Asha Speckman

BMW South Africa is set to treble the number of software engineers it employs, after it was selected to become one of only three centres that will supply specialised information technology (IT) services to the BMW group worldwide.

The BMW SAP Competence Hub, which was launched at its site in Menlyn, Pretoria, yesterday employs 80 software engineers who are skilled in the development of applications using SAP software for enterprises. The centre will grow its skills complement to between 250 and 300 engineers, according to Guy Kilfoil, the spokesman for BMW SA.

BMW’s other IT hubs are situated in the US and India.

South Africa will specifically focus on building applications and software for BMW internal business processes that include production logistics, warehousing and production IT solutions.

Bodo Donauer, the managing director for BMW SA, said the South African plant in Rosslyn had been exporting the BMW 3 Series sedan since 1992, but it was a little known fact that it had also been outsourcing its IT expertise to other BMW production locations globally over the past six years.

BMW’s South African engineers have developed processes for China, Brazil and India and previously supplied sales and marketing, logistics, human resources and finance solutions to Germany, the US and the UK.

Kilfoil said IT was the biggest enabler of business for the group. “We’ve decided the IT drives business and that we will run IT like a business.”

He said the hub would not grow BMW SA’s balance sheet. Services will be charged out to BMW branches in the different countries. Establishment of the IT hub in South Africa had only required investment in hardware and real estate rental, but the monetary investment was not “huge”.

Karl Probst, the chief information officer for the BMW Group, was a speaker at the launch. He said: “The choice of this location has been made, first and foremost, according to the availability of IT skills in the region.”

The distribution of the competence centres across the global regions makes it possible to understand and fulfil the local demands of markets, production locations and in some cases, customers, even better, according to Probst.

According to BMW, unlike the other markets, South Africa’s SAP skills are unique. About 60 percent of all South African SAP configurators are also SAP software developers. The advantage is attributed to the fact that the local market comprises medium-sized companies, which forces consultants to be multi-skilled to enhance their competitiveness, and this provided BMW with the access to a unique set of resources.

The company said the pooling of specific application-based software at the competence centres, which will share the global responsibility, promoted further industrialisation of BMW IT and further development of the IT organisation from a federal IT structure, among other things.

Pfungwa Serima, the chief executive for SAP Africa, said the applications being developed at the competence hub, based on the SAP real-time platform, would enable better-informed decision-making and transformative innovation in the automotive market.

“When you can increase quality and manufacture efficiently while delivering excellent sales and service, you can significantly increase profitability and secure a competitive advantage. SAP is thus effectively powering the BMW value chain,” Serima said.