“I grew up believing that only men worked in IT” An interview with Sabine, director of IT at woom
In February 2023, woom introduced a new digital enterprise resource system that has seriously sped up key processes and enhanced the company’s workflow. In this interview, Sabine Engelmann looks back on the challenges that the project created, reveals whether she’s a gamer or not, and expresses no regret for quitting her original degree to become a computer scientist.
Sabine Engelmann is Director of IT at woom, the manufacturer of bikes for children and teens.
At the start of February, woom introduced a new enterprise resource planning system, or ERP. What does that mean for your IT team?
There was a huge responsibility put on us when it came to implementing the new ERP system. But it was never just a pure IT project – it has been a multi-year project that has affected the entire organization.
As the IT team, we were tasked with navigating the technical side of things and ensuring that all woomsters who would be working with the ERP system were on board and involved from an early stage.
In reality, this meant creating a new basis for basically every process in the company.
"ERP – enterprise resource planning – refers to a centralized system that covers everything from accounting to supply chain to human resources."
That sounds like a big ask!
You’re not wrong! (Laughs) At the end of January, we had to take the previous system we'd been using for bike ordering and shipping offline for a few days. Not a single bike left the woom warehouse for a whole week.
After that, we migrated all our existing data from the old system into the new one. Once that was completely finished, we were able to implement the new system. It was a challenging time not just for us in IT but for the whole company.
At woom, nearly everything is in the cloud – does that apply to the new ERP system, too?
Yep, that's in the cloud as well. I'd estimate that woom is now 95% cloud based.
Which ERP system did woom choose?
We went for Dynamics 365 from Microsoft because it felt like a good fit.
Why did woom need a new ERP system?
Good question: We had been using two really distinct systems across our two locations, so Austria and the USA were essentially disconnected from each other. The system in Austria was also highly customized, which meant it was tailored to woom as a mid-sized company.
If we’d continued like this, it would have hampered further growth.
What’s more, our finance and controlling processes were not incorporated into either of the previous ERP systems—on both sides of the Atlantic. At times, this meant we were lacking key bits of knowledge, which can be fairly risky for a company.
With the new ERP system, the aim was to implement a uniform, shared database for increased transparency and a better ability to make data-driven decisions.
Can you highlight improvements that our customers, wholesalers and woomsters will see?
This improved data visibility means our customer service team can be more targeted in their comms, which will take woom customer care to the next level. It will also help us stick to deadlines, which will definitely please our customers!
The same applies to our wholesalers, too. We’re offering them a modified B2B shop that makes it super easy for them to order our products online.
And us woomsters get an excellent overall view through an integrated, centralized system. It lets us react more quickly to supply chain interruptions, avoid errors, and optimize processes.
How long did the whole project take?
The official kick-off was on September 15, 2021, and the go-live was on February 1, 2023. By my calculation, that's seventeen-and-a-half months! However, the project has been in the pipeline for even longer than that.
By early 2021, woom knew that it needed a new ERP system. When I joined woom in June, I hit the ground running. On June 4, 2021 – my fourth day at work – I submitted the first project plan for the ERP migration.
How many people and departments were involved in the project?
The project team grew steadily in much the same way that woom is also growing. By the time we got to the go-live date, there were 85 people on the team. That's about every third woomster!
When it comes to naming the departments, it’s easier to ask who wasn't involved. Alongside the IT team, we worked together with customer service, supply chain, sales, warehouse, logistics, finance, controlling, and e-commerce.
So, which departments were not involved?
Product development and the design team kept away from it. As did marketing, in fact. But as we continue to develop the system, all of the departments will have a role to play.
How did you loop in the other departments?
The overall project was divided into three phases. In the first phase – what’s called the analysis phase – we put on workshops for each department, carrying out end-to-end, cross-functional analysis of their processes.
This basically means we wanted to find out how woom worked and whether the standard version of Dynamics 365 would fit our way of working. By doing this part, we realized what adaptations would be needed.
In the second phase, we implemented these changes. That's why it's called the implementation or ‘build’ phase. After that, it was the woomsters' turn: they tested the modified system for us using what’s known in the industry as ‘user acceptance tests’.
Who programmed the adaptations?
We had a good implementation partner, who took our changes on board and adapted Dynamics 365 to our needs. One example is how they were able to integrate our online shop directly into the ERP.
What came after the successful user acceptance tests?
This brought us up to the release or go-live phase. This was all about doing the final tests and go-live simulations so that we could validate the data. Once all of the departments were satisfied, we gave the green light for the implementation plan, known as ‘the cut-over’.
At the start of the following month – February 1, 2023 – we went live with Dynamics 365. From here on, there was no turning back when we opened the interfaces to our online shop.
Why is that a point of no return?
Once we have sold a children's bike through our online shop, we can no longer undo the transaction in the ERP system—or, more accurately, it is possible to do so but it’s pretty complicated. We had to be exceptionally confident that the new system would work as we opened the interfaces. And it did!
Did woom do anything differently to other companies going through a similar project?
The project method and the test management concept were very well-matched. But our biggest accomplishment was how we carried out this project while the company is still growing.
New warehouse locations were added, and new woomsters started working with us – including on my team. These team members had to settle into the company, learn new processes, and provide input for the new ERP system, all at the same time. My hat goes off to them.
What challenge did your team face during the course of the project?
Finding the right implementation partner was not easy. That set our timeline back a bit.
Then there’s also the fact that our ERP project had to compete with day-to-day operations. We were asking our colleagues—who were busy with their usual tasks—to squeeze our project into their already limited time.
We had pretty ambitious goals. But we pulled it off!
Did you work on site in the office or remotely, from home?
The project properly began during the pandemic so most of our meetings took place remotely. This was due to a mixture of lockdown requirements as well as the consideration that we didn’t want to put anyone at risk.
We were also running it as an international project, which meant that we had regular afternoon meetings with woomsters in the USA that we always held online for obvious reasons.
Here in Austria, we tried to meet in the office as often as possible – I think face-to-face communication is vital, both in terms of how effective it is but also for the vibe in the team.
Were there any conflicts during the project?
Heads occasionally butted; I can say that! This came down to differing expectations, but I don't think that is specific to our project. It’s a standard part of professional life. We just have to learn to deal with these things when they arise and make sure nothing escalates.
How did you deal with these conflicts as a team leader?
I tried to make room for different ideas and alternative ways of doing things. One way of doing this was to delegate and make sure everyone felt trusted.
What makes a good leader in your opinion?
Exactly that: Delegating responsibility and allowing people to make mistakes. You’ve also got to be able to think and act strategically, as well as being aware of your own personality, understanding and recognizing your own mistakes and limits. Then there’s empathy and authenticity, too.
When did you first get interested in computers?
Really young, actually. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve sat at a computer every chance I could get.
When I was a teenager, I even asked for a computer as a Christmas present. Unfortunately, I didn't get one that year – instead, I found an electronic keyboard under the tree for me. (Laughs)
What about gaming? Did you ever get into that side of computers?
I like playing video games but not to excess. If I’m honest, I don't have time! I’ve always been more interested in how to write programs, or how you define a data flow or program logic. That's how my career took off in the field of software development.
How many programming languages do you know?
In the course of my studies, I've learned several – C++, Assembler, Java, and others. But my main language is C#. If you know one programming language, it's relatively easy to pick up a new one.
Was your IT career written in the stars?
I actually did my first programming courses while I was still at school, but I grew up believing only men worked in IT. That's why I started studying German literature and language.
Fortunately, after a while, I had the confidence to change my mind and switched from German to computer science. I knew straight away that I’d found my calling.
Was there something that triggered the change of majors?
I was really missing a sense of applied logic while studying German language and literature. Sure, patterns and algorithms exist in Old High German, but it didn’t feel like enough for me.
It was risky to switch majors and there were a lot of people around me advising against it. But looking back from where I am now, I am seriously happy that I made my love for literature a hobby and not a career.
"It's important to me that my work is meaningful."
What made you join woom, and what do you like about it?
It goes back to a birthday greeting on LinkedIn from a former woomster. We started chatting, had a bit of a discussion, and he mentioned an open position at woom.
He asked me up front if I’d be interested.
At first, I said no. I live quite far over the border in Germany and couldn't imagine regularly commuting to Austria. But the more I heard about the role, the better it all started to sound.
It's important to me that my work is meaningful and that I’m able to make things happen. And woom offered me both of these elements. I also think the product is truly great, which is why I ultimately said yes. I haven't regretted the decision for a minute.
What's next for the woom IT department?
We've got a lot to do. (Laughs) There are already new requirements for the ERP system we just implemented, and soon we'll be introducing other new systems, like CRM* and a product lifecycle management system.
Then there are various things from the startup days of woom that we need to tidy up. It is a matter of digital transformation and establishing state-of-the-art IT with a good IT sourcing mix. Basically, we’re looking at how to ensure and further develop our ongoing internal and external operations.
We’re also still looking to fill up some positions, so recruitment features high on my list of priorities!
*CRM stands for customer relationship management.
What does cycling mean to you?
So many things, but my first thoughts are: environmentally friendly, climate friendly, healthy and low-noise.
"Low-noise" – interesting word choice!
If you live somewhere really urban like Frankfurt, you’ll know exactly what I mean! I wish more people would ride bikes here as it would drastically improve the quality of life for everyone.