Understanding customer problems and solving them sustainably
The rapid growth of the internet has ushered in an enormous flood of data, bringing a whole new dynamic to information exchange processes. This development raises a number of questions – from ethical considerations regarding transparency and data protection to philosophical questions on the up- and downsides of ever-increasing amounts of data. There are also purely pragmatic considerations, such as whether these huge masses of data are genuinely useful or merely a burden. The answers to these questions depend not least on how data is handled and the underlying motivation. Kerstin Schenk and Professor Esin Bozyazi from Business Models of the future, the Steinbeis Consulting Center, have developed a meaningful and practical approach to mastering the challenges of data enabling and digital transformation, in this case for a medical technology company.
The internet is an incubator, greenhouse, and virtual marketplace for data of all kinds. When the collection of user data first began in 2001, only 8% of the world’s population were able to go online. Today, less than two decades later, over half of the world’s population is digitally connected via the internet, while the volume of data on the web is doubling every two years. The internet has expanded massively in recent years, and this technical progress has opened up uncharted digital territory with near-unlimited possibilities. These developments are not only changing how people behave and act, they also affect business interactions and interpersonal communication on a fundamental level. The restrictions on public life due to the current pandemic have accelerated this trend of late. In this midst of this new reality – which we are all still adjusting to – a medium-sized medical technology company tasked the team at Business Models of the future, the Steinbeis Consulting Center with digitalizing its events and conferences. This included modernizing the company’s conference systems, making it more professional, introducing collaborative processes, presenting its services and products at virtual conferences, and developing a dedicated concept for hosting and organizing virtual events.
Business models for the future: using data innovatively and sustainably
When Kerstin Schenk and Esin Bozyazi come to companies with their approach of “business models for the future,” customers often ask how they can become future-ready and stay that way. As the two Steinbeis experts see it, the only ones who can answer this question are the companies themselves. After first looking at social developments, future trends, innovative technologies, and ideological currents, Schenk and Bozyazi always try to identify any customer needs that haven’t been met yet. To find these and understand them in depth, you need to know more about the customer. In this case, the Steinbeis consultants are taking a close look at the medical technology company’s customers and their wishes. In the digital era, this process can be completely reinvented and organized in a modern way. Yet most of the time, this doesn’t happen due to a lack of methods or ideas – and a failure to imagine the possibilities.
To help their customers establish their own business models for the future, the Steinbeis duo have developed a series of “learning snacks” that aim to build up a knowledge base that is always accessible, rather than information being shared in one-off workshops or training sessions. Schenk and Bozyazi consider it particularly important to first cultivate awareness of digital assets, since understanding data as a valuable asset and recognizing its value is one of the cornerstones for a successful business model for the future.
Step 1: Organized data forms the basis
The first learning snack Schenk and Bozyazi initiated was a 360-degree data discussion – an all-round perspective on data collection and data enabling. This makes it possible to develop a data management system that combines empirical research logic with economic efficiency and guarantees an approach that provides legal certainty while also being ethically justifiable and value-based. With this mindset, and taking a business modeling perspective, the Steinbeis duo then consider the business architecture and generate a development agenda that is visualized for greater clarity. As making good decisions always requires meaningful information, the analysis phase begins as soon as the data collection infrastructure has been put in place.
Step 2: The quality of the question determines the result
For the analysis phase, the method of “question-storming” has proved to be successful. First, all questions relating to the defined goal are collected so that those most relevant to the result and goal can be singled out. In this case, the customer set an objective of defining and building a platform that would allow it to hold successful virtual conferences. This immediately raises a host of questions. How do we define success? What should the result be? How do we measure it? Is it about satisfied customers, or as many contacts as possible? What makes a virtual conference into an experience? Why do people participate in these kinds of conferences in the first place?
As experienced designers of business models for the future, it’s not uncommon for Schenk and Bozyazi to reinterpret the customer’s goal or add secondary aims and sub-goals during the process. The analysis phase has proven to be a valuable driver of innovations. To come up with business models for the future, the Steinbeis consultants think outside the box and assess the need to modernize from an overarching, big-picture perspective. In the project with the medical technology company, a deeper understanding of the drivers of future trends led to a new key objective being added: an iterative and agile process that combines the principles of divergent thinking (collecting information and customer experiences in order to generate ideas for solutions) and convergent thinking (focusing on certain areas and making decisions). The aim is to establish a future-oriented “digital analytics suite” that will act as a basis and early indicator for innovations in order to gear the business model to future developments. In some companies, development projects of this kind lead to new teams being formed, more agile approaches to collaboration, and even brand new departments and positions – but also ultimately to new services and products. Whatever the case, they bring a new mindset and culture of innovation into the company.
Looking ahead to Step 3: Generating ideas through business design thinking
Once the information has been collected, selected and aggregated, Schenk and Bozyazi will know the customer’s deeper needs and the criteria that can be used to evaluate and measure the success of a virtual conference. Based on this, they will then begin to collect ideas for the virtual conference, with a central focus on people and the customer perspective so as to deliver a unique user experience. The process starts once the business design team has been put together and the design challenge formulated. For the medical technology company, a guiding principle – “We connect people with medicine and innovation” – was formulated to provide orientation throughout the creative process. This principle not only serves as a quality aspiration for the solution, but also for the process – it’s important to develop a healthy approach here too, as technocratic digitalization processes need to center around people, whether they be customers, employees, or stakeholders. The Steinbeis consultants maintain this human focus in how they approach projects with customers. “As proponents and drivers of modern, open innovation approaches, we support progress through networks and the sharing of expertise,” explains Schenk. “That’s why we regularly organize best practice workshops. If you’re interested, we look forward to hearing from you – we’d be happy to take the time to develop workable future concepts with you!”
A 360-degree perspective on data collection and data enabling
- Data collection from a scientific research perspective:
Good decisions can only be made based on good information. So gaining clarity is always the first step.
- Methods of medical data collection:
Medicine teaches us the importance of having a strong foundation of data. The Steinbeis team follows this principle in its projects and safeguards the quality of data and information. Its maxim: “We serve people, but we believe data.”
- Ethical considerations regarding data collection:
Digital transformation is not only making it possible to collect data in even greater volumes, but also more precisely. In recent years, many discussions have revolved around whether or not data should be collected, and if so, which data. The Steinbeis team’s guiding principle is to collect the data that it makes sense to collect.
- The limitations of data collection as determined by the legal framework:
On May 25, 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. It specifies very precisely the powers and obligations that companies have when collecting and processing customer, employee, and personal data. As well as the GDPR, additional stipulations apply to sensitive health data. Most of all, however, these regulations provide a useful rule of thumb when collecting data: as much as necessary and as little as possible!
- Technical perspective: ‘Tool tour’ and innovative possibilities
One aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is the technical perspective. The two Steinbeis consultants aim to broaden horizons by providing an overview of innovative technical possibilities that transcend (technical and conceptual) limits.
Kerstin Schenk (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur, Expert in digitalization and transformation processes
Steinbeis Consulting Center Business models of the future (Stuttgart)
Prof. Dr. Esin Bozyazi
Steinbeis Entrepreneur, Expert in future business design and sustainability
Steinbeis Consulting Center: Business models of the future (Stuttgart)