The First Steps on our Journey to the Nine Circles of Digital Heaven

Since the beginning of March 2020 the internet seems to be filled with people who all work digitally and remote. What seemed to be exclusively available for employees in corporate enterprises now also reaches office workers in small businesses. And from one minute to the other the digital working world is celebrating. Together with the corona virus a full wave of digitalization came over us and has finally opened up the gates to the holy land! But if you look closer, milk and honey might just not be that sweet yet.

When you take a closer look at digitalization projects, one thing in particular becomes really obvious: A lot of will to throw technology on the recent problems. What seems to be missing however is the will to look ahead and dig deeper into the underlying problems. With technology alone the digitalization process will not be successful, but merely disillusioning. The road to a digital future is long. If there were – according to the nine Circles of Hell – also nine Circles of a Digital Heaven, we are just knocking on the first gate.

Digitalization, Digitalization Everywhere

When we talk about digitalization, we mostly unite three phenomenons under one blanket. If ten people are asked about their personal definition of digitalization, you probably get ten different answers. What you won’t get is a clear separation between these three aspects. 

The bottom line is the “digitization”. This level describes the transition of analog values into digital formats and their processing and saving in digital and technological systems. Companies on this level might scan their business mail. But is there more digitalization to be found here? Highly unlikely. 

The second level is the “Digital Transformation”. This means the integration of digital technologies into one’s own business model. What is important to notice here is that the business model itself does not change. Worst case scenario, processes are not even accustomed, but technical equipment only supports or replaces single actors in the game. The employees use e-mail, no carrier pigeons were being hurt during the creation of the mail. But the customer still searches some form of analog contact with the company to get his product. 

The third and last building block is the “digitalization”. Only here do we find a real Digital Business. Digital technologies form the basis of increases in revenue and value. It is only here where we really find what we easily proclaim a “Digital Mindset”.

But Why all the Fuss?

Let’s take these definitions as a basis. It becomes clear: digitalization is not digitalization. What we see right now when we talk about all the opportunities we have in the comfort of our home offices can merely be categorized as digital transformation. The companies invest a lot of money to give technical support to the employees in their execution of tasks. But even here one could critically ask if this is really the first gate to heaven. Let alone talking about a real “Digital Mindset” which is still mostly missing. The way to a full-on digitalization is still quite long.

To be fair: using digital technologies is better than not doing it. But to work efficiently digital, we also need to take a close and critical look at the processes that underlie the execution of the tasks. As a German CEO once said: “If you digitalize a crappy process, you have a crappy digital process”. The digitalization changes a lot of what we believed was true in business until now. Innovation cycles change. Value chains change. Even products change. Software has become accepted as a proper product category long ago. Who wants to face this change cannot only think in technology.

And last but not least let’s not forget who we do it for! Digitalization changes how we communicate and get in contact with each other. Digitalization is for us humans because it connects us humans. It shows: who creates connection is more successful with his business model. Obvious examples from the digitalized world are easy to find: Facebook and LinkedIn, who create direct connections between people. But also Google can join the reign, after all the company connects people with information emittents, every time, everywhere. Amazon connects clients with retailers – also every time and everywhere.

So How Do We Solve This Now? 

In the end it is this change in values that drives the digitalization, not a change in methods. Due to the digitalization the world is becoming more innovative, faster, more complex, more contradictory. Tthis change cannot be met only with technical solutions. The digital transformation alone will not be sufficient to really lead us into a properly digital future. We made it to the starting point. But digitalization is no sprint, it is a marathon. And there is no book full of methods to tell us how long this route will be and what it will look like! The one who is aware of that is on the right track. And for those the recent remote work wave can be a good starting point into the future.

But we must not forget: The pandemic made us live in an intensified reality that we view with a sharpened consciousness. Everything became more extreme, positive and negative. While there are people who do not know what to do with their time, because they just lost their job there are others who do not know how to deal with their lives, looking at all the additional work. Who could judge them after the fifth additional video call that could have been a word on the office wings? Every one of us fights with our own insecurities the situation tends to bring with it.

There to Stay

After all that is said and done you should not fall to the conclusion that the rest of the digitalization will come upon us just as the first baby steps did. It will not be as easy as finding the path to the starting line. And you should not think this is just our emergency or transition plan. The way into the digital future of a company needs a proper planning and long-term support. And the investment in this proper planning will pay off, now more than ever. Putting a patchwork quilt over the hole to get over a crisis will not stand the test of time. We are finding our new reality. The digitalization will be a part of it and it will not go away. It came to stay long ago. But we have the choice to use the recent energy. We can test our ways and make the right decisions for the future now and set our digitalization on solid and future-proof ground.