To accelerate its digital transformation, BMW looks to Cluj

Global giants continue to view the Transylvanian city of Cluj as a key part of their technology and innovation strategy, and much of it has to do with the talent being produced by the city’s universities.

That Cluj in Transylvania has over the past decade or so rapidly transformed into a prominent tech hub, earning for itself a reputation that rivals even the Romanian capital, Bucharest, is no secret.  

But neither has the transformation of Cluj been an accident; it is the result of strategic investments, a vibrant technology and start-up community, and an environment conducive to innovation. 

Indeed, in the most recent edition of Emerging Europe’s Business-Friendly Cities report, Cluj ranked eighth out of 90 cities across the region. In 2020, it was 15th. 

Further confirmation of the importance of Cluj not just to Romania’s emergence as a major tech powerhouse but also to Europe came last week in the shape of a major new investment in the city from German automotive giant BMW. 

The city is already home to research and development centres operated by Contintental and Bosch, both makers of automotive components. Bosch also has a manufacturing facility in the Transylvanian city. 

Plugging in to this tech and automotive ecosystem, BMW says that its BMW TechWorks Romania, which it is developing in cooperation with Japan’s NTT DATA, will become the hub for its European IT and software projects and will accelerate the company’s digital transformation. 

“BMW TechWorks Romania joins a global network of IT hubs that already includes locations in Germany, South Africa, the USA, Portugal and China,” says Ralf Waltram, BMW’s Vice President and Head of Global DevOps Hubs.  

“Cluj-Napoca, known for its innovation-friendly ecosystem, entrepreneurship, start-ups and high density of IT talent, offers ideal conditions for the joint venture.” 

Marian Haus, COO BMW TechWorks Romania, says that the talent available in Cluj, much of which is provided by the city’s universities, was a key factor in the decision to base the German firm’s latest global tech hub in the city. 

“We want to attract qualified IT talent for our rapid growth in the coming years and are therefore particularly pleased about the excellent technical education at the universities in Cluj-Napoca and the city’s lively tech scene,” he says. 

The new Cluj hub, which by 2027 will employ as many as 1,000 people, will develop the central building blocks for IT projects with a focus on Europe, such as networked IT systems for BMW’s highly complex supply chains, modern production IT as the backbone of the BMW iFactory, and the development of central IT components for the implementation of the BMW and MINI direct sales model in Europe. 

“BMW TechWorks Romania is driven by two strong partners, with the objective of becoming a reference for the digital transformation of the BMW Group’s industrial ecosystem,” says Maria Metz, CEO of NTT DATA Romania. 

The role of Cluj’s universities

For the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca (UTCN), the BMW/NTT investment is yet another reason to promote itself as Romania’s leading gateway to a career in high-end tech development. 

Speaking just a couple days after BMW/NTT’s announcement, the university’s rector, Vasile Țopa, said that, “[UTCN] is more ready than ever to take on the role of an active, strong, and dynamic partner in collaborations involving digital transformation.” 

He pointed to the university’s nascent AI Research Institute as potentially playing a crucial role in developing innovative models, prototypes, technologies, hardware, and software products based on AI, adding that, “This year, we are launching new master’s programmes focusing on AI in various engineering fields. We are confident that our specialists and graduates, with their innovative approaches and initiatives grounded in a solid, mature technological culture, will bring added value to collaborations.” 

The mayor of Cluj, Emil Boc, recently re-elected for a sixth term in office, believes that the BMW tech hub is reconfirmation that the city is, “an international hub for technology and innovation”. 

Boc was also keen to point out the role of the city’s universities, citing the skilled workforce they produce as, “one of main our competitive advantages”, while also recognising the way in which they are willing to collaborate with the private sector. 

“[Cluj’s] universities, private companies, citizens and administrators all have the common goal of developing a local ecosystem that is innovative, and which is ready for the future.”

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