"Thorsten, what does a senior consultant actually do?" Thorsten chats with Verena
Thorsten Rock, Senior Consultant, has been working for the priint Group | WERK II for many years. In this interview, he gives us exciting insights into his "daily business" and explains the connection between curiosity, flexibility and even the ability to suffer.
(To preface, Thorsten, Dietmar, Horst and I have known you since the early 2000s.)
Back then you were still at empolis, before you changed to the priint Group | WERK II in 2006. What do you do today and how have your tasks changed over the years?
As a trained typesetter, I come from the field of design / prepress. I was supposed to bring this knowledge to empolis in the quality control department. However, it became clear very quickly that implementation was to become my focus instead. And so my further career for and at the priint Group | WERK II was virtually predestined.
So project implementation was your core task at that time?
At the beginning of WERK II, it was a bit like everyone did everything and knew how to do it. It has remained a bit like that with me. Of course, as a senior consultant, my focus today is more on customer consulting and project design. But I still do some of the actual project implementation.
Are there any other tasks that you take on?
Yes, my tasks also include documentation and training, although both areas are increasingly being taken over by colleagues. All in all, my activities are very diverse. And that is what makes the daily work so exciting for me.
What kind of projects do you mainly take on? And to what extent does your expertise and training as a typesetter help you with the projects you supervise?
The knowledge from my time as a typesetter and my DTP work still serves me well today. I feel almost more at home with the designed publications that our customers realize than with the fully automated publications, because the designed publications are often about me taking designed layouts from manual work to automation. This raises questions such as: "How high can/must the degree of automation actually be in order to publish automatically on the one hand, but on the other hand to take individuality and design into account?" This means that the analysis of a publication is always the first step. Together with the client, we look at where it might be more effective to change the design a little in order to facilitate automation. My task is to advise the customer on what can and should be done differently to make his work easier and to create his publications as automatically as possible.
Do you have any practical examples?
Yes, for example bonprix. At bonprix we have various challenges. One of them lies in the country-specific derivation of the publications. Because currently bonprix publishes publications in 22 languages. And we all know that the run length of different languages sometimes varies greatly, and of course the content is not simply translated 1:1. Depending on the country, elements from the German publications are taken over in terms of content, but others are not. This means that the content is not 100% identical.
And how were these two challenges solved at bonprix?
Here, too, the first step was to analyze the layouts. Based on the results, we developed a concept together with bonprix that, in addition to taking design aspects into account, allows for the greatest possible degree of automation. For example, with regard to the PIM, we developed a transfer management that defines, for example, which page from the German catalogue is taken over for the Russian catalogue and which product has to be exchanged.
In terms of run length, this means defining typographic guidelines. We know that Cyrillic fonts usually run a little longer than Latin fonts. So it was defined that in the case of a publication for Russia, the font runs at a width of 90%. In the case of English to German, it is the other way round. English runs 10-20% shorter than German. Typographically, this can be compensated for by the point size, for example. In the actual work, this can mean a lot of detailed work.
And which PIM system does bonprix use?
Bonprix has written / programmed its own PIM. This was still being developed further while we implemented it at the same time. From this point of view, the bonprix PIM and the priint:suite are closely intertwined, as we had the chance to help shape the PIM a little and to develop the current solution together with bonprix.
Do you also have an example of a more automated solution, where the design is perhaps not quite so much in the foreground?
Yes, this is the case with our customer, Roche. Roche uses the priint:suite to produce fully automated instructions for use for diagnostic materials. Of course, the layout is not unimportant here either, but it is more of a secondary matter as the focus at Roche is not on the design.
However, the requirements in terms of safety are all the higher. In other words, it must be ensured that everything that belongs in such an "instruction for use" is actually included. At Roche, we have adapted this for different product groups and different business areas in such a way that we are able to automatically extract the correct data as far as possible. In medical technology, safety is naturally reflected in the absolutely correct output of content. And at Roche, we achieve this in a highly automated way.
Data sheets are also a big issue for many companies in terms of time, complex content, etc. Do you have an example in regard to this?
Yes, BASF Münster uses our technology to create fully automated data sheets via the PDF Renderer. This involves data sheets for paint products from BASF Münster. It is very important for this customer to generate a very large number of data sheets in a stable and error-free manner. We are talking here about several thousand data sheets that are generated 100% automatically every year for different lacquers and brands - in more than 20 languages, different corporate designs and different page contents. Especially with this full automation, the question of control naturally arises, i.e. how the rendering is triggered in the first place. In the case of BASF Münster, production is triggered from the PIM system via a web service on our site. Especially with highly automated publications, the question arises as to how the interaction between the priint:suite and the customer's PIM or other systems works.
Then it would be good if we were involved in the selection process of the data system, wouldn't it?
Yes, certainly. But that is not the rule. Ideally, we are integrated into the process at an early stage so that we can make our requirements known during the configuration. It is often the case that PIM providers look at the structure in a data-driven way, but not in a design-driven way, which is also relevant for us. So usually companies decide on a PIM system and we look at how we can take over existing structures. And maybe one or two changes still have to be made to the PIM, especially with regard to the interfaces. But we work together with the big PIM providers like Contentserv, hybris, informatica, Akeneo, etc., so there are already interfaces here that enable a problem-free connection.
We have now released priint:suite 4.2. Will the release change anything with regard to controlling PIM systems?
Indeed. Since the introduction of priint:suite 4, the PIM system has moved a little into the background, as we no longer access the PIM directly. In priint:suite 4, the entity model is located between the PIM and the priint:suite. In priint:suite 3 we have or access the database structures of the PIM directly, but these sometimes change from version to version. That is why today we rely on the entity model, which interposes itself.
In general, there are of course technical challenges in every project that have to be looked at. For example, also with regard to workflows. In the new priint:suite 4.2 we are now working with Camunda, so that the customer can also model his workflows in the priint:suite.
Can you please explain the entity model a little bit?
In the entity model, the data that is in the PIM system that will later become output in a publication is modeled. And ideally, the data in the entity model is already modelled in such a way that it reflects the structure of the various media that will be output later. This means that the structure of the catalogs, data sheets, etc. is already reflected in the entity model.
Put simply, the entities are mapped to certain elements in the PIM in the entity model.
That was a little excursion into technology. Many thanks for this, Thorsten. But now back to the practice. You spoke earlier about some of our clients. Do you also support our partners or do other colleagues work for us?
I mainly work directly for clients, probably about 90% of the time and only 10% together with partners on client projects. Even training that I used to do is now done by colleagues. Of course, I am always there to support our partners when problems or questions arise in specific projects, but those tend to be exceptions.
The requirements of our customers are constantly changing, the marketing landscape is reinventing itself every day and our software is constantly setting milestones in the accomplishment of communicative tasks, constantly questioning itself and being optimized. For a new employee, these are certainly major challenges and hurdles, aren't they? What does someone who wants to join us as a consultant need to bring with them?
Curiosity paired with a portion of patience- almost the ability to suffer I would say. As with all software projects, we sometimes have tasks that we naturally cannot solve immediately and ad hoc. We try things out, test them, etc., and still we don't always succeed in the first step. That can sometimes be frustrating. Therefore, we simply need a certain amount of patience and also frustration tolerance. On the other hand, there is also curiosity as to how the problem can now be solved. In other words, the highlights are really when we have been able to solve problems for clients that were also a big challenge for us in the first step. After all, not everything always works right away. In my daily work, I learn an incredible amount and can also contribute a lot. And I personally really enjoy learning new things and trying them out according to the trial and error principle. And when it works out- when I, or we, in the team have been able to solve a problem, then that is also incredibly fulfilling.
With so many clients and so many different requirements, you have a lot of tasks to solve. On the other hand, you don't all sit together in the office and can exchange ideas quickly. On the contrary - with Duisburg, Berlin, Würzburg, etc. you are very spatially distributed. How do you ensure the exchange of information among yourselves?
Yes, that is indeed a point. We have noticed that we sometimes work almost in parallel on the same problem for different clients, but that we don't know anything about it among ourselves. In addition to our weekly team meetings, where we talk about concrete challenges and projects, we set up a forum in 2021 where we write about our experiences and share them with colleagues. And of course, we also call each other directly and describe the problem or the task.
And what professional expertise should new colleagues bring with them?
There are basically no special technical requirements. My personal advantage in working with clients is certainly my knowledge of the prepress sector. But I could and would do the job even without this background. Of course, it can't hurt if employees have done some programming before. Then it's certainly a bit easier to get started. On the other hand, I didn't have any programming experience myself when I started at the priint Group | WERK II.
As already mentioned, I think curiosity and patience are important. Flexibility is also a characteristic that should not be underestimated. You should be flexible enough to look at things, and be willing to analyze things that may not have been looked at before. There should be a willingness to keep learning. But that is again part of the point of curiosity. Because of course our software is constantly changing. And especially for people who are inquisitive and curious, that's ideal. I never get bored at work.
I'm already looking forward to our new technology with the priint Grid. It will make completely different things possible on the customer side and for us it means taking new challenges into account.
That's a nice closing statement, Thorsten. A look into an exciting future. Thank you for this conversation.