Visiting Digital Unit Berlin

August 1, 2019

The Digital Unit in Berlin set up by Volkswagen Financial Services is busy digitalizing the product world of the Braunschweig-based company.

One notices them as soon as one walks through the door: those colorful little stickers. All over the place, full of notes, jottings or drawings, on the walls, the windows and the computer screens. And in between all this apparent clutter: employees working together in teams, a foosball table and a dartboard. Surprisingly analog in practice, this Digital Unit, one might think looking at all the sticky notes and memos. The ambitious goal of this international team of around 70 people working in the heart of Berlin is to digitalize the key products of Volkswagen Financial Services – and do so worldwide. "Those who intend to survive in future in the tradition-steeped automotive and financial services industry must adapt and develop themselves further – as quickly as possible and in line with customer requirements," as Stefan Imme, Chief Digital Officer at Volkswagen Financial Services, points out. He adds: "More and more vehicle users and consumers of additional mobility services like park apps are digital natives nowadays. Conditioned by Amazon and other online shopping portals, customers of all ages also expect a smooth and seamless shopping experience across various analog and digital channels when they buy a car as well. It's the customer who chooses where, how and when he wants to interact with us.“

The dynamism of Berlin 

The new digitalized product world of Volkswagen Financial Services is to emanate from the heart of Berlin, from directly on the Potsdamer Platz to be exact, but also in close collaboration with the national subsidiaries. The start-up spirit is palpable all throughout the lounge-like environment, which is elegantly interspersed with open-plan communication and meeting areas. Icons like David Bowie or Nina Hagen look out from large murals at the workers: Rock'n'Roll. This is indeed a nice place to be. "We made the deliberate decision to locate our Unit away from the familiar Braunschweig environment and profit from the fertile atmosphere of the capital. It is quite clear, that for ambitious programmers, developer, product owner or Scrum Master, Berlin is more interesting than Braunschweig. At the same time it is faster accessible for the colleagues in the national companies due to the good connection," says Imme. Needless to say, however, it can't work without close collaboration with company headquarters. As he puts it, it's like Yin and Yang – two worlds that need and complement each other. Employees often come to Berlin from Braunschweig to work together on projects. "The digital transformation at Volkswagen Financial Services can only be achieved through a close group effort and coalescing between central sections and departments, local expertise and those with market-specific experience," Imme explains. "The Digital Unit is the place where this exchange of information takes place. All our markets are invited to use this co-working space and become part of the digital team.“

New structures for success

There's a relaxed working atmosphere as we tour the office. Small teams stand together, discuss, laugh, and of course exchange post-it notes and stickers. There's not much of a classical hierarchical structure to be seen here. There may be fixed routines and predetermined meetings, but there are also constant new challenges that take on a different form every day. The conditions often change so quickly that they were hardly foreseeable the day before. It is this spontaneity that binds the team together. The Digital Unit meanwhile acts as delivery center and co-working space at the same time, to develop customer portals, for example, and to enable services to be contracted digitally. Needless to say, the manner of working is agile, and using innovative technologies like cloud applications is a matter of course. Nevertheless, even in Berlin it's not all sweetness and light and employees sometimes come up against a proverbial brick wall. "But that doesn't matter," Imme insists by way of encouragement for his team, "the courage to deal openly also with failure is a value that has to be strengthened even further in future. In this respect, the entire company needs to immerse itself in a rethink.“

On route to becoming a digital captive

Since the launch of the Digital Unit in 2017, the team has been making great strides forward. To date, the Digital Program has introduced 89 digital services in 24 of the 30 markets that are being focused on. A total of 66,000 online contracts have already been concluded worldwide in 2018. On their way to becoming a digital captive, Volkswagen Financial Services want to massively expand their customer contacts: the target is 400 to 600 million customer contact points per year. Contact points can be analog or digital and relate to the core business or to new mobility services – for instance in the areas of parking and refueling/charging. By 2025, the goal is also to have 2.5 million new contracts concluded online per year. This will embrace contracts for services such as maintenance and inspection, contracts for insurance cover, right up to contracts covering the complete vehicle financing or leasing. "Customers are already used to researching the necessary facts to choose their new car online. Their expectations of being able to conclude contracts online will increase significantly and will call for a completely digital contract process. This also includes, for example, valid and effective online authentication," Imme notes. Furthermore, to enable customers to manage and maintain their data independently, all contracts are to become one hundred percent self-service-capable by the year 2025 – similar to how things are already with online banking.

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