The word of the years 2018, 2019, and 2020 has been "digitalization". Everyone uses it, everyone writes and reads about it, but almost everyone understands it differently. Many think they must do it just because everyone else seems to be doing it and many think it will all be over soon. There are also leaders and entrepreneurs who would like to "digitize", as long as nothing changes.
But let's start at the beginning:
Digitalization is not software or technology that can be bought, implemented and then, magically, the company is "digitalized"! Rather, digitalization is an ongoing process that continuously develops and transforms a company. This primarily includes people and then processes, methods and technologies. Neither of them works without the other.
It means that this is the opportunity (and challenge) to critically question our organization’s processes, methods and technologies. Are my current products, services, processes, etc. still up-to-date and will they be relevant for my employees and customers tomorrow? What do I have to do to clearly differentiate myself from the competition? And what do I do when (not if…) my market changes completely tomorrow, because completely new players suddenly step onto the stage and/or my customers start expecting services instead of products? Completely new players? Where can they come from? Just wait and see what 3D printing, for example, will change (spare parts business, limited production series, customer loyalty, etc.). In this case, almost anyone can become a relevant player, even doing it as a hobby from their basement.
Just because in the past decades, processes, technologies and methods have led you successfully to the current status quo, that doesn’t mean the same approaches and procedures will lead you successfully into the next decade.
The innovation and change cycles of the markets, customer requirements, etc. are changing faster and ever more intensively. You only must think about what has changed in recent years (or months…). I'm not talking about Spotify & Co., but about everyday things that came rather slowly. When was the last time you took a flight with a paper boarding pass in your hand? Or stood were at the counter of an airline to check in yourself and your luggage? Nowadays, you do the check-in, including your luggage, entirely by yourself and mostly online. When was the last time you were in a travel agency in the high street? The list of examples could go on forever.
I often see CEOs, CIOs, managers and also employees saying “Yes… something has to change for us too!”, “You are so right… nor we will also tackle these issues seriously!”. If you ask the same people 6 months later how things are going, nothing has changed. Yes, it’s very easy to talk about change, to outline steps, roadmaps and “how to’s”, to demand courage and commitment, etc. However, if no one moves, then, unfortunately, nothing will change.
Change means courage. The courage to question things and often to question your own actions too. The option to do nothing is always there, surely, but how long will that work in today’s speed of change? Plus, as a leader, I’m responsible for an area, for a company, but always and mostly, for the people I work with.
Don’t let hyped misconceptions about “digitalization” beat you to a pulp (if you want to put it that way). Stop looking at it as a threat and start looking at it as a unique opportunity. You don’t have to turn everything upside down overnight or in a big bang (which would not be wise either…). You can take small, manageable steps with a manageable risk.
It’s important that you know where you – your organization – want to go. If your or your employees don’t have clear or good ideas, ask your customers! You will be amazed. Focusing on your customers and really listening to what they have to say is probably a great way to get things moving in the right direction. Give it a try! When you leave the beaten track and open up to completely new possibilities, that’s when the fun truly begins. Do nothing and you will see others give it the try you didn’t. I wish you the best of luck!
This article was written by Nino Messaoud, CDO at Barry-Wehmiller, with 27 years of experience in IT at national and international companies. Nino is broadly recognized by business and technology leaders for successfully leading sustainable digital transformations and is also one of the European Digital Leader of the Year 2020 finalists in the B2B category.