Students at Steinbeis University develop tool to support the process of digital transformation
Efficient processes are indispensable for any company keen to remain competitive. One effective way to enhance efficiency is to digitalize processes. As witnessed during the pandemic, companies that had already achieved high levels of digitalization were in a better position to respond successfully to challenges – i.e. faster and more efficiently – than companies with low digitalization levels. A 2021 study conducted by industry association Bitkom into digitalization in the business sector – which examined how Germany stood after two years of the pandemic – also highlighted the increasing importance of digitalization to the German economy. As part of their Master of Business Engineering degree at Steinbeis University, two students have now developed a service in collaboration with their host company, Smart Solutions for Industry. The idea of the new service is to show companies where they still have potential to improve efficiency by digitalizing processes where they need to introduce more digital solutions, and how to avoid jumping between different media formats.
The pandemic has resulted in a multitude of companies expanding their technology bases, for example by investing in additional hardware and software solutions to enable people to work from home. But to tap into the full potential offered by digital transformation, it’s not enough to simply invest in more resources. A central challenge of digital transformation is that only in very few instances have processes and workflows been adapted across the board to new requirements. As a result, new issues surface, especially when it comes to collaboration and there can also be detrimental impacts on workflow efficiency. After all, first and foremost digital transformation is about using digitech to work with others. This makes it important to adapt processes and ensure they are consistently connected beyond the borders of individual departments.
Customers, suppliers, but also employees expect positive user experiences in their everyday work, just as they are used to in other settings with their personal devices and services. Not only is it important to avoid jumping between different systems, but users should also be guaranteed transparency and traceability. At the same time, processes should improve productivity without overburdening employees.
These factors formed the basis of a service developed by Dilara Dogan and fellow student Jonas Pospischil as part of a project provided by their host company, Smart Solutions for Industry, for their degree program at Steinbeis University. The idea of their service is to allow individual steps within processes, whole business departments, and even entire companies to be considered from an end-to-end perspective. Their goal: to provide companies undergoing assessments with the best possible insights into the status quo and jointly develop a plan for achieving desired target states, whether they relate to processes, departments, or the company overall.
“We want to help companies with their processes of digital development. To do this, we organize workshops and one-on-one interviews to look at key areas regarding the current digitech situation. We then evaluate the results,” says Dilara Dogan, explaining her methods. Ultimately, these evaluations lay a foundation for planning individual measures that are matched to the company, the aim of which is to achieve the desired outcome as captured in targets.
The project conducted by Dogan is part of a partnership between Steinbeis University, the consulting firm Flüchter & Partner, STS, and the host company providing the project, Smart Solutions for Industry. The latter is part of a joint venture between the SCMT Steinbeis Center of Management and Technology in Filderstadt and Steinbeis Interagierende Systeme, which is based in Esslingen.
Successfully digitalizing processes with the SDA
An intensive process of research, planning, and optimization conducted by the two students resulted in an innovative tool called the Smart Digital Analysis, or SDA for short. This tool allows customers to measure and evaluate the current status of digital transformation within their companies and derive actionable measures.
To determine the current level of digitalization, the tool assesses three key dimensions: existing IT systems, available data, and the organizational structure as reflected in the people and culture of the company. These dimensions represent the essential factors that reflect overall digital maturity levels, not only of companies, but also of departments and processes. In turn, each of these three dimensions is subdivided into three sub-dimensions, which break down the overarching categories into the most important factors. The analysis also involves assigning three maturity indicators to each of the nine resulting sub-dimensions.
“We’ve mapped each of these maturity indicators in detail and they include a central question for guidance purposes, which we call the indicator question. Experts at the surveyed company answer questions under the supervision of a consultant. They also offer their own assessment of maturity levels based on a five-point Likert scale. The measured maturity indicators can then be used to determine the current digital maturity level of the company,” says Jonas Pospischil, explaining the next part of the process.
The process starts with one-on-one interviews and workshops, resulting in a spider chart showing deviations between actuals and targets. This graph highlights divergences and areas of possible improvement within company processes. A comprehensive analysis is then conducted in liaison with the company to determine which deviations should be prioritized and thus which topics to tackle first. It is important to acknowledge the processes and workflows that have already been digitalized in different areas, although for the time being this does not mean optimizations are needed. Smart Solutions for Industry works according to principles of end-to-end digitalization, but only when this makes sense.
Enhancing efficiency with the SDA
The Smart Digital Analysis identifies long-winded processes prone to error, data being entered manually, and different systems complicated by interoperability issues, which are replaced by efficient digital processes. It is a useful tool for decision-making on the path to digital transformation. As an in-depth process, it is supervised by Smart Solutions for Industry consultants working alongside a network of experts and advisers.
Analyzing interviews and workshops is also important for another, far-reaching reason – beyond merely pinpointing and discussing deviations. In its role as a consulting company, Smart Solutions for Industry uses these insights to individually support the advancement of companies on the digital transformation journey. This is because targeted transformation is crucial when it comes to safeguarding company competitiveness in the long term.