Eric-Jan Kaak is the CIO of Blizzard Sport GmbH and its Italian parent company, Tecnica Group SpA. The corporate group includes global brands like Tecnica, Nordica, Rollerblade, T-Shoes, Moon Boot, Blizzard, Lowa und Dolomite. Before becoming CIO, Kaak was head of controlling and in charge of IT at ski manufacturer Blizzard. The IT Manager of the Year 2013 (Confare CIO Award) hails from the Netherlands and spent several years working in management training programmes at the University of Salzburg and the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences. He is a graduate of the Master Controlling Programme at MDI Vienna. Kaak was active in R&D management for many years and has ample experience in heading international software development projects. The main focus of his work lies on the area of IT support for business processes and on innovation and project controlling. During the last few years, he has been dealing intensively with agile project management methods, and was among the first managers in Austria to introduce Kanban to an IT department.
Blizzard was founded by Anton Arnsteiner (1925–2013) in his carpentry workshop in 1945. Besides furniture and other wooden objects, he also manufactured skis, which quickly became his company’s most successful product despite the precarious economic situation after the war.
The brand name “Blizzard” was registered in 1953. In 1954, Blizzard became the first manufacturer to use polyethylene gliding surfaces, which would become the industry standard over the following years. In 1957, Arnsteiner expanded his operation for the first time. By then he had around 30 employees. Fibreglass and metal were introduced as "new ski materials".
By 1974, a newly-built manufacturing location was producing 500,000 skis/year, and “Blizzard Skifabrik Anton Arnsteiner” was renamed to “Blizzard GmbH”. After 6 years of development and an investment of 30 million Schillings, the “Thermoski” hit the market in 1980. With victory in nine individual World Cups and the Overall World Cup, Blizzard was No. 1 on the Austrian ski market measured by the sporting successes achieved with its products. At ISPO 1996, Blizzard presented the first carving skis. Following several changes in ownership during the 1980s and 90s, Tecnica Group secured 100% ownership of Blizzard Sport GmbH in 2007.
At around the same time, Blizzard introduced the innovative Blizzard IQ System merging the ski and binding into a single homogeneous unit. With Reinfried Herbst and Marcel Hirscher, the company was also able to secure contracts with high-profile professional male skiers. In 2010, Blizzard received the European Ski Award (“ispo Award”). Finally, in 2014, Tyrolean ski racer Mario Matt won Olympic slalom gold in Sotchi on Blizzard skis. To this day, Blizzard Sport remains part of the international corporation Tecnica Group. Tecnica Group’s worldwide production numbers: 21 % ski boots (ca. 1 million/year), 16 % skis (ca. 320,000), 11 % skates (ca. 1 million/year), 10 % sportswear and accessories, 42 % outdoor sports shoes (ca. 2.6 million/year). The revenue ratio for the corporation’s brands is as follows: 31 % Lowa, 22 % Nordica, 7 % Blizzard, 16 % Tecnica, 4 % Dolomite, 12 % Rollerblade, 8 % others. Tecnica Group has around 1,100 employees worldwide and delivers its products to more than 11,560 sales partners.
Movie with Eric-Jan Kaak
The Blizzard Sport Cloud Strategy
Freeriding in the Cloud
At globally active manufacturer Blizzard Sport (member of Tecnica Group), cloud computing already plays an important role today. The current cloud strategy is focused on merging business and IT to allow quicker and more flexible reactions to new market developments. In addition, CIO Eric-Jan Kaak wants to generate added value for customers and distribution partners by consolidating international IT activities with the help of cloud solutions. Security and availability are the key topics.
Only about one-third of all companies (36 percent) are prepared for the digital revolution, which has already begun with the widespread use of new information and communication technologies as well as Internet-based production and management processes.
The greatest challenge faced in Austria is probably the existing lack of requisite know-how and IT systems, according to a recent study by KPMG entitled “Global Chief Information Officer (CIO) Pulse” that surveyed current market trends in the area of information technology. Social media, the use of mobile end devices, cloud computing and other modern technologies are reinventing products, services and markets, thereby changing the way we do business. The participants in the global survey voiced concerns in regard to technological developments while simultaneously admitting to not being adequately prepared for them. To many, the digital revolution may thus represent more of a danger than an opportunity for their business. According to the study, companies that engage with new technologies and integrate them into their IT strategy will find it easier to set themselves apart from their competition and keep up with the ongoing digitalization in the long run.
The series of challenges that a cloud implementation entails is considered the main reason for the still somewhat limited appeal of cloud services to companies. Managing the digital revolution requires certain capabilities and competencies, and acquiring this know-how is stated as the biggest obstacle by two-thirds of the surveyed executives.
Not so for Blizzard Sport, which already relies on a modern IT strategy incorporating the use of cloud computing. Eric-Jan Kaak, CIO of Blizzard Sport and responsible for business process management as well as the IT of the entire Italian parent corporation Tecnica Group, says: “The cloud plays a central role for us because this technology allows us to react more quickly to market developments. It gives us flexibility in a constantly accelerating market environment. It’s not the big fish that will be eating the smaller ones, but the fast fish that will be eating the slower ones.” Blizzard Sport, located in Mittersill, Austria since 1945, develops and manufactures the ski brands Blizzard and Nordica. Tecnica Group is globally active in the development and sale of ski and ski boots (Blizzard / Nordica / Tecnica), outdoor sports shoes (Lowa / Tecnica / Dolomite), inline skates (Rollerblade / Bladerunner) and Moon Boots. Kaak continues: “Within Tecnica Group, we have locations in 8 different countries – the USA, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Our products are delivered worldwide through a network of distributors.” Against this background, services and applications focused on the dynamic provision and usage of IT hardware (processing power, storage), IT software and IT services via the Internet are essential. With the help of the cloud, the IT landscape is no longer handled locally by the operator, but instead “rented” from one or more external providers. This will allow Blizzard Sport to not only manage computation-intensive IT tasks in future, but to utilize all resources with maximum efficiency thanks to the networking of systems at their various locations.
Consistency: Application Landscape & Global Storage Infrastructure
“Our company’s cloud strategy is focused on merging business and IT,” Eric-Jan Kaak explains. From his point of view, every budget is also an IT budget and every strategy is also an IT strategy. “Hence there is no separate cloud strategy, only an integrated business strategy.” The goals are to “standardize and centrally manage all authentications, consolidate the standard applications to achieve a uniform application landscape, and provide storage infrastructure for the global marketing and development team.” Kaak received the Confare CIO Award in 2013 for his holistic perspective on his work and his intelligent change management in the IT area. And indeed, it is not just his know-how that is impressive; it is also his sometimes unconventional – but nevertheless effective – approach to transformation and change: “Especially in IT, change is a constant state. If you face change with the notion ‘fail fast and cheap’ and establish a culture of joint responsibility, you can produce amazing results. And if you fall on your face once in a while, that’s OK – at least you’re moving forwards and following the motto ‘win a few, learn a few.”
Openness and Trust
In Blizzard Sport’s individual departments, the topic of cloud computing is approached openly, but also very consciously. “We are moving away from ‘you’re not allowed to do that’ and towards ‘if you want to do that, we can help you with it’”, Kaak explains the company’s philosophy, “but we are also working on developing policies aimed at not being constraining or preventative, but supportive to the business and the processes.” Equally important are large numbers of use cases in which responsible users and end users show how they handle the topic of the cloud. Kaak: “There is no room for fear. IT is still at square one in regard to the cloud – but already now, in combination with the business, it is generating added value for the customer. Cost-efficient and flexible solutions in the cloud will also allow us to focus more on our core business in future.” The CIO certainly does not suffer from a lack of trust, for he is convinced that “security and availability are the key issues, and simultaneously the USP of every provider. If there is so much as the slightest appearance of negligence by a cloud service provider, they will be out of business the next day.” Some new competencies will certainly be required for IT employees with a view to the rapid developments in the cloud computing area and the digital revolution in general. Kaak formulates the essential requirement profile in a single simple phrase: “a thirst for knowledge”. Add to that a certain basic flexibility, for “you have to be ready to throw out all of today’s conventions tomorrow and continually learn new things.”
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”
In the course of consolidating the global IT activities of Tecnica Group, the renowned manufacturer Blizzard Sport is about to realign its focus – and some of the decisive pilot activities are taking place in Mittersill, Austria. Cloud computing plays a central role in this process, says CIO Eric-Jan Kaak, who is responsible for business process management at Blizzard Sport as well as for the entire IT of the parent corporation (Tecnica Group in Italy). His area of activity also includes operative and strategic IT development at Tecnica Group’s skiing competence centre. In an interview with KURIER, he outlines the fundamental challenges for the new IT strategy and explains concrete opportunities and implementation measures in the field of cloud computing.
KURIER: In what way are you involved with cloud computing?
Cloud computing plays an essential role in the consolidation of global IT activities within Tecnica Group. For example, one of our goals is to harmonize and centrally manage all authentications, consolidate standard applications to achieve a uniform application landscape, and provide storage infrastructure for the global marketing and development team. In addition, we want to transform our local Austrian ERP system, which is currently operated in our private cloud, into an external or public cloud for the entire corporation in the future.
Why is rapid action so important in the skiing industry? There is only one production run per year to be sold...
We sell a fashion product, which means we need to react quickly to developing trends like design changes or new colours. At the same time, sales and business models are also constantly changing and expanding: Besides B2B, there is an increasing trend towards B2C. As a fashion company, we have to be able to react quickly to all these changes – especially as a global player.
Will you be producing personal ski models in future that customers can configure individually, e.g. on their phone?
Yes; in the context of Industry 4.0, it is especially important to react quickly, individually and flexibly to small-number or custom customer requests.
How do you react to the concerns frequently voiced about cloud computing?
For me it means that we need to have a large number of use cases in which responsible users and end users show how they handle the topic of the cloud. After all, we think nothing of buying books or making travel arrangements online and providing our personal data to do so. There is no room for fear, and we cannot afford to flat-out blockade the topic; rather, users are getting the feeling that IT has awakened from its slumber and is ready to generate added value for the customer together with the core business.
What about your own trust in cloud providers?
Trust is essential – and I am sure that the companies offering cloud services today know what they are doing. Their business is not just the technology they are selling, but also the trust factor. Security and availability are the main issues here, and simultaneously the USP of every provider. If there is so much as the slightest appearance of negligence by a provider, they will be out of business the next day.
How do you ensure that individual employees have the required know-how to handle a complex sourcing relationship like cloud computing effectively?
It is a huge challenge for all employees, not only for the IT department. And we are still only at the beginning here; it is mostly interesting use cases that stimulate progress. We are all still learning – but if you don’t learn, you have already lost. Mistakes and experiments need to be taken into account so you can learn from them. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
What is the requirement profile for new IT employees enabling them to properly handle future IT requirements – and cloud computing in particular?
There is only one requirement: a thirst for knowledge. You have to be ready to throw out all of today’s conventions tomorrow. In my almost 25 years in IT, the world has completely turned around 4 or 5 times. What was valid yesterday can be obsolete tomorrow.
How do you verify the sufficient quality of a potential cloud service prior to employing it?
I talk to colleagues I know around the world trying to find use cases and references. It is important to learn how others have implemented similar agendas and projects, and then adapt their knowledge and procedures to our needs. Initiatives like Trust in Cloud help immensely in this context.