KION Group


The experience of the German multinational KION Group between messages and electronic invoicing

More than 33,000 employees in more than 100 countries, more than 1.4 million trucks, more than 6,000 automated warehouses delivered to customers on all six continents, and a turnover of 8 billion euros in 2018. These are some of the figures of KION Group, a German multinational company specialising in materials handling systems and operating in the market with the Linde, STILL, Dematic, Baoli, Fenwick and OM Voltas brands. KION is the largest forklift truck manufacturer in Europe but also the second largest world leader in the development of supply chain integration and warehouse automation technologies, explains Stefano Tagliabue, Senior Director IT EMEA South East of KION Group.

On the active part we have introduced all those specific functionalities required by the business for an effective management of the events returned by the interchange system (SdI), and the key search criteria for documents.

Stefano Tagliabue, Senior Director IT EMEA South East of KION Group

The brands of KION GROUP

KION Group operates in the market with the brands Linde, STILL, Dematic, Baoli, Fenwick and OM Voltas.

Stefano Tagliabue, Senior Director IT EMEA South East of KION Group, explains in more detail that "Linde, in KION since 2006, started its activity in 1904, essentially distinguishing itself as a technological pioneer and global leader in the production of industrial trucks, known in France and all French-speaking countries under the Fenwick brand. STILL, founded in the early 1920s, has also been in the Group since 2006, and for decades has stood out for its innovation in the production of industrial trucks and intralogistics systems, mainly focused on the European and Brazilian markets.

Dematic, for its part, started operating in 1819 as Mechanische Werkstatter Harkort and has been with us since 2016. It is a global leader in innovation and development of integrated supply chain automation technologies. So we are talking about intelligent software, conveyors, sorters, automatic guided systems (Agv, automatic guided vehicle), automatic warehouses, voice and optical picking, automatic palletizers.

Baoli, operational since 2003 and in KION since 2009, is our global brand in the value segment, while OM Voltas is finally the combination of forces between Voltas India and the well-known Italian brand OM. Today the company is the undisputed leader in trolley production in the Indian market".

To think digitally

A company as extensive as the KION Group, operating on several fronts and with different organizations and brands, has a long history of periodic innovations and developments to meet the needs of the market and its target users. Today its ambition is to become a 'double digit company' and this is also thanks to the 2027 strategy which has focused on automation, digitisation and innovation as some of its main fields of action. And that necessarily sees the IT structure evolve accordingly.

"It is nothing new that the role of the IOC is changing under the pressure of new digital technologies; at the same time KION, like others, has created the new position of Digital Officer held by Susanna Schneeberger, who today has the task of orchestrating and imagining a new IT organisation, of which I am a member, and of implementing the digital transformation in the Group that is so much talked about today. The precise objective is to become a revenue generator through the development of a portfolio of digital services for our customers. The Group IOC, my direct manager in charge of the Cdo, has a dual role: on the one hand, to govern the portfolio of services supporting the business: we still need to get trolleys out of production once they are sold; on the other hand, to support this process of change by rapidly revising the IT architecture to tackle the next decade, digitizing processes and rethinking these same services in new ways. Some of the key initiatives include the migration of various services from on-premises to our Microsoft Azure cloud-based tenant, the completion of the Office 365 migration by 2019, the renewal of global networks, and the launch of collaboration initiatives between relocated teams to enable people to access information everywhere, up to integrated telephony", continues Tagliabue who, in this scenario, as senior IT Director EMEA South East, has the role of governing the local IT teams in the Region for which he is responsible, ensuring compliance with IT governance principles and supporting the implementation of the group strategy.

The key to documentation

Among the fundamental systems in use in companies are those for document management, which over the years have become more and more evolved, also considering the reference regulations that have introduced a series of obligations. On this front, KION Group has been working with DocFlow for more than ten years, starting with OM Carrelli Elevatori, now STILL.

"We are talking about the management of invoices and documents in the document management system integrated with the SAP system of STILL, which is still present today but in consultation only and in outsourcing mode always at DocFlow. In addition, the collaboration, and the services that have followed one another over time, concerned the mailing of invoices, mass mailing services, digital storage, the invoice verification and dematerialization process, invoicing to PA, and the archiving of Pec messages (certified e-mail)", explains Tagliabue, adding that thanks to another reorganization process started in 2015, which established IT as a corporate function independent from brands and countries, it was then possible to build synergies between the various IT teams and the Group's legal entities themselves.

Thanks to the new governance, it has been possible to share the best practices of the IT teams for the benefit of all group companies. One example of this is the standard-compliant digital preservation service developed in STILL together with DocFlow.

It was introduced first in Kion Rental Service then in Linde Italia, then in Baoli Emea; all this only after collecting offers from other competitors, as per policy, and with sharing and approval also from the parent company.

Among the recent changes on the documental front in Italy there has been the obligation of electronic invoicing between private parties, starting from 2019. KION Group also had to respond to this requirement and did so considering that this basic principle would have brought advantages as well as some headaches. "While the paper invoice still demanded by some customers died out, as did its posting, we knew that the impact on the systems would be considerable and that the organisation also had to prepare for change. Together with the administrative managers of the companies, we therefore brought the correct key users on board with regard to customer and supplier accounting and sales. This was unfortunately a very tight schedule and we decided to rely once again on DocFlow taking into account that it was a partner already accredited with the Inland Revenue, who spoke our language and was familiar with the regulations, as well as foreseeing satisfactory implementation and support costs. All factors that made this choice prevail over the Group's proposal, and with unanimous agreement by the entire business. An internal process that took a few months, considerably delaying the start up of the project", underlines Tagliabue.

From the technological point of view, also in order to start on schedule, the basic option of the offer was consequently selected, postponing some integrations to a later date, with DocFlow acting as an intermediary receiving and sending invoices in XML format generated by SAP systems.

"The choice, especially on the management of supplier invoices, responded to the needs of all companies in separating the flows destined for SAP systems, taking into account that STILL uses two of them, and in preparing the sorting logics according to the type of incoming documents, which were intercompany with IDoc format, and compared to other suppliers in order to comply with SAP's own process logics. On the active part, on the other hand, we have introduced all the specific functions required by the business for an effective management of events returned by the interchange system (SDI), and the key document search criteria. In addition, we have set up an additional functionality for the manual loading of B2B invoices, thanks to which we are able to manage exceptions that SAP is not yet able to offer, such as the sending of courtesy invoices via email to particular customers, and for the notification that SDI has accepted and forwarded the XML invoice. These are just examples of the level of flexibility offered by the choice made; it would have been 'impossible' or in any case very expensive and with very different timeframes if we had married the recommended option from the parent company".

The areas of impact of the project included customer and passive asset management processes and those responsible for the various sales business flows, such as sales of new and used products, spare parts, short and long term rental, and Group IT. When introducing process innovations, which must be served by new technology, it is also important to be able to 'extract' the results obtained from experience over time. Tagliabue points out that before the advent of electronic invoicing, the Group already had a fair degree of automation in the management of invoices, but the process of dematerialisation and recognition of PDF files attached to emails sent by Italian suppliers has been reduced to a minimum.

"Certainly, our factory works mainly with foreign suppliers - around 60% - so we cannot speak of a global simplification, i.e. we have not seen the divestment of some IT services, but rather the addition of new ones dedicated to B2B invoicing. The drop in operations in the registration of Italian supplier invoices is also partly frustrated by the manual control of incomplete invoices received from our suppliers, for example the lack of our purchase order. On some processes, such as Intercompany flows, things have become complicated. SAP EDI integration on SAP was already a reality that we had to interrupt and revise in order to get the mandatory messages from SDI to pass through, leading to a change in our systems to include SAP IDoc files as attachments to the XML invoice itself. The situation has now almost stabilised but this still requires an effort to check whether everything sent was also actually received and vice versa".

With the project linked to electronic invoicing, the PA and B2B flow was unified, the abolition of the spesometro, the sending of the esterometro, while production remains the responsibility of KION Group IT. At the same time, some of its customers are beginning to claim a richer XML invoice file, which, although not considered mandatory by the Inland Revenue, is important for the customer during registration. "Clients are starting to demand, rightly so, richer information that we did not consider in the start-up phase. However, we try to reach a good compromise because it is not possible to customise an XML template for every client," says Tagliabue.

Future developments

"As mentioned above, STILL has activated the Pec archiving service. Having a simple repository, however, is not the answer that the business expects today for the management of these communications. The need is to streamline their management process through a portal that can be integrated with our certified mail service provider for inbound and outbound flows, filing by thread, search functionalities, keeping the messages' preservation in compliance with the regulations. In this sense we believe that DocFlow's Flowee tool can be the answer to this type of need and we plan to tackle the project in 2020".

Interview by Paolo Morati, editor EXECUTIVE.IT