Everyone is talking about digitization. Reason enough to head to Straubing as part of the MEETING FRIENDS  event series by our subsidiary friendWorks. In late November, together with my colleague Petra Fröhlich, I had the pleasure of hearing an expert presentation on the subject of Digitization 4.0 by Florian Kunze. This was another impetus for me to take up the subject again. After all, the upcoming changes to companies and work environments caused by digitization will be and already are enormous. The following is the result of discussions with colleagues after the presentation, as well as my own thoughts.

But first, I want to provide an overview of what exactly Digitization 4.0 means – very generally at first, and then in regard to the situation for companies, customers and employees.

What does Digitization 4.0 mean?

Admittedly, the meaning of the term is not obvious and has not been clearly defined. However, numerous discussions with experts reveal that Digitization 4.0 can be seen as a change process regarding companies and work environments where it means the following:

 

  • increased networking and stronger integration of business processes, machines, facilities and IT systems
  • greater automation and work support
  • as well as increasing, data-driven service orientation and
  • new communication methods and media which influence the behavior of customers, management and employees

Thus, Digitization 4.0 overlaps with another hot topic, Industrialization 4.0 – you would think. In my opinion, the technological advances in recent years which led to Digitization 4.0 have only just made Industrialization 4.0 possible.

A specific example: Digitization 4.0

Sporting goods were long considered a typical example for Asian mass production and thus a prime example of old school industry – please disregard any actually existing exceptions.

The well-known sporting goods manufacturer Adidas recently opened a production facility in Ansbach in their native Franconia, Germany – initially as a pilot project. The objective is the production of running shoes which German buyers just ordered; with a customized sole, an upper that meets their desire – and an individual design chosen by the customer. Just as an aside, I’m an avowed runner, though I personally rely on shoes from a different manufacturer. But I can easily imagine that customized modifications of a running shoe in terms of sole and cut could only be an advantage for a runner.

Based just on the description of this objective, we see all of the characteristics of Digitization 4.0 mentioned above. To boil it down to one sentence, instead of waiting a good 45 days (that’s how long it takes to ship from the Far East to Germany) for a mass-produced item – the latest athletic shoe collection in this case – the customer will receive a highly customized running shoe. Order in the morning and pick it up from the sporting goods store in the evening. Of course, such a transformation also requires massive changes to processes on the part of the company.

What does Digitization 4.0 mean for everyone in daily life?

Well, not everyone is Adidas. Nevertheless, obvious examples of Digitization 4.0 entering the lives of average citizens around here are easy to find. The invention of the iPhone in 2007 and the Android platform in 2008, along with their widespread distribution and acceptance at almost every level of society, represents an important development, in my opinion. A disruption in the relationship of companies and customers on the one hand, a turning point in the everyday work of an employee on the other, and ultimately a break in the design of processes in companies. But one thing at a time.

Customers and companies are moving closer together

No company without an app – that’s it in a nutshell. And, to be honest, for the customer, providing applications on smartphones represents a significant advantage. After all, orders are most quickly and easily placed via app these days. Major e-commerce retailers – Amazon and Zalando, for example – show the way; an app is a necessity here. This is now also true for SMBs. But even in terms of reachability, the introduction of apps, and thus Digitization 4.0, has its consequences. In many cases, two-way communication is part of the app function. It is important to note that the company must, of course, indicate the times when customer service can be reached; a queue might make a lot of sense here. The bottom line is this: customers and companies are moving closer together, and the “closeness” made possible by apps is one of the elements of corporate success. But more in the second part of this article.

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