Digitization in the snow – how to face the digital transformation without stress
“That’s the way we’ve always done it,” is the wail you hear from many a company these days when the subject of digitization comes up. Digitization means change – and we had gotten so nicely accustomed to everything. As befits the holiday season, a heavy snowfall then disrupts the power of habit. But what does snow actually have to do with digitization?
A little tale of technology
Snow falls softly – and I’m standing at a train station in the middle of the Bergisches Land, waiting for a train to Cologne. The town slowly transforms into a winter wonderland, and the train app on my smartphone tells me that the train is delayed by ten minutes. But there’s nothing on the display on the platform yet. I’m not alone on the platform. Most of the other people waiting are staring at their smartphones and are still relaxed – they’ve already heard about the delay from the train app. Others, without smartphones, keep an eye on the display, puzzled and hopeful, until the delay is announced there as well. New technology never simply replaces the old. Media and technology steal each other’s audience once in a while, but continue to exist side by side. Writing, for example, did not render our memory obsolete, as Plato once feared and wrote down, mind you – obviously he was able to live with the contradiction. The typewriter didn’t ruin our spelling. And in spite of computers and the Internet, which has ultimately united all media and made information accessible and connected, we still occasionally write on paper, read a book now and then, still go to the movies and still meet with “real” people. So, we use technology where it makes sense for us and where it makes the day-to-day easier.
The trains are becoming digital – but what about the tracks?
I love using my train app, because it simplifies my life as a commuter. It is now more exact than any display on the platform and faster than any announcement from the loudspeaker. If a train changes platforms, I’m the first one there; if a train is delayed, I’m the first one in the café. The train app is a product of years of effort at digitization by Deutsche Bahn. On the one hand, Deutsche Bahn is optimizing internal processes with its digital agenda in order to transmit information faster, and on the other they’re polishing their service. If a train is late, passengers should know in real time and as precisely as possible. I have become accustomed to the reliability and being able to have everything available right away – if not the train, then at least the information.
In the meantime, the town is completely snowed in and the train – is canceled! The next one – too! The train app says, “There will be heavy disruptions in train traffic throughout North Rhine- Westphalia” – no concrete information, no concrete times, no concrete statements whether any train at all will run. I look at the platform display in despair, and suddenly we’re back in the analog world and have to deal with being stuck in the Bergisches Land. Suddenly, we aren’t fast anymore, suddenly nothing is available: neither train nor information. Nature as an opponent – and every technology seems to have drawn the short straw. I think I can see from the shaking heads and unbelieving looks of the others on the platform that this is difficult for some to comprehend. The biggest enemy of digitization processes is probably still nature.
Digitization is a cultural transformation
However, the second hurdle for the digital transformation is the internal attitude of management and employees, as the german magazine WirtschaftsWoche determined and summarized in a study with the help of the market research institute GfK from Nuremberg, Germany. 2,000 managers and executives from major companies were surveyed. “Defending existing structures” was given by 65 percent of those surveyed as the main reason for slowed digitization. Which essentially means we don’t want what we aren’t familiar with. And that is the voice of the fear of change.
How can these fears be reduced in companies? By making the most important point understood: Digitization isn’t just ambushing us, because these statements have shown that technology is almost never groundbreaking, but that we are actually in a state of constant change. People grow accustomed to processes, just as they become accustomed to running trains and reliable information from the train app. And by understanding that digitization is first and foremost a cultural change. Through a well-thought-out and sensibly implemented digital agenda, it is possible to create greater customer focus, transparency in the information flow and flatter hierarchies, and to motivate employees to greater individual responsibility.
Whoever thinks everything was better in the old days can wait for the next big snowstorm and then try to get from A to B. That’s how to experience analog conditions all over again – up close and personal! But I recommend a hot drink on the couch and a bit of relaxation instead.