“In today’s digital age with its cutting-edge business models based on networks and platforms, everything needs to be transparent, in real time, and focused on enhancing customer benefits.” – Professor h. c. Dr. Ulrich Hermann
Interview and analysis by Andreas Weber, Head of Value | German version
Successful printing doesn’t just happen. It’s all down to innovative plans and putting these into action. That’s the main focus of Chief Digital Officer Professor Ulrich Hermann, member of the Management Board at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG since November 2016. In an exclusive interview, he explains the principles of the ‘subscription economy’, which is now firmly established at Heidelberg and is set to bring about success right from the get-go.
The subscription economy is taking Heidelberg as a market leader and its primarily industrial customers to the next level of the transformation process. For the first time, printing performance is being assessed and billed on a customized basis, thus representing a brand new development and a challenge for the print sector. Conventional billing methods, i.e. selling equipment at a fixed price in offset printing or click charge models in digital printing, are being replaced by subscription models. This has its benefits.
Info box: What is the meaning behind ‘subscription economy’?
The subscription economy correlates with the fundamental transition toward customized buying and selling in the B2C, and increasingly in the B2B, sector. The focus has shifted away from acquiring and owning products toward long-term, flexible customer relationships and ongoing customer benefits. The resulting technical and organizational demands are high. Some subscription-based solutions already exist in the printing industry, such as standalone software-as-a-service agreements. Important factors include automation, scalability, complex data models, and changed accounting principles right through to analytics. A constant supply of information on customer satisfaction and, most importantly, the way products and services are used is essential to enable businesses to further customize their services. What’s more, this data also helps both the supplier and customer achieve greater growth. Studies show that in the United States – the birth place of digitization – the subscription economy is already well-developed, generating approximately 800 billion US dollars in added value in the past ten years alone. – aw
What is it all about?
The subscription economy could become the main focus in our sector, too. It has already achieved great economic success in the United States but remains largely disregarded in Germany. What difference will it make?
Dr. Ulrich Hermann: Subscription models offer a new approach for generating value by consistently focusing on customer benefits. Primarily, this means the end of product-oriented business models whose added value derives from creating a product, rather than from the benefit customers gain from that product.
Companies with analog models focused on manufacturing and selling products are eager to pass on expenses incurred in development, production, sales and supply to the customer as soon as possible. Whether customers are able to recover their costs is a question that is only considered relevant when it comes to the customer making repeat purchases, in other words it only becomes relevant at some point in the future.
What are the important features of a subscription?
It all boils down to a lasting customer relationship. This undoubtedly develops for services relating to the product, but not for the value of the product itself.
A product-centric focus was the perfect approach for the analog world and shaped the industrial era for over 100 years because it was very difficult to quantify how the product was used and the associated added value for the customer.
In today’s digital economy, however, this approach is outdated as data is available on how products are being used and new business models are shifting the focus away from the value of the product itself and towards the usage value. We now aim to adopt this approach at Heidelberg as the leading supplier on the print shop market.
What are the advantages of focusing on the benefits to the customer and the disadvantages of focusing on the product?
As I’ve said, suppliers in the digital age can use platforms to gather, profile and analyze data on all participants with the aim of continuously and sustainably increasing customer benefits and thus instilling valuable, long-lasting customer loyalty. All processes must therefore focus on this and remain transparent for all participants in real time. If companies focus on the product, they can’t work out in any great detail or very quickly what it is their customers do with the product, when and how. Incidentally, that is a trend that affects many areas of professional and personal life…
… can you give a few examples?
It starts with reading a book or magazine, or when customers switch production equipment on or off, or why they are in the car and where they’re going. Manufacturers/suppliers usually know nothing about how their products are being used. As a result, they have to carry out costly questionnaires and analyses to anticipate how the products are being used and implement laborious improvements in long cycles.
During the analog era, innovations were therefore subject to protracted innovation cycles that were often staggered due to the risks involved. This led to analog companies spending a disproportionately large amount of time on optimizing internal value creation. It is clear that during this era the price of a product did not reflect how the customer used it but rather covered material and production costs.
A milestone on the road to the digital transformation and finally implementing the subscription program. A YouTube video of Dr. Ulrich Hermann discussing the market launch of the Heidelberg Assistant in December 2017.
The key to success
How can the focus be switched to customer benefits?
If we consider customer benefits to be the cornerstone of a company’s business operations, we end up with completely different approaches. Companies want to know what customers are paying for when using the products they have provided. This is exactly what disruptive business models in the digital world are based on. Usage patterns serve as the measure of all things – supported by the user experience and the customer journey.
Have companies in the print industry grasped this point? After all, nearly everyone nowadays is talking about customer orientation.
Technology suppliers often do not fully grasp that customer orientation, as a prerequisite to focusing on customer benefits, itself requires a comprehensive organizational transformation. Everything changes – from the mindset and culture right through to product creation. The ability to digitally measure the usage of products and services is key to creating added value. All business activities must pursue this aim.
Analyzing valid, long-term data collected from installed machinery and systems helps develop benchmarks with reference groups, which in turn enables the derivation of target figures and reference variables for optimum usage. We have been collecting such data at Heidelberg since the introduction of Remote Service technology back in 2004 and it has formed the basis for introducing Heidelberg Subscription.
With regard to the print industry, does this mean that it is not enough to simply introduce digital processes into print product manufacturing?
Exactly. In the digital economy, competition isn’t all about the product – the main focus is on developing the relevant user experience. I like to show a picture that presents the bustling streets of Manhattan as the heart of New York City. Some ten years ago, the streets were still filled with yellow cabs. Today, it’s dark sedans.
The product in this example is the same, just black and not yellow. It is a vehicle with a driver and passenger – and from the outside it is not immediately recognizable as a digital product. The difference, however, lies in the user experience. It is much easier to order, select, pay for and travel in a taxi with Uber and to influence the quality of the business model by writing a review.
Passengers feel like they are being taken seriously – as a business partner rather than a prisoner behind a plexiglass pane, if you like. It is no longer just about the service or product portfolio, but rather the customer journey and a new, intelligent way of using the product.
What does this mean in real terms for Heidelberg and its customers?
In our line of work, the subscription economy offers the opportunity to think about how we need to fundamentally change our business not just by selling machinery and services, i.e. billing for the product value, but by developing new models that assess the usage and the resulting positive effects.
This film on Heidelberg Subscription shows how Heidelberg is going down new paths in marketing, too.
How it works
What is the concept behind Heidelberg Subscription?
More than a year has passed since we began the transformation. We initially asked ourselves the following questions. What offers the biggest profit potential for our customers? Cost-effective printing capacity or optimum utilization? If our customers only derive added value from maximum machine utilization – in other words from optimized utilization of a coordinated combination of numerous individual products such as printing presses, consumables, software and services – why shouldn’t they actually pay us for this added value rather than for the individual components?
How did you go about answering these key questions?
A team of people with backgrounds in a wide range of disciplines such as finance, services, product development, sales and marketing / product marketing were tasked with developing a business model in which Heidelberg would not sell individual products to the customer, but rather offer the use of an end-to-end system that has been optimized for the specific needs of that customer. As early as December 2017, we concluded our first comprehensive subscription contract with folding carton manufacturer FK Führter Kartonagen, which is part of the WEIG Group. More contracts are in place, and interest in the market is continuing to grow significantly.
Aren’t print shops skeptical? Many are still coming to terms with click-charge models, which are now used as standard in digital printing.
There is a disadvantage to the click-charge models commonly found on the market. They reflect the market prices of digital printing press suppliers and are not based on the customer’s actual cost per printed page for offset printing. There are also no benchmarks for productivity targets etc. In our model, we bill per printed page using the ‘impression charge’.
What is an ‘impression charge’?
The price per page reflects the potential of increased utilization during the contract period. However, the customer has to have a successful business model that allows for sustainable growth. Our subscription model is quite simply a genuine performance partnership. If Heidelberg fails to boost productivity during the contract period, neither the customer or we can fully satisfy margin targets. That is the difference to click-charge models.
The normal click charges for digital printing are based on the costs incurred by the digital press manufacturer and its profit expectations, not on the comparative costs for the customer. They represent a product-based pricing that the customer, the print shop, cannot control and that does not reflect their actual cost structure. Digital printing is therefore not a digital business model.
Added to this is the fact that if utilization fluctuates or is insufficient, click charges can quickly have disastrous effects.
So what is key for developing billing models based on customer needs?
Print shops want to be able to manage their costs themselves. And with good reason, as for many centuries printing was a skilled trade with humans controlling the quality of the work. Only recently has the business started to be industrialized following the automation of production processes with the help of standards. For a craftsman, what’s important is focusing on customer proximity and creating a bespoke end product with a special touch. Accordingly, print results sometimes varied dramatically in terms of quality and price.
An introductory explanation on Heidelberg Subscription.
What are the benefits?
What does industrial production do differently to craftsmen?
Industrial production based on standards creates results that are largely consistent. Only the level of automation creates differences in production, and defines the print outcome and the operating result.
To stand out, print shops must therefore make substantial investments in their own, increasingly digital customer relationships. Digital marketing, an online presence and digitizing the process of ordering best-selling products are becoming very important. Investing in the pressroom may be an age-old tradition but it opens up few opportunities to stand out. It also distracts from the actual job of a printing company in the digital age – namely to attract customers. With this in mind, switching to a subscription model is an easy and entirely logical decision.
What does results-based payment entail?
Our experienced performance-focused consultants conduct a comprehensive analysis of the print shop, reviewing costs for personnel, consumables, downtimes, plate changes, waste, depreciation, and much more. Once this thorough analysis has been completed, a unit page price can be determined that is specific to the relevant customer.
What’s more, we use the performance data we have gathered from more than ten thousand networked machines to establish reference variables. Thanks to this database we can make an offer to the customer to lower this price through a subscription contract because we know how to optimize their operations.
What criteria apply for the subscription?
Heidelberg Subscription is based on the following considerations/criteria:
- Customers must demonstrate growth potential in terms of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). For most customers, this averages between 30 % and 40 %.
- Concentrating on product innovations and customer acquisitions, customers must aim to significantly boost order volumes.
Suitable customers are offered an attractive price based on the above considerations and on a specific expected OEE increase, e.g. from 35 % to 45 %. Using this model, we sell productivity gains and help customers to achieve and exceed their goals. Heidelberg is responsible for setting up the turnkey system accordingly. We promise customers that the price premium for our optimized and more productive turnkey system will not only be worth it, but will out-do their expectations.
How do potential customers react to this new approach?
Many customers are enthusiastic as they are not dealing with a supplier that demands money up front for better quality and even charges for servicing if a machine breaks down. Instead, Heidelberg does everything it can to exceed agreed performance targets and ensure quality matches customer expectations.
Is Heidelberg taking a risk by standing as guarantor for success?
Yes and no. Yes because with the subscription contract, it is in our own interest to ensure machinery is running, software updates are carried out, the use of consumables is optimized, and to do everything we can to increase output. No because ultimately, we take care in choosing our subscription customers. Most importantly, customers must all have one thing in common – they need to concentrate on growth and product innovation on the market, and their business model must demonstrate the potential for further growth.
Analyzing such factors has always been important for us as a manufacturer. We want to grow alongside our successful customers. In the traditional business, this took a back seat provided the customer could pay for the equipment. What we are talking about here is an excellent, new dimension to the partnership. We are no longer looking at whether our machinery, services or materials are cheaper or more expensive than rival products. Everything is defined by the mutually agreed performance targets, using the calculated price per page as a guideline.
Another important aspect of the subscription model is based on autonomous printing following the Push to Stop principle presented at drupa 2016. – See our ValueCheck and case report.
How do you determine the costs with a subscription contract?
That is tailored to the customer and their potential. For customers wishing to expand their business, for example, we might recommend our Speedmaster XL 106. Customers then make an upfront payment, which is only a small portion of the overall cost that would have been due if they had purchased the machinery. They also pay a fixed monthly charge based specifically on the price per page calculation of the agreed page volume that the customer aims to print and that is lower than their average page production. Additional impression charges are only incurred if the page volume exceeds the agreed targets.
Is the subscription tailored to the customer?
A fundamental and unique element to our offer is that we can customize the subscription in its entirety. For example, for companies unable to greatly increase productivity because excellent industrial systems already ensure a high OEE, we adjust the upfront payment and the fixed monthly charge accordingly. Alternatively, for customers with significant potential to increase performance and dynamic opportunities to increase order volume, we focus more on the variability of the payments.
With our subscription program, customers no longer need to worry about investing in their pressroom, making full use of available technology, or keeping systems up to date.
Why should customers tie themselves exclusively to Heidelberg?
If customers opt for the conventional model, they are dependent on a much bigger group of partners. Buying machinery takes up a large part of investment and often means being dependent on a bank. The supposed freedom that comes with pulling together consumables and optimizing the various features themselves comes with greater outlay, and all the separate relationships with numerous suppliers are diametrically opposed to the print shops’ profit targets…
…so that means the classic method of gathering lots of offers before purchasing brings its own problems?
Everyone tries to pass on their costs. If we focus on the actual purpose of printing on paper, I believe all these dependencies are a much bigger issue than signing up to a long-term subscription contract with one manufacturer in which the profit interests of the manufacturer and customer are aligned for the first time. A Heidelberg Subscription contract runs for five years. We anticipate continuous OEE growth within that period. For example, if we increase page volume from 35 million pages per year to 55 million pages, this corresponds to OEE growth from approximately 35 % to 60 %. There is no need to explain what this means for the customer’s profits.
Is Heidelberg therefore financing the manufacturing costs for the production equipment?
The equipment belongs to Heidelberg and forms part of our balance sheet and/or our financing partners’ balance sheets. On the one hand, this fits in with the expectations of those customers who are undergoing digital transformation, i.e. the move toward an automated printing operation and digital customer relationships. Subscription customers always enjoy the highest possible level of automation without having to worry about technology updates, or financing new investments.
On the other hand, such customers also want to use digitization to bolster relationships with their own customers. Digital expertise helps to significantly improve go-to-market capacity across a broad spectrum.
How go-to-market is changing
Does this mean the subscription model also helps improve customers’ go-to-market capacity because it frees up resources at the print shop?
Every new print shop development until now has required enormous effort to ensure the technology is sound but also to secure prices that reflect more complex and thus more effective products. Placing a unilateral focus on production and ignoring customer value in digital customer relationships will come back to haunt even extremely successful modern printing companies.
Devoting resources to further develop the customer journey offered by the print shop and not getting bogged down by technical and administrative aspects is the best way of standing out from competitors and keeping ahead of the curve.
In other words, you are shifting your customers’ business focus?
Our high-growth customers are all excellent entrepreneurs who always focus on where the money flows so as to protect their investments. Customer orientation is greatly enhanced if we no longer force them to buy and maintain capital-intensive production equipment. Focusing completely on the customer as a core concept of the digital economy is always the best way forward for a prosperous business. That applies both to us and our customers.
With the subscription model, Heidelberg takes care of the financing. Do you anticipate any new challenges as a result?
A listed company with experience in customer financing such as Heidelberg cannot help but adopt new approaches in terms of financing. We even have a banking license. What works best for our investors is always cash-stable contracts with selected customers that have good potential for growth and are highly innovative.
That’s exactly what our subscription program ensures with its guaranteed monthly payments – particularly given that we can pool contracts and also trade through a financing partner. This is a much more attractive option for investors than having to negotiate contracts with individual print shops. Risks are balanced thanks to a diversified base of carefully assessed and chosen subscribers.
Last but not least, how quickly can you and do you want to increase market share with the subscription model?
There is very strong demand. But we are taking our time and signing contracts with selected ‘early adopters’. In this financial year, we aim to conclude ten contracts to gain experience and lay a solid foundation to gradually establish the offer across the market.
As early as December 2017, Heidelberg concluded its first comprehensive subscription contract with folding carton manufacturer FK Führter Kartonagen, which is part of the WEIG Group. Photo: Heidelberg
How would you summarize this development?
We live in exciting times with completely new opportunities for both Heidelberg and its customers. The digital economy offers entirely new mindsets for these opportunities. Ensuring the transparent use of products and services in a digital business relationship enables us to concentrate on the real source of added value…
…and what does that ultimately mean?
The transparency we provide establishes fair business relationships between those involved, but also places great responsibility on all participants in the interest of preserving their freedom. This responsibility puts the spotlight on the values of the business partners. Heidelberg values have remained constant throughout our long industrial history and play a particularly important role in our digital strategy. We have reworded the responsibility assumed by Heidelberg in its role as a printing industry partner: Listen. Inspire. Deliver. Digital business models hardly get any better than that.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview and giving a detailed insight into the hidden complexities of mastering digital transformation.
#ValueCheck – Heidelberg Subscription as a new economic system
Why the subscription model from Heidelberg is not only a logical choice, but also essential for ensuring growth with innovative ideas
- The print production volume (PPV) is stable at approximately 410 billion euros worldwide each year.
- Despite this, the number of print shops and print units is decreasing due to improved press performance.
- Even as print runs shrink, OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) can be increased through the automation of industrial-scale operations.
- Today, growth rates can be more than doubled from 30 percent to 70 percent over ten years.
- Given that the PPV cannot be doubled, there is an inevitable and considerable decrease in the number of print units that can be sold (up to 50 percent).
- Heidelberg therefore has to generate added value elsewhere if it is to avoid becoming dependent on crowding out competitors or snatching market shares in order to survive in a shrinking machinery market.
- Heidelberg is gaining attention as an “all-in system” thanks to its extensive print know-how and its servicing database, which has been established on the basis of predictive monitoring since 2004 and focuses on the continuous analysis and improvement of installed production equipment. More than 10,000 Heidelberg presses are currently subject to continuous analysis.
- With its subscription model, Heidelberg takes care of everything to ensure maximum use is made of installed print shop technology.
- The risk associated with innovations is not only dramatically reduced, but also more widely spread.
- Capital-intensive investments in production equipment no longer put a financial strain on print shops. Heidelberg supports customers, pooling and implementing investments with financing partners on good terms.
- This has immediate positive effects on our industrial-scale customers, as increased flexibility and variability of usage provides immense freedom to concentrate on optimizing the marketing of enhanced performance and accelerating print shop growth.
- The continuous increase in utilization results in improved profitability in the short, medium and long term.
- The subscription program opens up linear and exponential growth opportunities for both Heidelberg and its customers.
About Dr. Ulrich Hermann
Dr. Ulrich Hermann has been a member of the Management Board at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG in his role as Chief Digital Officer since November 2016. Thanks to his proven expertise in the digital transformation of businesses, Hermann was made an honorary professor at Allensbach University, Constance, Germany, in August 2017.
Born 1966 in Cologne, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at RWTH in Aachen and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology M.I.T., Cambridge, United States.
In 1996, he completed a doctorate in business economics at the University of St. Gallen, in 1998 he became the Managing Director of Bertelsmann Springer Science and Business Media Schweiz AG, and in 2002 he was appointed Managing Director of Süddeutscher Verlag Hüthig Fachinformation.
In 2005, he assumed the role of Chairman of the Management Board at Wolters Kluwer Germany Holding, later becoming a Member of the Divisional Executive Board for the Central European Region at Wolters Kluwer n.v. in 2010.
About Andreas Weber, Founder and CEO of Value Communication AG: Since more than 25 years Andreas Weber serves on an international level as a business communication analyst, influencer and transformer. His activities are dedicated to the ‘Transformation for the Digital Age’ via presentations, management briefings, coachings, workshops, analysis&reports, strategic advice.