The state of digital transformation in Germany Or: Impressions & Key Takeaways from #nextcc16

I’ve spent the last 1.5 days at nextcc16, a small yet pretty excellent conference about digital business, organized by Prof. Alexander Rossmann and his Research Lab for Digital Business. It was held at Reutlingen University’s Herman Hollerith Zentrum in the small German (or, more specifically: Swabian) town Böblingen. Judging by the name alone, you maybe would expect neither one of Germany’s most influential research institutions for digital business nor one of the best conferences on the topic.

However, as the saying goes: Never judge a book by its cover! It’s been the event’s 8th edition (if I’m not mistaken) of which I visited three (I believe). Why do I speak so highly of it? There are several reasons:

  1. It assembles a rather small, focused group of people who count among our country’s leading digital transformation practitioners & thinkers. It’s a nice mix of people who work at our biggest corporations (e.g., Bayer, Deutsche Telekom, Volkswagen), at interesting small and medium-sized enterprises (e.g., Bankhaus August Lenz, Chefkoch.de, W&W) as well as at leading professional service providers. And— it goes without saying, given the event’s location — leading academia is present as well.
  2. None of the keynotes or sessions felt like attending a sales event. Quite the opposite: Because it’s a fine, almost hand-selected group of attendees & speakers, the degree of openness is pretty high, the shared information very relevant & the discussion stimulating. And rest assured: I have attended plenty of events and therefore wouldn’t state that lightly.
  3. The topics covered at the conference are state-of-the-art and — in the context of the event’s overall existence — ever-evolving. When I first visited, back in the conference’s St. Gallen days, it was basically a social media conference. This year, in contrast, it was all about digital transformation, agile organizational principals and the business value of digitization. That’s a pretty interesting combination, especially when taking point #1 into account.

So, enough of the (well-deserved) praise. Lets get into the topics that were actually discussed as I want to share with you my key takeaways. One important remark for all my international readers: Germany is traditionally a couple of years behind at most things digital. So view it as a window into our business reality and don’t judge by Silicon Valley standards ;)

My Key Takeaways

  • Agile methods and new organizational concepts have crossed the awareness threshold. One of the conference’s most discussed questions has been how companies can improve their capability to adapt quickly to new environmental conditions and implement new digital methods. At least among the participants — who are of course the digital pioneers of their respective organizations, #biasAlert — it was generally agreed upon that today’s organizational concepts are verging on their expiration date. 
    Some even experiment with new approaches already, others are at least thinking about the issue. 
    What’s going to be interesting: If and how those new approaches (network organizations, self-management etc.) can co-exist with the established hierarchies, processes and so on. Most people I talked to were (not surprisingly) convinced that their organizations will need to change and are going to — yet not in a radical fashion!
  • Whereas in former years it appeared like the digitization was still largely driven by singular individuals — aka the digital pioneers — I’m under the impression that the conditions are changing for the better. That is: the top-management (eventually, luckily) started to realize that digitization a) is a topic they need to be concerned with, b) takes a coordinated effort and strategy and, c) can’t be done without dedicated people who have relevant roles in the organization.
  • Digital marketing topics like content marketing or social media were discussed to a much lesser degree than in former years. And, when the topic actually came up, it had to do with either smart steering tools (e.g., customer journey-based management approaches) or specific, operational questions. To me, that’s a good sign. In the years before, I heard many more questions regarding the “if” & “why”. Today, it’s about the ‘how’. 
    I interpret this as a clear indicator that those disciplines are now widely considered as standard items in the marketing toolbox. Thus, organizations can now begin to learn how to maximize their impact instead of investing a lot of time/energy/money in drawing PowerPoint slides in order to convince the management. Practice-time has started, so to speak.

All in all, I would attest our digital transformation efforts visible progress. It’s great to see that an increasing number of companies no longer shies away from thorough, holistic approaches. Of course, I would prefer if even more organizations were even more courageous — especially since most compete on international markets with competition that is already ahead and won’t slow down anytime soon — but taken at face value we are still better off than last year and that’s good news!

Oh, and also Link was present!

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For more impressions take a look #NextCC16 on Twitter