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Dirk Buddensiek of Aperto

Aperto was one of the first digital agencies in Germany. Now IBM has taken over the company. Founder and CEO Dirk Buddensiek talks to us about the reasons behind the decision, the future of the company and the secret to developing exciting digital products year after year.

Mr Buddensiek, when you founded Aperto 20 years ago, you were an “early bird”. The market for agencies specialising in the digital segment was not very big back then. However, over the last few, more and more digital and innovation consultancies are trying to enter the market. What is the effect of this new competition on Aperto?

The agency market has changed because customers’ needs have changed. Digitalisation is now a board-level topic and digital transformation is part of the corporate strategy. Tasks and projects are becoming increasingly complex, developments are becoming faster and faster. Unlike in the past, (digital) agencies can no longer claim they can do everything. Specialisations, innovations and the right consultancy services are necessary for the market and for the customers.

Over the course of this development, our goal was always to consistently focus on what our customers really need in order to be successful. This focus on what is right is what we call “Right-Service” and that is how we position ourselves. Rather than doing everything possible, it’s much better and above all more effective to just do exactly the right thing.

Aperto was recently acquired by IBM and is now part of IBM’s consultancy division, Interactive Experience (iX). What were your main reasons for taking this step?

We were looking for the right partner to fulfil the needs of our customers and to boost our presence on the international markets. In view of the complexity and scale of projects today, we realised that we had reached the limits of our growth and capabilities. The question was always: What can we do for our customers – and what can’t we do? Many projects now revolve around topics like big data, cognitive computing, the Internet of Things or integrating complex solutions into customers’ IT systems. From a certain project size, you need a partner for things like this. Even for a company of our size, it is difficult to develop such skills and expertise alone.

Can we expect takeovers of this nature more often in future?

Nearly all service providers on the market are currently changing their direction. And there are many different directions. It was very exciting for us to see how our announcement seems to have got the ball rolling. News reports and articles about the acquisition have been focussing on much bigger issues than just a digital agency being taken over by a tech company. The marketing industry is speculating about how agency models are being phased out and how the needs of companies and their customers can be adequately fulfilled in future. Anyone who fails to take the right steps in time – be it through partnerships or own investments – will lose out on the market in the long term.

All 300 employees will also be kept on by IBM. As the founder and CEO, you will also remain on board. Aperto attaches great importance to fairness and opportunities for employees. How will daily work at Aperto change now that you are part of a globally operating group?

As little as possible will change in the day-to-day work of our employees. The teams will remain in their locations, the management will continue to be in charge. That is very important to IBM and to us. Prior to the acquisition, we were also in discussion with several other companies, but we quickly realised that IBM iX fits best with us. The idea of a previously owner-managed German agency and a large international group might sound strange, but culturally we are actually very similar. Both companies have their roots in the digital world, we share the same DNA and a deep understanding of the digital age. Joining forces makes perfect sense.

What’s more, both companies are managed with the same philosophy with regard to how we work with our employees and customers. I think it’s important that they are both given equal standing. And if there’s a sense of mutual respect and appreciation between the customers and the employees, then this is a great foundation on which we can grow together.

Here’s a very different question: The quest for creative and innovative digital solutions is like the modern-day Holy Grail. Even many established companies want new digital products and solutions. Tell us your secret – what makes an exciting and innovative digital world? After all these years in the business, how do you manage to keep on developing new digital products that excite people? 

I think there are certain values that are not subject to digital change. These are questions of attitude. Over the last two decades, there have been so many digital bandwagons. If we had always jumped on the bandwagon – and if we had always tried to convince our customers – we wouldn’t still be here today. Throughout the course of change, we have always been both curious and sceptical when weighing up new technical possibilities. At the same time, we have always maintained our passion for excellent solutions as well as a culture that is open to innovations and ideas. We learned that only if something really excites us is it actually good. We are driven by the idea of making a constructive contribution to this new digital world. 

Mr Buddensiek, to round off our interview, please complete the following sentence: Berlin is…

…hopefully still open-minded and willing to help others in future.

Dirk Buddensiek founded Aperto, one of the first digital agencies in Germany, in 1995. Since then, Aperto has developed digital solutions and products for renowned customers such as VW, MAN, Coca-Cola, Siemens, the Federal Government and various NGOs, for example SOS-Kinderdorf and the WWF. The company has now been acquired by IBM and is part of its consultancy division. The brand Aperto and its subsidiary agency Plantage Berlin will remain in place, as will the company’s employees.