In 2017, the technology corporation Voith acquired a 60 percent stake in the digital agency Ray Sono. Nicolas Escherich, a board member at Ray Sono, explains how the industry giant and the agency with 244 employees work together.
Mr. Escherich, Ray Sono has been cooperating closely with Voith for a year now. What does your everyday work look like today?
It’s going very well. We’ve entered into a partnership that, among other things, enables us to drive the digitalization of Germany’s industry forward – with Voith as a pilot customer. As experts for digitalizing both B2B and B2C transactions, we have the experience required to develop new digital business models and lead existing fields into the future through digital products and services. That fit in well with Voith’s plans. But it was very important to us that we remain our own boss. So Voith is now a major customer of ours, but we also have others.
Why is it important to have other customers as well?
For strategic reasons, we want to do most of our business with other customers besides Voith. After all, the company acquired an interest in us because it was excited by our diversity. This infatuation – if I may call it that – would be lost if we only worked for one customer. So having other customers allows us to remain attractive. At the same time, developing solutions for the entire industry also enhances our creativity and innovative power, which benefits Voith as well, of course.
We’re currently working on about one dozen projects that we can discuss with a great deal of trust and openness.
And aside from the financial security that a partnership with such a large company naturally offers, how is Ray Sono benefiting from the deal?
We gain better access to Germany’s medium-sized businesses – a target group we’re increasingly focusing on. For example, we also work for companies like Krones, Zeppelin or Zwilling. Many of these companies need advisory services: above all because they’re often only just getting started with digitalization, but also because, once they’re on their way, they have exciting projects to which we can contribute our experience. With Voith as a partner, we develop blueprints for digital processes and products that we can then use for other customers as well.
Do your employees find medium-sized businesses just as exciting as you do? Many people in the digital economy, especially younger people, tend to be more interested in well-known brand-name companies.
My impression is that we’re becoming even more interesting as an employer because we develop diverse products and applications for topic areas like virtual reality, e-mobility and robotics. Our employees really have to delve deeply into the subject matter and at the same time keep their core expertise, such as programming or project management, up to date with the latest technologies and practices. Many of our employees find this sustainability exciting. In addition, medium-sized companies often give us deep insights into their business processes, and that, too, is extremely interesting for many of our employees. At times, it may only be love at second sight – but then it lasts a very long time.
How do you go about working together with Voith?
We’re currently working on about one dozen projects that we can discuss with a great deal of trust and openness. The cooperation is more intense and direct than with other customers. In addition to our digital know-how, our project contributions always include a rigorously customer-centric viewpoint. Our consumer expertise allows us to think like a user and develop intuitive, convenient user interfaces for programs, business processes and applications. This also makes industrial processes more user-friendly, which is one of Voith’s objectives.
Can you give us some examples of concrete results of your cooperation?
One example is the further development of
merQbiz, a digital marketplace for recovered paper where retailers and purchasers from paper and pulp mills, paper brokers or recycling companies can network. The platform was launched in the United States and is now being expanded. What’s behind this is that more and more recovered paper is needed to produce paperboard packaging, for example. The problem is that not every type of paper can be recycled to the same level. At the same time, the demand for packaging is increasing, above all due to mail-order business. The merQbiz app and website take care of evaluating the retailers, the purchasers and the quality of the goods, for example. Voith has thus developed a completely new business model in the digital world that is already earning the company money and that serves as a meaningful extension of its core business.
Augmented Reality plays a major role at Voith and Ray Sono
Have you developed solutions that are geared toward Voith’s day-to-day work?
Yes. A good example of this is a virtual reality application that we developed to train the employees of hydroelectric power plants. We use raw data to recreate the facility virtually. What’s important to know is that these gigantic power plants are all different – starting with the turbines, which are always custom-made. So we’ve developed a model that can be adapted to each plant’s individual specifications.
Why does Voith need a VR model after the hydroelectric power plant has already been installed?
For maintenance purposes. The model can be used to train employees. In a virtual reality setting, we can illustrate very well how the plants work and how to carry out the maintenance. This training aspect is an important application area for the digital products we develop.
Do you have any more examples of this?
Yes, a very current one, in fact. At the International Motor Show Germany, which took place in Hanover this September, Voith presented
OnEfficiency.DriverAssist, which is designed for companies with large vehicle fleets, such as buses. The system helps drivers – in this case bus drivers – optimize their driving behavior and thus reduce fuel consumption. The aim is to motivate the drivers to implement these improvements. For this purpose, we developed a platform that evaluates operating and driving data in real time and displays the results in the cockpit. Initial on-the-road tests have shown that the buses use up to ten percent less fuel. In addition, we’re also working on many other projects. For example, we’re cooperating with Voith Robotics on developing new applications for the electronics industry or enhancing the Internet of Things platform OnCumulus, which serves as a hub for data from sources such as plants, production lines or machines.