Digitalisation in German SMEs – Are we really stuck behind the rest?

The figures speak for themselves. Whether it’s the number of patents, the use of modern IT technology or the degree of digitalisation in companies—Germany, its SMEs in particular—is stuck in the middle field. People are saying that German SMEs are running out of gas, and their lack of progress is endangering other branches of industry, for example production. But let’s be honest – Is this really the truth? Birgit Merschmann, Managing Director of MODUS Consult GmbH, tells us how she sees German SMEs, and manufacturing companies in particular, moving into the new volatile, agile and digital world.

The right solution is only found in close collaboration with the customer. While a few years ago, a project consisted of simply replacing a software, digital transformation nowadays entails a journey where the ending is not in clear sight until some progress is made. Which brings me to my first point. If this journey has a clearly defined beginning but not an end, how is it even possible to make comparisons or evaluate it? If all roads lead to Rome, does that make the shortest, the fastest or the most sustainable the right choice? And who decides that? A scientist? The economy? Or is this is a question that every company has to answer for themselves, as it’s in their best interest to stay afloat?

We are noticing in daily business that German SMEs, although they need a bit longer than others, are taking the question of digitalisation very seriously. But digitalisation isn’t just digitalisation, and companies take this journey in very different ways: Some start out with small steps, by replacing their paper-free office with an intelligent document management system. Others invest in an extensive digitalisation program that turns everything including business models, culture, business and processes inside out and replaces the entire system landscape. Type three completely ignores existing company structures and focusses on new business models that would be impossible without new technical advancements. All three of these are on the path of digitalisation, but to completely different degrees and with completely different goals.

As an IT partner it’s important to adjust to the different speeds and circumstances of the customer and to modulate our own approach accordingly. What’s exciting about this is that social topics and human-centric factors are being brought into the limelight the more technologised and digital the world gets. It’s impossible to ignore them: There’s too much uncertainty at the user’s end, in terms of how this could affect their own work. But we mustn't let our insecurities stop us from benefiting from the advantages of digitalisation, a process that will inevitably change our way of life. You don’t have to be at the forefront, but you have to get on-board. All those who join the party too late will be left behind. It's a situation that can threaten a company’s existence.

And this applies to us as an IT partner as much as it does for customers. Digitalisation is a process that requires guidance. There are a heap of newly founded consulting services and digitalisation coaches that all claim to know ‘the way’, but who can you really trust when the whole topic has become so vague and complex that it’s become impossible to evaluate it objectively? I’m convinced that no one knows ‘the way’ from the get-go, as it simply doesn’t exist. As a partner, it’s important to know the processes of the company we are accompanying, in order to consult them. But we also need knowledge of the right technology, so that we can visualise the individual processes.

Birgit Merschmann, Managing Director,
MODUS Consult GmbH
– a Bechtle Group company

“The right solution results out of close collaboration with the customer—there is no ‘one way’.

And this applies to us as an IT partner as much as it does for customers. Digitalisation is a process that requires guidance. There are a heap of newly founded consulting services and digitalisation coaches that all claim to know ‘the way’, but who can you really trust when the whole topic has become so vague and complex that it’s become impossible to evaluate it objectively? I’m convinced that no one knows ‘the way’ from the get-go, as it simply doesn’t exist. As a partner, it’s important to know the processes of the company we are accompanying, in order to consult them. But we also need knowledge of the right technology, so that we can visualise the individual processes.

Because all of these processes and technologies are useless if we don’t take the end user into account.

It’s also important to know the people involved and to understand their expectations, requirements and insecurities. Because all of these processes and technologies are useless if we don’t take the end user into account. This lends the consultation a more strategic element with more focus on processes, since it’s no longer simply about IT projects, but real change. It’s essential to know where the customer wants to go, what their goals are and which business models could become feasible after digitalisation. Because, inevitably, our customer’s customer is changing too. It’s important to see the big picture in this process and to split the journey up into smaller portions, so that people don’t get lost along the way and everybody is following a clearly-defined road map. It’s dynamic and demands respect. This makes it necessary that the IT partner and customer undergo this journey together and contribute to its quality by means of discussion, transparency and collaboration.

In short, German SMEs are well on their way to using the advantages of digitalisation.  But it’s a process that requires an interplay of IT, business and people. For us, it’s vital to our success to provide not only technical knowledge, but empathy, top consulting and the right understanding for processes in order to serve as a trustworthy partner. It’s important to encourage the customer and to give them the confidence to make their first steps on their digitalisation path. Once things get going, I’m convinced there will be a landslide effect for German SMEs.

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Contact person.

Birgit Merschmann

Managing Director MODUS Consult GmbH
birgit.merschmann@modusconsult.de

 

Links.

  • Article: Artificial intelligence: the future for medium-sized businesses.

 

 

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Published on Oct 27, 2021.