More Efficient through Digitalization

The results of the Lünendonk study Digital Efficiency - Digital Technologies as an Instrument for Increasing Efficiency and Reducing Costs commissioned by Detecon International and T-Systems Multimedia Solutions have just been published. Ulrike Volejnik, Head of Business Area New Work (T-Systems Multimedia Solutions), and Björn Menden, Managing Partner and Head of Global Functional Chapter Digital Operations & Performance (Detecon), in conversation about the potentials of digital change and the question of the position of people in the wake of advancing digitalization.

With the "Digital Efficiency" approach, you look at the topic of digitalization from the efficiency perspective. However, there have already been waves of automation in the past. What is different about this approach and why is it becoming more urgent in the current situation?

Björn Menden: Digitalization offers a wealth of new opportunities. Up to now, automation has gone hand in hand with standardization. There are limits to this approach as processes become more complex. Digitalization brings intelligence into play. Process mining, for example, forms a good basis for actually making data-based decisions. This allows a new quality in the management of processes and entire organizations. Data creates transparency and is available in real time through the use of modern technologies. Artificial Intelligence algorithms also offer new possibilities for processing this data. This gain in flexibility and speed has a direct impact on decision-making behavior - and this is where the big difference lies compared to earlier automation efforts.

Ulrike Volejnik: However, the use of technology is only the more visible aspect of the desired digital efficiency. People remain a relevant benchmark that must not be lost sight of. Ultimately, it's about working efficiently with digital tools by improving usability for every user. Digital efficiency therefore differs from other approaches primarily in that it is oriented toward the needs of the workforce, responds to their wishes and abilities, and thus develops their potential. Which platforms, tools or hardware are used is secondary. We achieve digital efficiency by creating synergies between existing competencies within the company, including in the IT area.

The heart of digitalization is the generation and use of data. How do you introduce companies to a data-driven organization?

UV: The path to a data-driven organization is quite complicated and cannot be implemented at the push of a button. The starting point is always the customer's current situation with regard to its tool landscape and thus the possibilities for generating and evaluating data - but also with regard to analytical capabilities and the prevailing culture in the company. In this respect, there is no blueprint. And even the best tool can never be the solution, but is always only one piece of the "digitalization puzzle".

BM: In order to be able to make consistent, data-based decisions, you need not only the transparency of process data, but also complete organizational data, including information about cultural aspects. This data has to be brought together and linked. And then a decision must be made about what to achieve with the data and how to get there. Here, the mindset is quite decisive, but also the competencies available in the company.

The relevance for the use of digital technologies is seen in many cases, but their application is difficult. How do you get companies into the implementation phase?

UV: By first creating clarity about the fact that technologies and their use are only one side of the digitalization coin. There is this persistent assumption that when it comes to digitally realigning companies, it is enough to simply renew IT, purchase new hardware and/or software, launch individual projects or change processes without a real overall strategy. However, such an approach falls short. Digital change starts in the mind and then transfers to the transformation of the organization.

BM: Exactly. As a consultant, I can create a better understanding of digitalization, structure the approach, and support the selection of appropriate tools - but it is imperative that the company develops a readiness for digitalization.

UV: And then it must not be exclusively about technologies.  It is absolutely essential to involve employees in the question of how to proceed with digitalization, especially with a view to improving collaboration and optimizing processes.

What characteristics do companies combine that are successfully digitizing and constantly responding to the latest developments in the market?

UV: Companies that successfully digitize themselves do just that: they continually reposition themselves and orient themselves both to the environment around them and to their internal needs. Organizations that view change not as an effort or a necessary evil, but as a continuous process, will always keep their finger on the pulse of time and even get a little ahead of it. This permanent change, the constant disruption, must be inscribed in the organization's own DNA. This starts with the selection of personnel and does not end with the business model. Questioning processes, responsibilities or IT decisions does not stop companies in their development. On the contrary: the more people within the company become more involved with themselves, i.e., their individual skills and their external impact, the more efficiently they will work.

How do you assess the current crisis with regard to digitalization?

BM: The Corona pandemic is undoubtedly an unprecedented driver of digitalization! Many companies are reacting now so that they can remain competitive. But we also see that companies that are already proactively using digitalization are now benefiting from it in a special way. For example, on the topic of process optimization, it is becoming apparent that digitalized supply chains have an enormous effect on the resilience of value creation and critical failures can be avoided or at least managed. We see this trend clearly among the customers with whom we work in the area of process mining and optimization.