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Cultural change? What companies need for a successful digital future

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H ave you ever thought about how digital change will affect your business? It is a crucial question for the future viability of your company, regardless of your own products, internal company know-how or the services offered to your customers. The focus is not at all on digitalisation by means of new technologies, but rather on the question of what needs you can satisfy for your customers in the future.

“The customer is king” has been the service claim for decades, which applies in numerous companies and is more or less realized. In reality, however, this means that the best and fastest service is provided to the one who yells the loudest. In the future, we will experience significant changes – a cultural change that will reach right into the companies.

The customer of the future wants to receive offers that are individually tailored to his needs, preferably in a way that he himself cannot formulate the need. All this at a time when new digital technologies are leading to a complete shift in customer needs and customers have become much more flexible in their shopping habits. In the past, if you still had your record shop where you regularly came to buy music and gladly accepted a salesperson’s recommendation, today you click through streaming portals on your own and follow the offers that an algorithm compiles for us based on our listening habits. This is accompanied by the willingness to always switch to the provider who makes the most exciting suggestions or puts together the cheapest overall package, the market is completely transparent and switching only takes a few mouse clicks.

Identify trends and understand today what the customer wants in the future

Surely you are now asking yourself the question of how to satisfy these needs, which not even the customer himself can formulate. Here is good news, despite all the dynamics and speed, cultural change and thus changes in needs do not happen overnight. The developments of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow can already be predicted today on the basis of concrete trends. This means that, although not all individual needs are yet known, it is at least possible to narrow down very precisely in which subject areas companies should have offerings in the future.

The trend analysis is based on thousands of very specific innovations that are being launched on the market worldwide. This not only gives us a regional view of specific topics, but also puts the topics in the context of a global development. When considering cultural change, we want to focus primarily on the trends that lead to a change in people’s behavior. In technical jargon, this refers to so-called “game changers”, i.e. new technologies and services that lead to a sustainable change in behavior in our culture.

A good example of this is the smartphone, which has completely changed the way we communicate. For many people, social life is no longer imaginable without messenger services or direct communication in virtual groups. This communication has already strongly influenced our language, so the use of smilies or hashtags in communication has become standard. At the same time, it also leads to changes in behaviour, for example in terms of appointments and commitment. Our everyday life has become much more short-term and flexible with these means of communication.

In my view, one of the decisive long-term trends is the quest for individualization. People are no longer satisfied with mass processing, but strives for a “personal brand”. Already today, the expression is the behaviour in social media. Closely linked to this trend are our requirements for health. Many people already use the digital possibilities to track their behavior with regard to sports, nutrition or stress. Here we are only at the beginning with the potential that results from linking the data! In the future, we expect individualized therapies and fitness lifestyle programs in medicine; in the long term, even medications will be tailored to the specific needs of the individual body. At the same time, we are observing a rethinking in the direction of completely different nutrition. While the post-war generation in Germany was strongly influenced by the consumption of meat and hearty food, the younger generation sees the consumption of resources and animal welfare arising in the food industry as important basic conditions for a conscious diet. In concrete terms, this means that large meat producers such as Rügenwalder Mühle are very intensively engaged in alternative food products and today already generate 40% of their sales with meat-free products. Some start-ups are even focusing on using insects as the protein source of the future, which can be bred with significantly less resource consumption per nutrient.

What specific effects does this have on my company?

If you work for a manufacturing supplier, you are probably wondering what effects this insight will have on your products? This question cannot be answered in a blanket way, since a different mix of trends has an influence on future development for each company. But it is important to note that they cannot escape the changes, no matter where they are in the value chain.

As we have seen, the megatrend towards individualization necessarily leads to flexible value-added networks that are able to produce individual items at the cost of mass products using state-of-the-art technology. Companies must adapt their products, services and business models to these requirements. Regardless of whether they are suppliers to the mobility or healthcare industry.

Flexible value-added networks also pose completely new challenges to their own corporate culture. I am firmly convinced that organizations will have to cooperate much more closely with each other in the future if they want to meet the challenges of an increasingly dynamic economy. Disruptive innovation that rewrites the market often results from the combination of existing technologies. For example TESLA, a large part of the components of a TESLA vehicle have been established on the market for years. The special feature of TESLA was essentially that the sensors, vehicle controls and comfort modules were brought together on one technological platform. This enabled them to build a new product from the interaction of technological components and, based on their own ecosystem, to provide the customer with a completely new mobility experience in the field of electromobility.

How can medium-sized companies benefit from these findings?

Many SMEs are innovative with regard to their own products, but have few concrete ideas about how to develop their business model. If they want to have the right offers in flexible value creation structures in the future, they should urgently address the question of which trends will change their industry particularly strongly and with which core competencies they can make a contribution to new business models. This also includes the question of which partners collaboration with can make sense. Many SMEs have few or no contacts to the start-up scene or to innovative founders.

Regardless of external impulses, many clues and ideas for future development are already in their company – in the minds of their employees and colleagues. They are all part of the cultural change that we are currently experiencing in our professional and private lives. If companies succeed in taking up this creativity of their own employees and giving them the opportunity to work on the future of their company themselves, cultural change will become possible.

Fortunately, there are already numerous examples of successful medium-sized companies, such as Klöckner, which has gone from being a steel trader to a platform operator, or craftsmen who offer their services of various trades to customers from a single source. It is important that these companies get started and are not deterred by the digital transformation of others.

What will you start with tomorrow? 

The topics and trends for future development are now available in a well-prepared form, so that everyone can deal with the topics of the future without having to hire a futurologist right away. It is recommended to proceed in several steps:

  1. search for trends and innovation topics and assess their relevance for your company, either personally or together with your key employees.
  2. analyse your core competencies and consider where, outside of your current value chains, these core competencies could be particularly useful.
  3. use the creative potential of your employees or colleagues to develop new business model ideas and create spaces where these ideas can be thought and developed.
  4. coordinate the cultural change in your company, preferably through regular externally moderated workshops

Together with our cooperation partner TrendONE in Hamburg, we can offer you a core competence analysis and comprehensive company-specific innovation monitoring. Please send me an email for your personal offer.




Dr. Alexander Bode