Interview Interview

Smart Connection to the Future 

Interview with CIO Dr. Jürgen Sturm

Min Reading Time
The only solution for many challenges in the automotive industry is to join forces. OEMs, component suppliers and software houses have set up Catena-X – an initiative that aims to make more effective use of existing data for all supply chain actors.
Susanne Szarowski,
Susanne Szarowski has been in corporate communications at ZF for twelve years. As a member of the editorial team, she is responsible for digitization and software.

Dr. Sturm, ZF is one of the founding members of the Catena-X initiative. What is its purpose?
Catena-X is about networking with partners along the entire supply chain in the automotive industry. One aim is to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the existing process chains. We also aim to get ready to meet requirements for which there are no solutions at present, as in the case of the carbon footprint. Calculations from individual companies are useless here; all suppliers need to provide reliable figures using a standardized system.
"We want to know what CO2 footprint a new passenger car has left even before it clocks up a single kilometer."

So suppliers like ZF will inevitably have to be part of Catena-X?
Absolutely. The automotive industry is highly networked and based on the division of labor. Managing the complex supply chains poses a major challenge. Data exchange across company boundaries has always been important in our industry. At Catena-X, we are now working together to develop secure new standards and data exchange mechanisms.

Could you perhaps be a little more specific?
The harmonization of business partner addresses is a good example. Every company maintains these master data. If we all do this together, far less work is involved and the data are always up-to-date. For the solution to fulfill data protection, data security and confidentiality requirements, technical and organizational preconditions must be met.

What are these preconditions?
The data are not collected centrally in the Catena-X network but remain in the specific company to which they belong. Data connectors then interconnect the data only for the particular use case. This is done using what we call Eclipse Dataspace Connector technology. The data connector has a control and a data level. On the control level, the corresponding authorizations are negotiated; on the data level, the required data then flow to the sources – and only there.

Catena-X is based on the principles of the European cloud infrastructure Gaia-X. Is this compatible with the partnership between ZF and U.S. hyperscaler Microsoft?
Cloud providers such as Microsoft are also partners of Gaia-X and support the Gaia-X criteria according to European data protection law. Gaia-X and Catena-X are by no means limited to European companies. Japanese or North American OEMs, such as Ford, who are already members, have also expressed interest, because multinational enterprises must have connectivity in their particular economic areas and adapt to local requirements. This, of course, also applies the other way round.

Implementation of the European cloud infrastructure project Gaia-X is reportedly fairly sluggish. How does this affect the ten Catena-X use cases?
All Catena-X use cases are on schedule. In May 2021, we founded the initiative together with 50 companies. We have now grown to over 100 partners. In early August 2021, we started implementing individual use cases; the first software release will be issued this year. I think the pace here is impressive. At Catena-X, around 850 employees from different companies are working on cross-company applications in an agile software development environment, including 70 ZF employees.
Which of the ten Catena-X use cases are particularly interesting for ZF?
We are focusing particularly on improvements in the area known as Business Partner and Master Data Management. We are also concentrating on obtaining more reliable data from the supply chain. This involves issues such as the carbon footprint, the requirements of the circular economy or how the supply chain duty of care can be implemented. However, ZF is also participating in five other use cases.

What are the next steps at Catena-X?
This year, we want to make initial solutions available for the market and bring them to industrial maturity through operating companies. In addition, we want to grow with other participants in the network and also involve value-added partners from other regions. Finally, raw materials for electric mobility are largely mined and further processed outside Europe with the circular economy.

Will the joint automotive cloud run by Catena-X be able to mitigate problems such as chip shortages in the future?
Even with Catena-X, the number of chips available on the global market isn't going to be any higher. However, controllability and transparency in the supply chain could be significantly improved. Disruptions and their effects can then be pinpointed and tracked more easily. All of which helps us to keep control during times of crisis.