Data provide the foundation for stepping into the digital age. Märklin put its products with all the detailed information in a database so customers and dealers could access it online. This started the company’s digital transformation, which is now almost 20 years old. Today, communication with dealers via the extranet is being expanded even further and access to products is becoming increasingly easier. Social media is used to talk to consumers. The Facebook page has almost 49,000 followers. The boundaries between inside and outside are breaking down.
Beneath this, a sea of information becomes apparent. They are served at many touchpoints for customers and business partners, as transparency for all stakeholders is the essence of digitalization. A company does not get there overnight, and often not on its own. Rethinking is required and has to involve all the employees. This is how Wolfgang Henseler describes it. The professor at the University of Pforzheim teaches visual communication, which is also the guiding principle of his company Sensory Minds, with which he advises medium-sized businesses regarding digital transformation.
Visualization is a good tool for ensuring a new corporate vision: “A target image is easiest to develop in a one-day or two-day workshop and is fundamentally important for transformation.” In a workshop like this, the employees learn the basics of how digitalization works. The individual roadmap should then be worked out together. This ensures that everyone in the company is on the same page and pulling together. Transparency to the outside requires transparency to the inside.
First and foremost, the leaders themselves set examples. They should be visionary and tangible for their employees. To achieve this, they must separate themselves from conventional hierarchical structures and create space for agile project structures. Collaboration is the fabric of the new corporate culture. Ultimately, digitalization is all about a change in thinking. Henseler sees the first step into digitalization as a “personal fitness program” for companies and employees. “The only way to get fit is to get moving.” Visions and goals are developed from this and then implemented in concrete scenarios.
These are diverse and tailored to individual needs. Smart phones play a major role in this regard as a link between data points and information. The German railway company Deutsche Bahn, for example, began equipping their 300,000 employees with mobile phones some time ago. More than a third of them already have one. The THOR app is installed on these devices and can be used by service personnel, for example, to document the status of the on-board bistros and the train toilets. Train inventory and maintenance is now also digitalized. This allows the mechanics to easily reorder spare parts. It is no longer necessary to manually write and type in order lists. This accelerates the processes to the satisfaction of the customers as well.
The German drugstore chain dm thought along the same lines. The company has invested in 25,000 smartphones as an important part of its digitalization strategy. This is intended to strengthen the skills of the store employees. And it has a direct effect on customer service. The advantage here is that questions about the product range, ingredients or service in the stores can be answered immediately via mobile phone. “Digitalization is more than just an online shop,” says dm boss Erich Harsch. It has an impact on processes, working methods, tools and communication with customers.
Henseler recommends the use of tools like Flipboard to ensure employees have the same level of information and to boost their curiosity and motivation. The simpler the means, the better. After all, digitalization should not just be a headache. It should also be fun. In order to playfully change one’s thinking, the transformation expert Lego recommends serious play. Legos blocks are connected with the concerns of the business world. In a workshop, participants can use the building blocks to design models and metaphors for their business and exchange ideas with others. “It always works and is a fun way to consider and organize the transformation process.”
Not everything has to be done alone. Märklin, for example, called on the agency Die Digitalagentur to bundle and network information. It is important that the projects are developed in close cooperation with the company. After development of the Facebook page, Märklin took over responsibility for the communication. Step by step.
And this is how it plans to continue. Digitalization is a process that never ends. This also applies to Amazon, which pioneered the path of digitalization as a disrupter and wants to continue to do so. Not even with around 600,000 employees and an enterprise value of one billion dollars can one rest on one’s laurels. As founder and head of Amazon Jeff Bezos puts it, “it’s always day one”.
The bottom line:
The first step out of the comfort zone of one’s usual procedures is difficult. But at some point, the first step becomes a habit. Therefore, companies must never stop evaluating trends and being innovative. The more often they do this together in a team and as an entity involving their business partners and customers, the more natural it feels. The impetus seldom comes by itself. Good external consulting and training ensures things are seen and done differently.