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Digital mobility – future or true reality?

Or: How a raw diamond can be grinded

Digital transformation and Industry 4.0 (connected manufacturing) have been creeping around in the corridors of business, research, and politics for some time now – not forgetting the corridors of society and social fields. But what does digitalization have to do with mobility? This is one of the issues being examined by the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technology – Organization – Human Resources in Ravensburg.

Reports appear in the media every day about digital solutions and Internet 4.0 (the Internet of Things), and many reports are highly creative, probably because these are the latest buzzwords. Also, Germans do like to use English terms rather than explain something in German – or else something may not sound creative or “innovative” enough. The terms already familiar to Germans include the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing, business process management (BPM), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, 3D printing, smart factories, and e-mobility. All have something to do with IT or they help with IT. So in essence they’re related to digital solutions used in business processes or for adding value, plus the many things these involve. The overall aim: to compete in markets more efficiently. Many companies (of every size) are becoming more and more involved in these issues, in a quest to determine which digital technologies work best for them. According to a recent BITKOM study titled Digital Office, it is quite clear that many firms are on the lookout for ideas, but they are not necessarily actively doing something. Why is that?

Many years ago, Albert Einstein had a theory about this, saying that the purest form of insanity is to leave everything as it is and at the same time hope that things will change. It’s almost as if lots of businesses are in a kind of waiting area, hoping that the ideal solution will just pop up and all kinds of problems to do with the organization and running of the business will simply disappear. But simply pressing a button and finding the right digital solution is more than utopian, as was the dream of the paperless office. Paradoxically, in an era of digital solutions people print more documents now than ever before. One key question one has to ask is what does digitalizing value chain processes have to do with modern mobility solutions in the first place? In business, mobility lies at the heart of all activities. This is because globalization used to be mainly about physical presence, in all areas of the world – through products, services, or people. These days, companies like Uber and Airbnb can be extremely successful without even owning physical assets. Digital business models are increasingly moving into the spotlight, and the practically limitless scope of scalability and availability relates back directly to one of the core areas of competence within such digitalization strategies: the mobility of processes, people, performance, and perspectives, as well as quick and loss-free data and information exchange. We cannot (yet) physically teleport ourselves from one place to another, but thanks to broadband internet we can send information around the world in seconds and thus share information much faster than by word of mouth.

This leads to a new model that has proven its value in practice. It is based on a magic triangle, and if necessary it can be extended to include a fourth dimension for psychological aspects. This would turn the triangle into a diamond. Cutting and finishing raw diamonds to add individual facets and create a sparkling stone would be an appropriate task of value creation for any company. Every company would surely like to sparkle and shine with its services and performance, and even the dry German language can relate to such allusions.

So what does mobility in an era of digital technology actually mean for an organization, independent of its sector of industry? One way to convey the benefits and tasks involved is to look at a typical project with a medium-sized craft business (building renovations). The handcraft had a tradition of using paper (dirty environment, little time, notes quickly scribbled on scraps of paper). But at the same time, it was becoming more and more important to document processes, sometimes with added photos to provide evidence to insurance companies of water or fire damage. Craftsmen are typically open to new technology but in this case the setting was less “innovative” – it was about digital support while moving around on construction sites. In this case, help came in the form of a digital solution tailored to specific requirements – an eWorker© to map analog and digital processes, combined into a single, end-to-end, transparent process. So there were SmartPens with digital paper, if needed combined with smartphones, tablets, or both. This way photos could be automatically added to documents. The result: a simple and economical method for capturing mobile data and processing it electronically, creating archives that were reliable enough for review purposes in a document management system (DMS). This is not science fiction. It is state of the art – and the results are usable right now.

Many companies have been sitting on their own raw diamonds for years but they don’t dare to start cutting or polishing them. Diamonds may be the hardest material on this planet, but one bad cut can suddenly shatter something that is almost perfect. It takes years of experience and advanced manual skills to cut a stone into a finished diamond. And this is why companies should bring the right experts on board as they embark on the journey toward mobile digital solutions.


Stefan Odenbach is a project manager in the field of digital solutions at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technology – Organization – Human Resources. The Steinbeis Enterprise offers support with raising productivity and reducing costs within companies or organizations; business analysis, company assessments, business evaluations, and business restructuring; the management and financial monitoring of collaborative agreements, investments, and company divestments; the analysis, assessment, and implementation of training instruments; the analysis of management accounting instruments; and the analysis of costing and process cost controls in companies and organizations.

Stefan Odenbach
Technology – Organization – Human Resources (TOP) (Ravensburg)