change the way we think?

Change always affects everyone, whether it’s globalisation or anything else. We now have one topic that’s a major challenge for companies. It involves exponential development. Everyone has access to technology that can do things we couldn’t have dreamt of three, five, or ten years ago. But traditional companies plan long-term, and nobody can tell what we’ll be able to do, say, with an iPhone in five years’ time. The challenge lies in adapting easily to this speed of change and customer requirements. Digital transformation also entails adopting a new way of thinking. Technology isn’t the challenge, it’s adapting and adopting this mental approach. You can’t explore everything, but you’ll have to try out a few things.

Schacht One is located at the Zollverein World Heritage Site. Why here, and why in Essen?

We obviously put some thought as to where we should go at the beginning. Everyone’s going to Berlin, all the backyards are beautifully done up there. But we aren’t on the market, we’re something like a support unit for Haniel. Apart from that, we have a historical connection to Zollverein through Franz Haniel, who mined bituminous coal at Schacht 1 or shaft No. 1 a hundred and sixty years ago. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we chose the name Schacht One. We don’t mine coal anymore – we mine ideas. And: Haniel respects its roots. We’re authentic, we’re Ruhr Valley, we’re the real deal. Our location reflects this.


What role does the Ruhr Metropolis play in digitalisation? Are we at the state of the art, or are we lagging behind?

It’s an exciting development. Digitalisation wasn’t really a thing four or five years ago. There’s a lot happening now. We can’t compare ourselves with Berlin, that’s a completely different market. Our strengths lie in industry – B2B. If we manage to act together as the Ruhr Metropolis, we’ll have a good shot at boosting our public image. Digitalisation is happening here everywhere you look: Security in Bochum, logistics in Duisburg. My impression is that the Ruhr Metropolis has upped its game in presenting these strengths to the outside world. We want to do our bit.

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