Mr. Michael Otto, CEO of the church ECKD-KIGST GmbH in front of a sign "IT.Menschlich"

Everything digital with ServiceNow

The church IT service provider ECKD KIGST accelerates its digital services.

“IT must remain human”

Michael Otto, CEO of church IT service provider ECKD KIGST, talks to Jens Schürmann, part of the Public Sales and Business Development team at T-Systems, about how ServiceNow can accelerate digital services, plus the launch of the new ‘ChurchX’ platform.

In the early 1990s, ECKD KIGST was founded at the data center of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN), Germany. Today, it is one of the most important IT service providers for the ecclesiastical market. What is special about this particular market, and to what extent do you differ from other IT service providers?

Picture of Mr. Michael Otto, CEO of ECKD-KIGST GmbH

Michael Otto, CEO of the church IT service provider ECKD KIGST GmbH

First of all, we still feel closely connected to our roots and are proud to have been working with church institutions in a spirit of partnership and trust for almost three decades. To name just a few examples, we work in church finance and human resources and are a leading provider of reporting solutions. We are also a strong IT partner with our own data centers, and we provide cloud services for all areas of the ecclesiastical market. 

Thanks in no small part to these long-standing relationships, we know and understand our customers’ needs very well. We also like to work closely with them to develop products and services. Our team of nearly 300 employees works with this strong focus in mind, in line with our company’s slogan, ‘IT.Menschlich’ (‘IT. Made human’). Every team member is totally committed to continuously overcoming challenges and developing solutions for the future. We have set ourselves the task of identifying individual needs and finding future-proof solutions.

How modern is the church today in terms of IT, and what do you think are the greatest digitization challenges that the church will face in the coming years?

The whole ecclesiastical environment has always faced major changes. From an organizational perspective, the current challenge is to do the same work with fewer staff. Church parishes are being merged, increasing the coordination and administrative effort required. Volunteering is more important now than ever. At the same time, there is a growing demand for features of everyday life such as social media and voice assistants to be made available within the church environment. This isn’t just vital for the congregation and volunteers, but also for the many people employed by the church, particularly the younger generations. In addition to creating a modern workplace, there are great opportunities to digitize significant administrative tasks and processes, ensuring that there continues to be enough time and space to perform more traditional church duties.

Together with ServiceNow, a strategic partner of T-Systems, you are currently developing a platform that will digitize essential church administrative workflows and tasks – across all levels and processes. What goal are you pursuing here?

We want to be a close and important partner to any church organization that is considering its digital future. That’s why we’re building our ChurchX platform. We have noticed that there are no established holistic end-to-end solutions for church organizations in Germany.

We are determined to change that in order to support the digital transformation of the church and to help our customers master their challenges in the ecclesiastical space, both now and in the future. It is important to us that we continuously develop our cloud and service automation project with customers and partners, and that we work together to design new products and services. At its core, our decision to opt for ServiceNow was about automation, high-level process improvements, speed and simplicity. With that in mind, we are focusing on an open platform that allows new ideas, requests and suggestions for improvements to be incorporated directly. We want to integrate other partners into this process to offer users the best and most comprehensive service on the market. 

Why did you choose this product in particular, with T-Systems as an additional partner?

Picture of Michael Otto and Jens Schürmann

Michael Otto, CEO of the church IT service provider ECKD KIGST GmbH and Jens Schürmann, at T-Systems in Public Sales and Business Development

The technological basis of the ServiceNow platform is very well aligned with our vision of the future. We were totally committed to offering a modern, cloud-based solution, and the scope of functionality fulfilled our requirements in every sense. With ServiceNow, we found a highly service-driven partner who quickly understood our idea and way of working, and who represents a good all-round fit with our organization and our needs. In that sense, by the way, ServiceNow is very much a logical next step for us. It represents progress in the most literal sense of the word – particularly with respect to our sustainability requirements, for example. Over ten years ago, in collaboration with Cisco and T-Systems, we started up the first fully virtualized data center. With a clear and dedicated focus on energy-efficient solutions, ECKD went far further than other data centers at that time in terms of a holistic virtualization strategy. And ultimately, it was a lot faster, too.  

Is speed a particularly crucial factor for you?

Absolutely. We are in a competition; although we work under the social auspices of the church, we do not live on an ‘island of bliss’. With ServiceNow, we can quickly make the platform productive because it comes with many of the things we need, right from the start. 

You asked earlier why we chose T-Systems. With the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary as our partner, we operate the platform in a cloud based in Germany. This is important, particularly in light of the intense discussion around data privacy in the church community. It is especially crucial because we do not want to deploy the platform purely for ourselves as a business, but primarily to provide services to the church – practically acting as a ‘first mover’ in this industry. Many of the customers we have spoken to are very enthusiastic about the approach we want to take – so that in itself gives this model a real boost.

The two major denominations in Germany represent 27 dioceses, 16 regional churches, 20,000 parishes, over 100,000 employees and 44 million church members. In concrete terms, what should a digital church marketplace offer to your customers and partners?

The figures alone make it clear that a high administrative and coordination effort is needed within and between each of these levels. At the same time, an enormously broad variety of full-time employees and volunteers are working together, sometimes across parishes. Currently, this collaboration often takes place via paper-based processes and a wide range of individual solutions. We want to digitize all relevant processes and solutions on our platform. For example, authorization and approval processes could be quickly and consistently handled via the platform and automatically sent through the entire workflow. This would make the flow of information easier, more secure and more traceable. Another example is the procurement process – everything would run quickly and transparently from the initial application, to approval, to invoicing and accounting.

It is important to us that partners and their offerings are also integrated into the platform, so that simplifications can be made in as many areas as possible. ‘Typical’ church members should also benefit from the opportunities provided by the platform. For example, a unique secure ID would enable users to request a godparent eligibility certificate or register for a wedding or baptism.

In almost every industry, customers and processes are placing ever-growing demands on the flexibility and performance of service providers’ IT infrastructures.

Company logo of ECKD-KIGST GmbH

Ecumenism in action

Founded in 1992, ECKD (EDV-Centrum für Kirche und Diakonie) is Germany’s leading provider of IT services for all organizations of the Protestant and Catholic churches, their employees, members and volunteers. In 2017, the company merged with KIGST (Kirchliche Gemeinschaftsstelle für elektronische Datenverarbeitung), an organization founded in 1968 to provide electronic data processing services for the church community.

We see the hackathon as an accelerator for innovation. In the space of 48 intense, creative, highly focused hours, we want to bring ChurchX to life as a digital marketplace for the ecclesiastical community. Together with programmers, designers, customers and decision-makers, start-ups, enthusiasts, volunteers and full-time employees, plus engineers and other interested parties, we want to develop concrete ideas and prototypes – with the best of these being implemented after the hackathon is over. We will be happy if the 50-odd participants consider this marketplace based on the needs of the church. If they do so, the chances are high that we will be able to make the meaning and purpose of ChurchX truly tangible. We will be able to measure this by the amount of space and time we create for more humanity, driven by the huge passion and effort of everyone involved.

In terms of credibility, ‘customer centricity’ and ‘client convenience’ could be considered as the ‘high altar’ that all service providers aspire to reach with their offerings. How can the church get even closer to its people, whose personal experiences with apps and services such as Netflix, Uber and Amex serve as a kind of benchmark?

Picture of Michael Otto while reading a T-Systems magazine

Ultimately, it is about transferring everyday technological convenience into church life. This includes straightforward contact processes, fast processing of typical queries, rapid response times and regular use of various digital channels for communication – it’s really as simple as that. But in terms of pastoral care, of course, personal contact will always be the focus. 

The slogan of your company, “IT.Menschlich”, shows that you are pursuing another goal as a service provider. On your website, you describe this goal as “the vision to support customers in such a way that time remains for the most precious moments in life.” What does this involve exactly – particularly against the background of increasingly complex IT operating models, applications, network solutions and managed cloud services? 

Nobody should have to spend longer than necessary dealing with administrative or technical matters. IT applications and services should reduce workloads rather than adding to them. This creates time for humanity, for personal contact and exchange; in other words, for the important things in life. That is what we are all about.

In this sense – and this is what is especially exciting for us – new digital technologies offer opportunities that we have never even dreamed of. Used in the right way, digitization will help the entire ecclesiastical market in Germany to work in a more cost-effective, resource-efficient and innovative way – from the two large denominations, to the social services of the Lutheran Church (Diakonie), to Caritas and church welfare organizations. This will create freedom for the core competency of the church: focusing on people themselves. That is precisely our vision – to support people in the ecclesiastical environment by implementing digital solutions that give them more time and space to create new touchpoints with people, to spread the Christian message and to accompany people on their journey through life.

Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Oliver Krato

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