About Digital Strategy -Interview with Axel Steinkuhle

Axel Steinkuhle, CEO and Co-Founder of evrbit.

In a few words: What is a digital strategy?

Axel Steinkuhle: First of all, strategic work in a company is always work with people. It is always about enabling people to think digitally. The second issue of a digital strategy is to expand the comfort zone of companies. It changes from being a fear-driven compulsion of having to do something to an opportunity. And that is much more important than the specific strategy.

The strategy itself has to be the development of an attitude that is not tied to objectives. The key is to have a vision and then break it down so that everyone can contribute to it. The most important insight is that digital strategy has pretty little to do with the digital department. It is more than a concept for digital applications. Digital strategy means moving a company into digital thinking.

What exactly is the difference between that and an IT strategy?

AS: An IT strategy would be more like an environment. It is similar to a field that I want to till. If I want to have a field just for strawberries, I treat that differently than a field on which I want to be prepared for different plants. The IT strategy deals more with the infrastructure, for example how to deal with servers. The digital strategy asks: What do we want to achieve? And the IT strategy asks: What is the environment like in which we can achieve this?

And where does a company start with its digital strategy? What would be the first step?

AS: The first task is always to sort things out: What are the goals in the company? Digitality is only the membrane for achieving these goals. The first step is therefore to develop an overarching digital strategy, classically with mission, vision, and objectives, which must pay off on all the other strategies.

The second step is to develop a governance structure. Then we form a committee of non-IT people and IT, together with the senior management that has to design the digital strategy. The next step is to implement the strategy in the company. There is no point in introducing something if people cannot form their own attitude toward it. We have established a tool for this, called Core Beliefs. The Core Beliefs are an attitude towards the topic in contrast to the measurable variables.

Can you give an example?

AS: We worked with Lufthansa, they wanted to have a Seamless Customer Experience across all touch points. In order for everyone to be able to pay into this idea, we developed a principle called Happy Next. Happy Next means there is always a task before your task and one that is relevant after. I can apply Happy Next to any form of organization in the company, including the coffee machine in the office.

The great thing is when people develop quality benchmarks with these core principles. That way, entire organizational structures have a kind of language with which they can evaluate their work. All of a sudden, it is not “You did a bad job” or “I don’t think that’s good,” it is “You’re paying into this principle, you’re not paying into this yet, how can we get better at this?” And so everybody can talk to everybody, everybody has the same goal without understanding it as a KPI. And that is the standardization which we call Core Beliefs.

Is this already a realignment of a company?

AS: That is not necessarily the point. The goals often remain the same but we change the way we get there. Companies often want to build innovations out of the operational business. The innovative team quickly moves away from the operational one. Something great is created but the mindset is missing. So we need to develop Core Beliefs so everyone can contribute to that.

Also, we need to stop thinking about technology, we need to think about the experience. For example, some customers wanted augmented reality visualizations of numbers in 3D spaces. For us, Real Time 3D was the real deal from the beginning. Why do it in AR just because it is the latest technology? In the end, we landed on an awesome desktop animation. We have to stop thinking of digital strategy as a technical construct. We need to understand digital strategy as a mindset. And technology remains one vehicle of many.

So there are no measurable factors for how digital a company is? It comes down to how the available opportunities are used?

AS: Right, it is measurement. We often advise our clients not to use technology because of the trend, not for technology’s sake. Digitality is often misunderstood as a purely innovative marketing tool – the sustainability for the company and the employees is totally missing. This triangle of: what do you want to achieve, with which technology do you want to achieve it, and what should the operationalization look like? – is something most people forget. Mostly, only two out of the three points are implemented – but it only becomes successful in this triptych. And it is our task to consider these three aspects and to superimpose them.

What role does digital transformation play specifically in medical design?

AS: In medical design, we are at a threshold. Files, patient information and measured values – a complete hybridity of handling is, I believe, the next wave that we are experiencing here. But here, too, not everything will be digital. People remain people, and the medical fields are not very fast because of their large regulations. I think there will be one or two really big steps. Like a Cambrian explosion, a biodiversity of multiple uses is coming.

We are in the medical field where we were with the Internet ten years ago. There is no longer one big solution, but thousands of small ones. You do not have to handle the whole range any longer, you can pick and choose the small, digital solution you want. And I think that will be the future of digitization in medicine.

If we are now at the point where we were with the Internet ten years ago, do we have to wait another ten years in the field of medicine?

AS: The curve of innovation is getting steeper and steeper, technical developments faster and faster and more radical. Fortunately, we will not have to wait another ten years. However, because of our cultural approach to technology, we as humans can no longer keep up with the immense change. When the steam engine came along, we had another 60 years to get used to it before the next industrial revolution of electrification came along. Technology becomes ten times faster with ten processors but humans cannot speed up that easily. Nevertheless, society’s acceptance of digital innovation is growing. Digital patient records remain a sensitive topic, their implementation is now far more realistic than it was five years ago.

In summary: What is the most important thing about a digital strategy?

AS: The most important thing about a digital strategy is allowing people to make demands on technology so that it helps and supports them. That, I think, is the core of digital strategies. Not to see technology just as a chore, but to develop aspirations for digitality. That is what everyone should do.

Thank you, Axel, for the interview!

Want to know more about this topic? Write to info@evrbit.com

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Lydia writes about design processes and our medical design projects.

Originally written by Lydia Münstermann, 06. August 2021. Last updated 18. July 2022


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