To persist as a business in the times of digital change is a challenge for both management and employees. Although most companies recognize the need of a digitisation strategy and pave the way for it, too often the implementation is limited to new tools and processes. In fact, they alone do not lead to business success. In order to identify the faster changing needs of clients, to develop new digital business models and to create real innovations, companies need two things: suitable employees and a true readiness to realign the entire organisation, its processes as well as its working culture according to the demands of clients and employees.
The German economy, spoilt by its own success during the years of constant growth, could afford to react rather slowly to digitisation trends. Even though businesses have long ago realised that digitisation is a real game changer: in some markets, American and Chinese IT-companies have expanded into new business segments due to their lead in accumulating and exploiting data and turning them into new business models. In other markets small and agile start-ups with innovative ideas take over market shares and clients from former top dogs. Even though 72 percent of German companies have defined a digitisation strategy according to a survey of the business association Bitkom , but only 15 percent indicate that this strategy is actually implemented on the top-level of their management. The problem of this gap between existing strategy and organisational implementation is quite obvious: A digitisation strategy can only be successful if the right targets are set and the right people are available to achieve these goals. But is this really the case?
According to our experience, many companies misjudge the true nature of digitisation as a technological and social process. The lack of focus on employees is why most companies emphasise the wrong aspects in their digitisation strategy. But without the necessary digital competencies this transformation process cannot succeed. And we are not only talking about digital competencies such as programming, cloud computing and designing artificial intelligence, but mainly of the ability to adopt to fast changing situations as well as the willingness to interact frankly and open-minded with interdisciplinary teams. The encouragement of these competencies is way more important than the things companies are focussing on right now: the digitisation of existing processes and the introduction of new tools with which the employees have to work somehow.
Looking at the companies who have shaped their digitisation strategy successfully, we consider the following steps as mandatory:
In times of rapid technological change humans with their capacity for innovation, creativity and strong leadership are and remain the most important factor for entrepreneurial success. A digitisation strategy can be implemented successfully and with a reasonable cost-value-ratio by a targeted investment in employees. That is of major importance for businesses against the background of a visible economic slowdown. Even in future the realignment of the business strategy according to the requirements of a digitised economy will proceed top-down, but its implementation must happen on all levels simultaneously. The digitisation strategy can only be successful when all employees know why the new strategy is necessary and when they have all required functional and personal competencies.