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CIIS helps – in practice

CIIS-Initiative: Students support small businesses in Cologne during the pandemic

Beatrix Schäfer and Jerome Kruse - The digitisation of a ski rental

To support small enterprises during the Corona crisis and to keep the students in touch with the entrepreneurial reality in spite of the lack of internships, the Cologne Institute for Information Systems (CIIS) is killing two birds with one stone through its initiative launched in early May. "CIIS helps" brings business information technology students and small businesses in the Cologne area together. During a four-week internship, the students help the companies with digitisation processes and thus stay in practice. The company benefits from the students' knowledge and can optimise digital processes.

We spoke with Jerome Kruse (BSc. Business Informatics) and Beatrix Schäfer. She is the owner of the Cologne store Südstadtsport, which not only sales but also organises ski trips and hires out ski equipment. Both were brought together by the CIIS Initiative.

Mrs. Schäfer and Jerome, how have the influences of the Corona Pandemic affected you both?

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Business Informatics student Jerome Kruse. Photo: Falko Alexander

Jerome Kruse: I am currently not a working student, but I have used the time to take advantage of the SAP courses offered by the University of Cologne [SAP-CERT, d. Red] and to expand my programming skills. Basically, however, it can be said that Covid-19 has accelerated digitisation, making the IT industry one of the few winners of this crisis.

Beatrix Schäfer: It was a very difficult time for us, sales have ceased completely and the reservations for our ski trips and ski rental had to be reimbursed. However, our pick-up and delivery service during the closure of the store was very well received by our customers. Therefore, we want to expand our service further. Since the supply of rental equipment in our region is declining but demand remains and appears to be on the rise, we will digitalise this process in order to simplify and thus accelerate many things. Currently, the rental process is still being tracked in analog form with pen and paper. This not only costs time and money but also is not sustainable. In addition, the Corona Pandemic has made us realise how important digital channels to the customers actually are.

What attracted you, Jerome, to the CIIS Initiative?

Jerome Kruse: The idea of adding economic and social value by means of information technology skills has been dormant in me for a long time as background noise, but it was the concrete need that motivated me to become active. Through CIIS I decided to join Südstadtsport and was put in contact with Mrs. Schäfer.

How was the first contact with Jerome for you, Mrs. Schäfer?

Beatrix Schäfer: We got to know Jerome in person only a few days ago, but we have been thrilled consistently by his abilities for some time.

How do you support the rental business? What problems did you encounter?

Jerome Kruse: Currently, the entire distribution process and warehouse management are still being carried out and organised in analog form. In order to bring this analog world into the cloud, I am developing a web-based rental and storage system that provides all the important information about currently rented or available products, rental periods, storage capacities and warehouse utilisation in a clear and concise way.

One challenge that must always be met, when dealing with business informatics tasks is the interdisciplinarity, the ability to take into account all persons involved in the process while simultaneously considering the IT infrastructure.

The biggest challenge, however, was definitely getting the overall complexity under control. Although the various functions viewed individually are manageable, maintaining an overview when linking all functions and integrating them into a system was no longer a trivial matter. This showed me how important a well-organised and structured program code actually is.

The joint test of the first functional version met the requirements so far, now some details must be adjusted and improved. As soon as this is done, all code will be checked for errors again and prepared for the first live version.

What has Jerome's support changed in your company? How has the collaboration worked for you so far?

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Owner Beatrix Schäfer in front of her shop. Photo: Beatrix Schäfer

Beatrix Schäfer: We were very pleased that Jerome quickly recognised the complexity of the distribution process. He was able to develop a database and a linked rental grid for us. He dealt well with data protection issues and at the same time was able to develop a concept that will save us time in the coming ski season as well as enable us to make offers that are closer to our customers' needs.

What are the goals of the project at Südstadtsport? What do you personally take away from this project, Jerome?

Jerome Kruse: The goal is to increase the efficiency of processes, which at the same time allows employees and customers to use them more comfortably. This results in considerable cost and time savings for both sides. In the long term, this should play its part in helping Südstadtsport to improve its competitiveness in the market.

For me, further development in every area is important and stagnation, especially in professional training, should always be avoided. The project made me realise once again how important it is to acquire new skills in order to be able to take on new challenges and create added value in the future. Those who choose the more pleasant way in the short term, choose the much more difficult way in the long term.

One more question for both of you: What is your conclusion on the CIIS initiative? Would you recommend this form of cooperation to others?

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Interface of the website. Photo: Jerome Kruse

Beatrix Schäfer: We are very enthusiastic about this type of cooperation, especially when it comes to the digitalisation of small businesses. It is an enormous opportunity for us to continue to exist in the market. We would also see a great benefit for other companies.

Jerome Kruse: To gain practical experience, whether in an internship or within such a project, is of course always recommendable, but you should still be aware of the differences beforehand. There should also be a certain intersection with your own areas of interest so that you don't lose your motivation. If you enjoy working on new topics independently, solving problems and being able to organise your time, then this form of collaboration is definitely recommendable. You gain practical experience, expand your knowledge and skills, which makes you more attractive for future employers and at the same time creates added value for the real economy, a win-win situation.

Last but not least: Have you, Jerome, already planned your next vacation? If so, with equipment from Südstadtsport Köln?

Jerome Kruse: Due to the current situation and the uncertainty of how the situation will develop, I have not yet planned a skiing vacation. But hopefully it will be possible this winter, and then, of course I will rent my skis from Südstadtsport.

Ms. Schäfer and Jerome, I would like to thank you very much for the interview and the personal insights into the processes of the internship about the CIIS initiative.

(The interview was conducted by Mhiara Mühlbauer)

For questions regarding the content of the CIIS Initiative or if you are interested in a cooperation, please contact Prof. Dr. Jan Recker (CIIS).