German perfectionism slows down digitalization

An online survey of 868 companies – primarily from the SME sector – conducted by the Technical University of Central Hesse (THM) revealed that the digitalization of business processes still lags far behind the possibilities. The survey asked about the degree of digitalization of 41 processes for which technologies and solutions are already known and available today. On a scale from 1 (no digitalization) to 4 (largely integrated digitalization), the participating companies were able to rate their processes.

The results are almost devastating. Even with procurement processes as the frontrunner, the average degree of digitalization is 2.18 (digitalized to a low degree).

Unfortunately, the THM study also confirms our practical experience at many companies. There is an interest in the automation of business processes. But even where a lot can be achieved with little effort, far too little happens.

In addition to the usual obstacles such as investment costs, fear of making decisions and – yes, even in SMEs – a lack of entrepreneurship, in my experience there are two other key factors:

  1. Decision-makers feel particularly uncertain about the topic of digitalization; decisions are correspondingly hesitant.
  2. The users – i.e. the supposed operational experts for assessing the quality of an automated planning and control process – always think in terms of the exceptions and not the rule.

In addition, we compare the automation of technical processes with that of business processes. We have to optimize the former until everything runs flawlessly: A CNC control system that occasionally moves the tool into the chuck is useless – without exception.

However, business processes in which human decision-making processes are taken over by algorithms or artificial intelligence are not about the digitalization of a mechanized process!
The aim here is to replace human decisions, which are naturally flawed to some extent, with digitized decisions. Even these can and may occasionally be wrong: Exceptions may occur, even if we are constantly working to further reduce the error rate.

Those who demand the perfection of mechanization will get stuck before digitalization!

Picture of Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

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