An interview with Horst Maywald, an expert who worked for Elabo for decades and Steinbeis partner
Horst Maywald talks to TRANSFER magazine about successful ways to achieve digital transformation in business. Maywald has first-hand experience of the process at Elabo GmbH and played a pivotal role in digital transformation before entering retirement earlier this year.
Hello Mr. Maywald, you know from your own personal experience how digital solutions can change a business. What were the changes resulting from digital transformation that you would consider milestones in the development of Elabo as a company?
The most important thing we learned at Elabo was that we would have to begin by looking at processes and structures. This started on a management level and trickled right down to all levels of the business. It wasn’t until the section managers had taken this on board and understood the processes in all affected areas, when the level of waste was recognized and all the workers were involved, that we saw the first signs of success. Digital transformation without understanding digital solutions is totally useless – in fact it’s harmful.
When people use the term Industry 4.0, they’re primarily referring to big companies. What can small and medium-sized enterprises do to not get left behind?
As I mentioned, small and medium-sized enterprises should start with digitalization –period. They should start with the things they can do in parallel to everyday work, the little steps, and they should immediately involve employees, also in celebrating small successes. These days, everyone (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) should assume that new technologies will be invented with the potential to replace the old business, or the old business model. Even if business is going wonderfully at the moment, SMEs have to work more closely with research institutions and consultants to think beyond the horizon. This is what we did for two years at Elabo, and I’m convinced that without collaboration we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were. But it involves a lot of work, on top of the everyday job.
Digital transformation involves a lot of challenges for SMEs – more and more customization of products, more networking, shorter product life cycles, the lack of skilled workers, cost pressures. What should SMEs do to deal with this complexity?
The challenge is not digital transformation in itself, it’s market requirements, and thus society. What can I do about this? Go digital. As I said, that means taking certain things into account. Change is a dynamic process subject to fluctuation, so it really hits you at the “nucleus” – where processes are planned on the shopfloor. There is a shopfloor execution system at Elabo, a state-of-the-art instrument we developed for assuming leadership in the place where the value is added digitally. Highly efficient processes on the shopfloor – and the benefits they generate – are decisive when implementing Industry 4.0, so it’s essential that any benefit derived is made measurable and thus manageable. You do this with “overall shopfloor key performance indicators.”
Digital transformation and the work environment – a topic that’s the source of much trepidation. What’s your take on this?
It’s only a problem if you sleep through the transformation. There’s no doubting the world of work will change. We all have to adjust to it – companies and people, in other words society in general. Lots of jobs won’t exist anymore. Machines will do them. But for that, others will be created, even for the not so well educated. At Elabo, we expanded the workforce by 20% in 2017 and we invested in lots of new equipment, as well as training and qualifications. But with unemployment in the area at 3%, we have to do that.