In what BMW calls its best-kept secret, the company offered a rare glimpse into its IT Hub in South Africa, the fastest growing division in the group. Media were offered the opportunity to visit the hub in Menlyn, Pretoria, as part of the M Fest lineup.
The hub develops and maintains IT solutions for the BMW Group globally, straight out of Pretoria, using platforms such as System Applications and Products (SAP), Java, C#, Python, AWS and Azure.
It has been a challenge attracting top talent to the hub, which opened in 2014 with 134 employees. The bulk of its growth emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022, increasing from 635 employees in 2019 to over 1 800 today. BMW partnered with Stellenbosch University’s faculty of engineering earlier this year to attract skills in AI and data analysis.
Jan Lotter, general manager for customer brand sales at the IT Hub, describes the Pretoria office as a software factory and operations centre which supports the infrastructure for the BMW Group across the world.
Not to be confused with the company’s smaller IT department, which takes care of local requirements, the IT Hub works with global partners and EU-based customers, but some products find their way back to South Africa.
“To that extent, we have about 10 to 20 people travelling every week to Munich to attend workshops to collaborate, exchange, plan and to build this infrastructure for the BMW world,” says Lotter.
The South African IT Hub is the oldest and largest of three IT Hubs within the BMW Group – the others are in Portugal and India.
General Manager for programme planning Hans Coertze says it started with SAP systems but over time expanded to deliver systems using skills out of the South African market.
“What is exciting for me is that we are contributing R2.5-billion to the South African economy by the fact that we exist here. We deliver internationally and we get paid from Germany,” says Coertze.
The IT Hub delivers services to 52 countries. “I can sit here in South Africa and play on the global stage, which is being offered to our people here – to sit in their home country and get international exposure.”
Coertze says South Africa is in a unique position, from a time zone perspective, to deliver these services globally.
“Looking at our cultural diversity, it helps us interact with all the different cultures. In some cases, we play the catalyst role between the different cultures to bring people together; we don’t only deliver IT solutions.”
The local hub contributes to many of the processes involved in manufacturing a car, including the idea-to-design phase, ordering systems, production, logistics and supply chains.
“Our teams have written and maintained those systems, and by writing them, we manage the bill of material for the BMW Group for all products,” explains Coertze.
A lot of data gets generated from these business processes, and to that end, the company initially set up a team of five data scientists in South Africa. The team has grown to around 200 people, who deliver data analytics which enables BMW to make better decisions across the board, including in finance, production, sales and marketing, he says.
The team is the largest data science one in South Africa, requiring infrastructure, networks, hardware, servers, storage and backup.
“An interesting fact from an HR point of view is that Germany trusts us in South Africa so much that they’ve given us the payroll to run for the entire BMW Group of over 130 000 employees, which are quite proud of.”
The company says it is working on a solution for the load-shedding the country is experiencing.
“We have a team sitting here in South Africa working on a first-world solution, which we call bi-directional charging.
“We’ve got a team developing a system to track and manage how we can utilise our cars when we get back home. It’s a solution from the car to the house and to the grid for the future,” says Coertze.