Best of both worlds – Kathrein Solutions tackles the challenges of IoT with a broad profile
A big shake up in the industry: RFID reader and antenna developer Kathrein is taking over the AutoID software and solutions provider Nofilis. A clear answer to the more and more important question: which company is a one-stop shop for IoT solutions? After the official merger in May 2017, Thomas Brunner, Managing Director, and Patrick Hartmann, Chief Sales Officer, look back at the successes of the newly created Kathrein Solutions – and forward at the possible benefits for customers.
Thomas Brunner, Managing Director, and Patrick Hartmann, Chief Sales Officer, Kathrein Solutions, in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global
Head of Solutions and COO
The demand for IoT solutions is growing significantly
The once-frequent discussion of whether RFID is one of the enabling technologies for the IoT or not has finally been decided, Thomas Brunner says: “There is a broad consensus about RFID technology today. Based on this consensus, there is a change in perspectives. Customers interested in digitalisation technologies no longer ask for a specific technology or a specific even of hardware. Instead, they ask for a solutions provider who possesses hardware know-how, IT know-how, and can offer custom consulting for the individual situation. This creates a new business approach that we take up with the creation of Kathrein Solutions.”
No Industry 4.0 without ideal IT integration
RFID hardware is an essential building block of Kathrein Solutions' IoT solutions concepts. Whether passive or active technology is used is of minor importance to Kathrein. Far more important, Patrick Hartmann explains, is understanding AutoID, IoT, and Industry 4.0 as IT topics – with corresponding consequences for solutions integration:
“Solutions have to be fully integrated into existing back-end systems. Solutions that perform poorly, as a result of badly matched software and hardware, lead to process delays and down-times. We can prevent this nuisance for our customers through a holistic approach to integration.” For Thomas Brunner, this point illustrates one of the strongest effects achieved by the merger: “More and more customers are asking for additional service such as training, maintenance contracts for hardware and software products, operating concepts, and more.
Before, Kathrein RFID alone could not offer these services due to its hardware focus. The complete solution was formed by integration partners and their software. By integrating the Nofilis experts, we were able to create a powerful IoT solutions team to perfectly tackle the challenges of the IoT. The direct cooperation of the teams creates additional efficiency, speed, and cost benefits.”
Expansion instead of reduction
Kathrein and Nofilis were established companies within the AutoID market well before the merger. Countless roll-outs and projects have leveraged the hardware and software expertise of both companies. “We cooperated on numerous projects, including large-scale undertakings. The merger of both companies into Kathrein Solutions mirrors the productive exchange of the respective strengths,” Thomas Brunner explains. Patrick Hartmann adds: “A common goal of mergers is reduction, especially cost reduction. In our case, expansion of competencies was the goal in order to bring more power to bear for global projects.”
Expanding the global partner network
The emphasis in 2017 was establishing the corporate structures of the new Kathrein Solutions. In 2018, the team around Thomas Brunner and Patrick Hartmann is putting their emphasis on the expansion of their global partner network via the existing worldwide Kathrein subsidiaries and the Kathrein sales network. “To accomplish this, we need to spread our integration message to the market and find new partners to build our IoT solutions business. Our goal is not to employ more people to do everything with our own manpower, but to translate our approach as a technology provider,” Thomas Brunner states.
In retrospect, Patrick Hartmann underlines: “Our goal to merge the teams of Nofilis and Kathrein RFID into a powerful Kathrein Solutions team by the end of 2017 has been successfully accomplished. We have created an independent legal entity within the Kathrein Group that can offer holistic IT and IoT technology and solutions.
We deliberately took our time with the acquisition and integration. Step by step, we have personally approached our existing customer and partner network. This way, we have openly communicated the next steps of the merger with our partners, as well as within the Kathrein Group. The implementation of our schedule has been very positive.”
Professional services, concentrated
Through the establishment of common standards within processes, joint structures, and guidelines for software and hardware development, Kathrein Solutions was able to create a new business area in 2017: “Professional Services”. All activities are now concentrated under a division head. “In practice, this means that the consultancy team, a former core discipline of Nofilis, has been merged with the Kathrein hardware consultancy team. The emerging synergies are having strong, positive effects on solutions concepts and customer-specific applications.
Before, both companies cooperated as partners. Through the merger, we were able to create a powerful team. This accomplished the goal of creating and being perceived as a holistic technology and solutions provider with a broad portfolio.”
Strengthening established businesses, unlocking new potentials
“Now, with the new possibilities as a result of the merger, we are aiming to focus our business on our core areas: automotive and industrial manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and tolling systems,” Patrick Hartmann says, looking ahead. Thomas Brunner adds: “Especially in the healthcare industry, we are registering a strong willingness to invest into digital AutoID solutions. This is easily noticeable through the growing number of public tenders and roll-outs. A similar picture emerges with tolling systems.
In the last few years, projects in these two industries strongly focused on active RFID or RTLS solutions. The trend is currently moving towards passive UHF RFID.” An emerging market closely connected to toll collection systems and automatic vehicle registration is Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI), Patrick Hartmann says. Thomas Brunner discusses the current trends: “With the newly created Kathrein Solutions, we want to keep the leadership in technology that both companies have worked hard to gain over the years.
But we are also aiming to expand in order to grow into new areas that present opportunities for growth in the current dynamic IoT environment.”
Bringing together the best of both worlds
Will the new approach of broadening the global partner network to offer more comprehensive solutions as well as increasing the use of existing Kathrein structures weaken the focus on innovative technology developments? Both Patrick Hartmannn and Thomas Brunner strongly deny this. Rather, Thomas Brunner sees the approach as a net positive: “We now have the opportunity to bring together the best of both worlds – market access and technological development.
Of course, we will not stop developing in order to focus on sales. We must continue to work on our technological leadership in the field of RFID. There are always new requirements, new standards, and new technologies coming from the market that interact with our core technologies. We therefore invest in both sales and development – both are equally important to us.”
Patrick Hartmann concludes: “If we want to pursue our approach as a technology provider, we have to act primarily through our partner network. This means going out into the market and driving innovation. We build a bridge to the market, to our own representatives and partners, in order to find out what customers really need. As a top priority, we rely on a very innovative and competitive portfolio. At the same time, we ensure that our message of modularity – that hardware and software can be individually assembled and configured – is translated and disseminated worldwide.”