“The experts from IBsolution have shown that they are much more than technical experts. They convinced us with business know-how and innovative ideas for the further development of our service marketplace.”
Roland Nowak, Global IT Director, KACO new energy
Solar power plants play an important role in the success of the energy transition. Inverters are required to convert the DC voltage of the solar modules into AC voltage for feeding into the grid. KACO new energy, a medium-sized company based in Neckarsulm, Germany, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of inverters and operates in an extremely agile market. Currently, the company has more than 800,000 devices in the field in over 200 countries. The inverters are sometimes exposed to extreme weather and environmental influences. If they fail due to a defect, this means a considerable financial loss for the operator of the solar power plant.
The aim is therefore to identify any risks to the operation of the inverters as early as possible and to resolve technical difficulties before they lead to a system failure. In order to be able to provide its customers with comprehensive inverter-related services on a digital platform, KACO new energy has completely rebuilt its IT ecosystem in collaboration with IBsolution on the basis of a hybrid approach. SAP ECC serves as the core system, to which various applications are connected as cloud solutions..
The extensive product portfolio and the worldwide use of the inverters pose special challenges for customer service. In the past, KACO new energy had mapped the service process commercially in ECC, but the entire organizational processing was done manually. This resulted in an enormous amount of work for the service employees, waiting times for the customers and high costs for the company. In order to optimize the service processes, KACO new energy systematically pushed ahead with digitization in this area. The overriding goal was to optimally reconcile the aspects of transparency, speed and cost and thus offer customers a completely new service experience.
KACO new energy chose SAP C/4HANA Service Cloud (formerly SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C)) as the front-office solution for service processing because it is comparable to the Business ByDesign midmarket solution in terms of customizing, scoping and data structure. SAP Service Cloud is connected to SAP Cloud Portal. Via SAP Cloud Platform, the solution is seamlessly integrated into ECC and ready for a future migration to SAP S/4HANA. The interaction between service employee and customer is automated. Another important requirement was that the service agent has only one user interface from which to operate.
The different inverter device groups have different warranty periods and conditions. Previously, the service employee had to manually merge the required data from various systems and sources with great effort. Now he triggers the follow-up order in ECC directly from SAP Service Cloud thanks to the bidirectional connection. The synchronization of the processing status quickly provides the customer with reliable information on the current status. For the outsourcing of the first-level help desk to a call center, SAP C/4HANA Service Cloud was an important prerequisite for being able to switch smoothly from an internal to an external team.
Customer portal as a success factor
The service portal is the central platform for communication between KACO new energy and its customers. Customers can obtain an overview of their tickets and the status of processing at any time and enter into dialog with service employees. The big advantage: if a fault occurs with an inverter, the troubleshooting process is much more straightforward than before.
This is illustrated by a concrete example: If an inverter shows an error code on the display, the customer can determine the meaning of the error code and thus the reason for the malfunction in the integrated Mindtouch knowledge database. KACO employees also make use of the knowledge management system. They benefit from the fact that all of the company’s know-how, which is derived from manuals and documentation, for example, can be accessed in a central location for the first time. During ticket processing, Mindtouch analyzes the data in real time and makes concrete suggestions for solutions. In this way, all the necessary information is available to the person in charge.
The serial number can be used to determine whether the device is still under warranty. If this is the case, the customer can create a ticket immediately. This ticket is then transferred to SAP Service Cloud, where a service employee processes it. Possible queries to the customer or initial troubleshooting advice can also be handled directly in the portal. The customer’s response is fed back via C4C. The service call can then be planned; the customer also receives the relevant information via the portal.
The dashboard view provides a quick overview of a customer’s tickets, sorted by status. This makes every step of the process transparent. The customer can see, for example, if a response from him is still pending for further processing of a ticket.
With its new IT ecosystem, KACO new energy has created a powerful basis for the digitalization of service. Setting up the service portal was the first step on this path, which the company designed as a multi-stage process. The hybrid structure forms a stable foundation that can be expanded in the future as needed. The success of digitization can be demonstrated by key figures: Before the project was implemented, there was no detailed overview of the status of individual tickets; the number of unprocessed tickets and queries was relatively high. In the meantime, only a low double-digit number of tickets are being processed on average. KACO new energy was able to reduce the lead time from the ticket request to the completion of the order by more than 50%. In addition, future digitization projects can be implemented in less time because various cloud solutions have already proven themselves in use.
In perspective, KACO new energy would also like to implement predictive maintenance based on machine learning. The company is currently in the process of integrating its inverters into the Internet of Things (IoT). There will be a digital twin of each device. This virtual image will permanently provide live data on its condition. The parameters can be used to detect at an early stage when faults occur and a component needs to be replaced, for example. If a repair is required, one of the approximately 70 service partners worldwide is automatically commissioned − the final step towards complete integration of the service process.
“Our service marketplace not only ensures 24/7 availability of our inverters. It is also the basis of a platform to offer any kind of service around photovoltaic power plants you can imagine.”
Volker Heuser, Chief Operating Officer, KACO new energy