The Corona pandemic as an opportunity for digital transformation

Corona and digitisation: Today and tomorrow

We are currently witnessing how the corona pandemic is changing our society and economy permanently .

Not just since corona: Germany is lagging behind in terms of digitisation

Economic experts have long criticised Germany’s sluggish digitisation efforts in industry and economy. Many companies see the need to adapt their processes, approaches and business models to the fourth industrial revolution, but in practice changes are often implemented too slowly or not at all. The digitisation of products and processes is the prerequisite for the creation and functioning of digital and thus future-oriented and internationally competitive business models. An example: As a survey carried out by BME and Netfira on the professionalisation of operational procurement shows, procurement is also far behind its potential when it comes to digitisation. More than half of the respondents are still struggling with mountains of paper; manual and error-prone processes cost time and stand in the way of value-adding tasks. The failures of politics and economy become apparent now: structural problems that existed before but were not taken seriously are now being exposed and exacerbated by the corona crisis. In addition, Germany’s digitisation deficit is now being relentlessly revealed in many areas in an international comparison. These include e-government, e-health, e-learning, digital infrastructure, remote work and digital business models in general.

Which digitisation gaps is the corona pandemic currently uncovering?

The consequences, findings and reactions to the current situation are so diverse that only examples from different areas are given here:

Being forced to work from home, many companies and their employees are confronted with unexpected dificulties: For example, many companies are only now starting to organise laptops for employees working from home during the corona crisis; there is often a lack of software, for instance for video conferences, and many business models and processes have not yet arrived in the digital world.

Closed schools suddenly exemplify how incomplete and inconsistent digitisation is in educational institutions. E-learning, tablets and notebooks for lessons and homework – the digital pact was actually supposed to bring teachers, students and schools up to date with the latest technology and didactic possibilities. In addition, WiFi and broadband internet is by no means available in all classrooms at many schools.

The corona pandemic also reveals the fragility of complex global supply chains. Impending or existing supply bottlenecks not only have far-reaching consequences for the economy, but also for public health. After all, this is about a lack of protective equipment and disinfectants, impending bottlenecks in the supply of medicines and in manufacturing industries that depend on global suppliers. The often neglected digitisation in supply chain management also leads to a lack of transparency within a confusing network of suppliers.

What positive developments is the corona pandemic currently causing?

One of the positive developments that can certainly be observed is that the corona crisis has triggered a kind of “forced digitisation” in numerous companies, authorities and organisations. As a result, millions of Germans and thousands of companies are currently experiencing what the leap into the digital future feels like. In many companies, all meetings are now held online using video chat platforms and doctors, for example, have set up digital office hours. Regardless of whether in schools, administrations or companies: A functioning digital infrastructure that allows it to continue to function in times of the pandemic without people having to physically come together is now proving to be a competitive advantage or even a question of survival. Organisers of trade fairs, for example, are faced with the question of whether they can have their events take place online or whether they have to cancel them completely and accept losses.

What opportunities does the corona crisis hold for our future?

It can be assumed that in the course of this hasty digitisation there will be also successes and improvements. Therefore, many will wonder: if we achieve similar successes in the digital world at trade fairs and exhibitions, why should we return to expensive exhibition halls? If employees working from home work as productively as in the office, and at the same time save time-consuming and costly commuting, why should we all bring them back to the office after the corona pandemic? If digital shopping has proven itself and does not cause any significant additional costs compared to on-site shopping, why shouldn’t we continue to do so? In general: Why shouldn’t these exceptional situations become the new normal?

Personally, I am of the opinion that the forced, hastily implemented digitisation is not the most important positive development caused by the corona pandemic. It is true that the digitisation efforts were massively accelerated and that all of a sudden results and practicable applications were achieved that would have taken a long time under normal conditions. It is much more important, however, that the corona crisis has permanently changed our social view of digitisation. There is currently an awareness that technology and digitisation tools are a stabilisation and success factor in times of existence-threatening crises, which can determine the economic survival of a company, and not a negligible point on a business agenda. Companies recognise the risks they take if they do not have a digital strategy and, in an emergency, cannot switch to alternative ways of working and sales channels. That is why companies are now taking measures themselves to prepare for current and future crises. For example, many companies rely on the use of AI so that production and basic work processes can continue in the event of a threat. As we now practice using digital technologies, a new understanding of technology, new ideas and new business models are emerging.

That is why the corona crisis is also a great opportunity for us all. With attitudes towards the importance and possibilities of digitisation being changed, it is crucial that digital progress continues to be promoted. It is understandable that short-term digital efficiency gains and poorly conceptualised digital solutions are currently being used in order to be able to react to the rapid and, for many, surprising developments. But after the crisis, the focus – also in purchasing – should be on long-term and efficient digital business models. A digitisation strategy with uncomplicated digitisation and automation tools is indispensable in order to make greater use of digital platforms and AI in the future, to make use of software-as-a-service offers and to create digital offers for customers. Only then can the digitalisation boost that is currently taking place be an advantage for companies in the years to come. It is undisputable that digitised and automated processes lead to time, cost, resource and efficiency gains – even in times of crisis. In addition, companies that have already mastered the digital transformation are also better prepared for the next crisis.

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