Recently I, once again, had the pleasure of participating in an event devoted entirely to the subject of digitization. Core thesis: Digitization comes faster than expected. So far so good. However, I had certain misgivings about the practical relevance of the thesis. I was proven right.
Most of these digitization events follow the same pattern: Everyone meets up at manager level for a “digital get together”, buzzwords are thrown about, everybody looks in amazement at what Google, Amazon or Tesla are currently up to and worries a little bit about our future working environment. After that, we generally all go home still having no new ideas for our own business. The leitmotif is missing!
I admit, digitization is a broad topic. It can be more challenging to identify the issues specific to one’s own business and how modern technologies can support. Of course, it is appropriate not to forget about the possible social effects of an increasingly industrialized workplace. But where is the sense in always making CEOs of medium-sized companies break into a sweat with a few slides about “disruption”?
Also, I think the discussion is obsessed with the same small element of the topic: The constant glance to the same old giants of the Silicon Valley – and yes, it’s always the same that are mentioned. And on the other side lurks the “disruptive trap”. One might conclude, there are only two possibilities: going bankrupt or becoming rich and famous overnight.
I believe that the depth of such analyses is impaired by a comfortzone. Instead of differentiated views on the factors at play, the repetition of superficial knowledge dominates. Watching what Silicon Valley does may be fascinating, but behind the dazzling façade all that glitters is not gold. There too, bankruptcies, bad luck and breakdowns are commonplace. However we tend to see only the successful examples. All the belly floppers remain unmentioned. Now one could, of course, philosophize about American error culture, but fact remains, even in California millions of dollars are still being destroyed to date.
Instead of differentiated views on the factors at play, the repetition of superficial knowledge dominates.
I am more interested in the question of whether digital business models, such as AirBnB, Uber, and in Germany probably MyTaxi and Lieferheld, are comparable to those of a medium-sized company, and what SMEs could learn from these “digital” examples, when those shining examples haven’t specialized in the creation of values, but in the provision of services. However, most of the medium-sized companies, in Germany we call it the “Mittelstand”, produce products every day in their factories. The focus here is not on services, but on goods. So, don’t we perhaps need a different approaches when asking how digitization can help?
To be clear: I would like to continue visiting events on digital topics, yet the conversations need to be more clearly defined. More tangible. Much closer to the real problem.
Let’s take the Internet of Things, an essential part of the much-evoked digitization: at trade fairs and conferences, we’re all always fascinated by the possibilities it offers. Yet back in real life, most of us lack the imagination around where to find the added value for our own business.
What you might have noticed already: transferring a remote control to your smartphone doesn’t make devices smart or necessarily your life any easier. What do we really gain when we can control the dishwasher or the washing machine from afar? Someone still has to fill and empty it.
The networked refrigerator, which automatically reorders goods and spits out cooking recipes on demand has been haunting the exhibition worlds of the IT world for 20 years. Without success.
My point of view: perhaps the issue of digitization is not so much about connected everyday objects, but rather about the way they are produced? Or take increasing the efficiency in buildings through sensors. In these exemplary B2B approaches, there are less “fancy gadgets” than in consumer electronics, but more real innovations through better data and its analysis as well as a significantly shorter time-to-market.
Thats the kind of real talk I’m after!