ZF Friedrichshafen AG

An Enterprise-wide Management Information System at ZF Group

Supporting rapid growth with a state-of-the-art planning and reporting process for 1,200 users led by transparent and reliable data

Leading automotive supplier ZF sought a single point of truth for reporting across numerous business divisions. Initially using the Board platform to bring business-wide data together, the company went on to develop a complete Management Information System which is fully integrated with strategic and operational planning and used by more than 1,200 employees.

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  • Industry: Automotive, Machinery
  • Department: Finance, Supply chain
  • Employees: 137,000
  • Turnover: €35 billion
  • Countries: 40

ZF is a leading worldwide technology company specializing in automotive driveline and chassis solutions as well as active and passive safety technology. The company is represented by 160,000 employees at 260 locations in 41 countries. ZF is among the world's largest automotive suppliers and in 2019 the company achieved a turnover of ‎€36.5 billion. To continue its success with innovative products in the future, ZF spends about 7% of its annual revenue on research and development.

The Challenge: The same reporting system for every division and strategic role

How can you bring together the reporting system of a matrix organization comprising seven divisions and numerous strategic functions? The ZF project team set itself this demanding challenge in 2013 when the Board of Directors decided to introduce a uniform reporting system and set up a single Management Information System (MIS).

The previous reporting process was showing its age and no longer met the requirements of an innovative and global-oriented high-tech company like ZF. Different divisions were importing data from SAP into Excel datasheets and spending considerable time and effort producing their reports. As a result, every report was sector-specific with different key figures and a different layout. The Excel reports were then emailed to a defined recipient group, making it harder to analyze and compare data. It was difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to cross-reference the data.

As such, the key requirements for a new system were quickly identified:

  • A Single Point of Truth (SpOT) to ensure data quality
  • An intuitive new solution to achieve acceptance among employees and management
  • Consistent layout and uniform content for comparability
  • A change from the push/pull concept, i.e. reports should no longer be sent by email, but located centrally and retrieved when needed

Another key requirement of the target system was a strong and reliable access concept. This involved implementing a comprehensive system for roles and rights to control access to data so that employees could only access the data relating to their own customers.

The first concept phase of the project took around a year to complete, in which time the ZF project team defined the KPIs for future reporting. They also created a style guide for the system’s reports and dashboards, combining the International Business Communication Standard (IBCS) with ZF's corporate design to ensure a consistent look and feel going forward.

At the end of the concept stage it was clear what was needed: a reliable and flexible solution that adapts to rapid changes and fosters innovative business from ZF.

The Solution: A centralized Management Information System (MIS)

Over the course of the project, ZF studied and assessed about 60 different Business Intelligence tools, with Board coming out top. The ZF team was impressed with Board's Proof of Concept (PoC) as well as their close cooperation with the Board team. Board's professional services team tackled the challenges put to them and made sure their solutions to each requirement were timely, creative, and bespoke. The proximity of the Board development team meant that they could quickly meet ZF's high demands and develop new features. Within just two months, the team had developed a Corporate Identity Designer that made it easy to implement the extensive design requirements of the project.

The migration to the new reporting system took place using an agile process. Not all business areas and strategic roles changed over at the same time, ensuring that additional requirements could be taken from experience and incorporated into the project, and that the solution could be perfectly adapted to practical needs to produce an efficient reporting system. During this process, the need emerged to combine figures and notes into one page on the data dashboard. Now, experts can show their comments on the figures for everyone to see, or even add entire Office files to clarify the context. This makes reporting even easier and provides context for the future.

The ZF project has resulted in a complete application with intuitive navigation that adapts automatically to the rights and roles of the user. Users can only see navigational elements for the functions and data they have access to.

A connector easily and reliably loads all the reporting data into the Board database from SAP Business Warehouse. The Board planning applications (Operational Planning & Strategic Planning) load data back from Board into SAP BW, and ZF decided to write data from Board back into SAP to create a single point of truth (SPOT).

There are currently seven different applications for analyzing and viewing data:

  • Managed Information System (MIS)
  • Strategic Planning
  • Operational Planning
  • IFRS & HGB Notes (Financial Statement)
  • Commentary (Liquidity)
  • Tax (Tax Reporting)
  • Profit Walk (Operative & Monthly Closing)

Around 1,200 employees access the platform and data worldwide, including everyone in the management team. It goes without saying that the intuitiveness of a reporting system is vital to ensuring its acceptance. Only if features are intuitive and easy to use are users willing to replace their existing tools in favor of a new solution.

The ‘storytelling’ approach also contributes to the wider acceptance of the system; an innovation that Board developed for ZF’s reporting system. Predefined stories present data so they are easy to understand and interpret.

The Benefits: Complete transparency and control of data

With the new system, ZF has introduced a state-of-the-art reporting process that perfectly suits the dynamic nature of the business. Employees can view and assess reports on a tablet or a computer instead of on paper. The former push process, which saw departments send their reports by email, has become a pull process, with stakeholders being able to access centrally stored data at all times. Standardizing the design and content has made data faster and easier to compare.

The Board system is flexible enough to adapt closely to demand within the company. The use of screens is evaluated by means of statistical tools, meaning unused screens can be removed and popular screens made more prominent. With drill-down navigation options, which change depending on the available data, the management team can go into as much detail as they like, based on the reported KPIs, with tailored comments to support the decisions made. 

00:00:03ZF Friedrichshafen AG, with its main office in Friedrichshafen, Germany is one of the world's largest automotive suppliers. We have more than 135,000 employees worldwide and make over €35 billion in sales.

00:00:14Why did you implement Board? We chose Board three years ago because we are a fast-evolving and fast-growing company and we needed a BI solution that can adapt to these changes. Board's toolkit concept suits us because we can react flexibly to the changes in the company.

00:00:38How do you use Board? We use Board for a variety of applications; we built a MIS (Management Information System) with Board and we use Board for our operational and strategic planning. We also built commenting solutions, including year-end commentary for tax notes. In total, over 1,200 of our colleagues use Board on a daily basis in almost every ZF location across the globe. Ours is a very large and important system and we tend to exhaust this topic with Board because we really do use all the functionality that Board offers.

00:01:23How has Board benefitted your company? We have the advantage that we now have a single source of truth in our MIS. We draw data from all the different areas from all the different divisions, and put it into a single system which gives our managers a Single Point of Truth from which to guide our company. A system where the truth is brought together. That's a huge advantage in controlling a large corporation.