Thomas Buck Relies on Cloud-Only

Vitesco IT developed a cloud platform in just six months to enable Continental’s spin-off and as a basis for digitalization initiatives.

(Picture: Thomas Buck)

Electrified, Emotion, Everywhere is what the former “Powertrain” division of Continental AG wants to be. Vitesco Technologies has now been listed on the stock exchange for two years. CIO Thomas Buck explains how the vision of Vitesco Technologies has electrified his life.

In March 2020, the Supervisory Board of Continental AG decided to list the Powertrain division on the stock exchange as an independent company. The first IT activities were already underway at this point: “We had to quickly separate all systems from Continental and set them up in a secure and flexible environment,” says Buck: “Our ambition went beyond the spin-off. We wanted to create a platform that would serve as a basis for future digitalization initiatives.” The “volatile” scope was the challenge.

The CIO explains that the requirements kept changing as to which systems and data should or had to be transferred to the new platform. Another complicating factor was that of the 38.000 employees at Vitesco Technologies, 27.000 IT users at 50 locations worldwide have individual software preferences. “You never really know what you actually have,” says Buck, alluding to shadow IT: “We always had to assume that someone would jump up at the end of the migration and say ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got something else’.”

Self-service offering in the cloud

So the Vitesco Technologies IT experts developed a cloud that enables IT and non-IT employees to create independent, encapsulated and secure environments via a self-service offering. The “Vitesco Cloud Foundation” guarantees that security and data protection as well as the correct use of technologies and standards are adhered to. To this end, the IT experts expand and supplement the native cloud services with capabilities such as automated patching, monitoring and backup. “Our Vitesco Cloud Foundation has allowed us to migrate more than 300 applications to the cloud in just 15 months,” praises Buck.

Which were easy and which were difficult? “Office was actually quite complicated because the data had to be separated,” says the CIO: “With encrypted emails, the key naturally remains in the old company. You can’t take it with you.” What’s more, no one had ever separated Teams before, says Buck: “If you had a chat with 20 people and 15 are no longer part of the company, it gets complicated.” In the end, the company developed its own software to take away chats that could be of legal or developmental significance. “SAP, on the other hand, was comparatively easy to plan,” says Buck: “We’ve done this many times before.”

Data analytics and GenAI

The Vitesco Cloud Foundation is also the basis for data analytics and AI use cases. All users at Vitesco Technologies have access to common tools such as Python, Hadoop or KNIME (“Konstanz Information Miner”).

There is increasing interest in generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT. Buck naturally wants to prevent employees from publishing internal company information on the internet. “We have formulated rules for this and we now have our own tenant so that no IP (intellectual property, editor’s note) leaks out,” says the CIO: “But we are still in the early stages.” Incidentally, Vitesco Technologies said goodbye to central data lakes two years ago. The “API First Strategy” applies: applications are to be connected directly to the data platform via programming interfaces. Buck believes this is more sustainable than maintaining data in a centralized pond.

Costs reduced by 30 percent

So far, the Vitesco Cloud Foundation has been able to reduce infrastructure costs by 30 percent following the spin-off. In January 2023, Vitesco Technologies carried out a cloud maturity assessment with AWS. According to Buck, the result shows that the platform is superior to the capabilities of market competitors in the manufacturing and automotive industries in all technical aspects (platform, security, operations). This has given the CIO courage: “We have outgrown the automotive industry and are not afraid to compare ourselves with the digital natives.” Even with a view to the Googles, Apples and Amazones of this world, the company is still in the top half of the benchmarking. “When it comes to security, we’re even in the top 30 percent,” says Buck.

Cloud adaptation as the basis for digitalization

Motivated by this, the CIO and his team are now aiming for the next step in the cloud journey: service extensions are to be made available as open source for suppliers and customers too “Of course, you can’t do this with all areas,” says Buck: “But we are convinced that cloud adaptation is the basis for digitalization, and we want to help drive digitalization forward.” This higher goal is motivation for the team and a good reason to hire new talent at Vitesco Technologies IT. Buck also represents the company at Catena-X and the AI Park in Berlin. He cites a simple example for his commitment to Catena-X: “97 percent of our CO2 footprint is generated in the supply chain. Without a cross-company platform, we will not be able to digitize the footprint of our products over their entire life cycle. This is where we will benefit from the network.”

The cloud-only strategy has already paid off elsewhere: in the transformation towards the vision of “Electrified, Emotion and Everywhere”, Vitesco Technologies IT can provide upcoming carve-outs with the simple, fast and flexible infrastructure that Emitec, for example, needed when it was spun off. The clean combustion specialists were spun off in August of this year. Although catalytic converters and particle filters are valuable parts for a combustion engine, they do not fit in with the Vitesco Technologies vision. The CIO of the Year jury was impressed by how quickly the basis for this vision can be implemented in the cloud.