At the "Everything Digital or What?! – Understanding Digital Development in Companies" seminar held on 14 and 15 April at the Haniel Academy, ten employees received information from the Haniel Group on current trends and developments in the digital arena and discovered what the changes brought about by the digital transformation could mean for companies, working practices and themselves.
The seminar was led by Ahmet Acar, Head of Innovation at the Berlin School of Digital Business. He has already launched various innovation projects at SAP, Google and General Electric. In an interview, he explains the impacts that digital transformation is having on the world of work and how Haniel can make the most out of its potential.
Digitalisation, digital transformation – what do these buzzwords even mean?
They actually refer to two different things. Digitalisation describes a technological development comparable with the industrial revolution. Our possibilities of recording, processing and generating information are increasing exponentially as technology develops and more and more people are networking with one another. In the past 20 to 30 years alone, we have documented more information than in the 50,000 years previously. This, despite the fact that we are still in the very early stages. Not even half of all mankind is networked at present. Digital transformation describes the impacts that technological change is having on the economy, the world of work and society. In a corporate context, this means that the self-perception not only of companies and management but also of employees is changing and that the working processes and infrastructure within companies is transforming. This is affecting relationships with business partners and customers. Therefore, it is not only technology but primarily interaction between people that is changing.
What repercussions will this process have on the world of work?
There are two extreme possibilities here. One would be that there will no longer be a clear distinction between work and private life and the corporate world will become more democratic, i.e. employees will mainly be the ones that make decisions, help shape and steer the company. The other alternative would be that digital power is used to manipulate and direct employees. Hence, we will have either a utopian vision with a great deal of openness, transparency and honest communication or an autocratic system where everything is monitored like Big Brother.
And which do you think is more likely?
We will probably end up somewhere in between, on the one side in some areas and more on the other side in other areas. This means that companies will need to make sure they end up with the combination they really want.
What, if any, skills will be reserved for people?
I think that a great deal more will be accomplished by software and hardware than most people imagine. But I don't think it will be a major problem because we can already see other capabilities and values taking on increased significance. For example, I don't need to know anything any more; I need only to search for it since the Internet has much more knowledge than I do. And I no longer need to do certain tasks myself because software can do them automatically. This means that I will be left with only human interaction and specialist technical skills – everything else will be more or less automated. Things that were previously dismissed as soft skills, i.e. communication and the ability to work together with other people and feel empathy or adopt their point of view, are gradually becoming hard skills.
How can I prepare myself for this as an employee? Do I need to learn programming?
No, if you don't have a technical background, you don't necessarily need to acquire this skill. The obligation for everyone is simply to learn how to work with new technologies and understand the thought processes and approaches behind them. People will also need to expand their social skills, i.e. improve the way in which they communicate and work together. This is often lacking in the workplace. Or else you could go down the design route and adopt design skills. After all, design is also something that computers will still not be able to do for a long time to come. If you are already from a technical background, you should learn as much as you can about other technologies and utilise them for innovation in your department.
Where do you see the potential of digital transformation for Haniel?
The Group has a very broad positioning. Haniel should take advantage of this by stepping up networking within the company itself. By this, I mean sharing information, leading joint discussions and breaking down silos. But this also involves creating the technological means for this, for example via WhatsApp or internal social networks – so that Haniel knows what Haniel actually knows.
On a final note, let's look to the future: Where will the German economy be in ten years' time?
I think that a lot is already happening in the field of digitalisation, even though we started a little late. But once we set our minds on something in Germany, it works most of the time. In this respect, I don't think that companies will be left behind to the extent that some people are saying. We will make up ground here and even grow to become trailblazers in some areas. My only fear is that we could fall behind as a society because the transformation has still not breached education and politics yet. Every child should learn the skills necessary; and this requires a great deal more investment in education. After all, we need to train the skilled personnel that we will need in ten years' time today. The economy can always bring in more workers from other countries, but we can't do this as a society.