Digital bridging into Switzerland

Transformation is particularly practical: Companies from Saxony-Anhalt are successful in both countries

Switzerland is considered one of the most innovative countries in the world. The state occupies a top position when it comes to evaluating digitalisation strategies. Saxony-Anhalt’s companies, such as SelectLine Software GmbH and Lintra Solutions GmbH, have successfully built bridges into Switzerland and skilfully link locational advantages – here and there.

Switzerland has arrived in the digital era. About 90 percent of companies in the German-speaking regions of Switzerland see opportunities for the economy in the digital transformation. This is documented by the study commissioned by the Commerzbank in November 2015 – “Caution or Vision – Investment Strategies in Swiss Companies”. “TNS Infratest” questioned 236 companies about their investment behaviour. Saxony-Anhalt’s companies are also absorbing the fresh wind blowing across from the European neighbour and sweeping across the information superhighway.

SelectLine Software GmbH from Magdeburg, for example, shows how locational advantages can be used and how this can become a prime address for national and international IT companies. The company has acquired a reputation within the IT industry due to service solutions which are adapted precisely to meet the requirements of companies. The path into the Alpine land is obvious for the Magdeburg-based company. “We had our first success with software in Switzerland in the mid-1990s,” remembers managing director Andreas Scharff. The software company established a subsidiary in St. Gallen and has grown strongly. The 20 employees deal with sales, marketing, support and country-specific product management. SelectLine achieves about 45 percent of its overall turnover in Switzerland. The software developer now employs more than 90 people at its Magdeburg site. The company was not just on the market with the right products at the right time – after 1992, the company decided to switch to software for product management and finances and stroke it lucky – it also skilfully used the locational advantages that Saxony-Anhalt offers. According to Scharff, the university structure, cheap rents and subsidy programmes especially make the state between Arendsee and Zeitz an attractive address for national and international IT companies.

For the two SelectLine managing directors, the proximity to the Otto-von-Guericke University (OvGU) Magdeburg and to the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences with their university facilities was especially important. Andreas Scharff and Rainer Kuhn, both former information technology students of the OvGU, try to make contact early on with well-educated students who normally have practical experience, therefore guaranteeing themselves skilled personnel. Andreas Scharff believes highly qualified and motivated personnel from the region contribute decisively to the success of local companies. “And vice versa, young professionals have promising perspectives thanks to the growth of the IT industry.”

According to the managing director, the increased quality of life and affordable living and office space are also a factor here. Companies that deal with globally sought-after IT solutions in the field of data security have also established themselves here, like Dell in Halle (Saale) and IBM in Magdeburg. “If we are able to further use the digital impulses for the economy, this will advance us even more,” says Andreas Scharff. He has the comparison with Switzerland at the back of his mind. There, they only live behind the mountains in the geographical sense of the word. “The understanding about the benefits of ICT technology is tremendous,” the managing director knows. Scharff believes this is not just down to the advanced digitalisation thinking, but also down to the general Swiss openness to innovation. As well as the good infrastructure: “An excellent broadband network is standard. And the authorities and officials are set up to be very conducive to entrepreneurship.”

Another Magdeburg-based company has also had similar experiences. LINTRA Solutions GmbH is internationally successful as a software manufacturer and consultancy company – working at sites in Switzerland, Bulgaria and the USA. The company’s philosophy is to think globally and without boundaries. LINTRA develops, implements and licences solutions on the basis of standardised SharePoint components. The company offers applications and services and advises international customers on the use of software solutions for process management, project management and for workflow-supported collaboration on the basis of Microsoft SharePoint technology. The young company can look back on constant growth over the last ten years, has won awards for innovative products and services, it is Best in Cloud winner in the “Best Business Idea” category and Gold Certified Partner of Microsoft. The IT company currently employs 45 people. Digital transformation is no alien concept for Axel Mayer, managing director of operations: “Software is implemented knowledge. For ten years, we have been converting business requirements and procedures into usable SharePoint applications, developing tools which can provide our customers with practical support in their business processes,” he says. In view of Switzerland, he thinks, “The country is very open to new technology and easily a good two years ahead of the German market in terms of software-supported collaboration.”

The Magdeburg-based company values the multitude of innovative companies in Switzerland. “They are a wide basis for solvent, potential customers,” says Axel Mayer. It was a logical step for LINTRA to open premises there itself. “Working for Switzerland often means working in Switzerland,” says the managing director. “This requires local proximity, local contacts, employees from the region and cultural understanding.” The company’s team at the Bern site is made up of a mix of people. “Qualified personnel are also rare in Switzerland and connected with high costs,” explains Mayer. This is why LINTRA mixes up the workforce: The German employees deal with the engineering and software development. The Swiss colleagues deal with project management and customer support. The managing director calls this “linking the locational advantages of the two regions with benefits for Saxony-Anhalt and Swiss companies”. “This could become a promising model for companies based in Saxony-Anhalt”.

The practical cooperation in Bern also has another advantage. Lars Bendler, managing director of Innovations at LINTRA, swears by the proximity to ICT, which is automatically top of the agenda in Switzerland. “This is a good thing, no-one gets past the digital change,” he says, confidently. “In Germany, new technology has to be integrated into established business models much more frequently.” Then, according to Lars Bendler, the value added chains can be further optimised and whole new digital business models can be developed. Dreams of the future? “Maybe,” says Bendler, “but the digital transformation is now leading directly into the future. We can help to control it from Saxony-Anhalt.”

Caption: LINTRA Solutions GmbH Axel Mayer (right) and Lars Bendler /Copy: LINTRA Solutions GmbH

Author: Bettina Koch