“Digital fitness in business is a marathon, not a sprint”

The pressure to digitize on Swiss companies is growing. But many Swiss SMEs do not even know how digital they are. Especially compared to the competition. Only one thing is clear: they are usually not at the forefront, despite the will. Stephan Bischof, CSO at René Faigle AG, knows what is missing are visions and a realistic, implementable strategy.

What does digital fitness mean?

Stephan Bischof: Being and staying digitally fit means that companies must always be on the ball. The requirements of employees, customers, suppliers and legislation are constantly changing. All SMEs must be digital by 1 September 2023 to comply with the legal requirements of the revised Data Protection Act. The concept of fitness is no coincidence – if you do nothing, you lose it. Digital fitness in the company is a marathon, not a sprint. The goal is always to be on the cutting edge. It can be challenging, but the comparative advantage that comes with it is crucial to the fight. Because Swiss SMEs stand for the high quality of their services, products and solutions.

Why are many companies still at the beginning of the digitization process?

When it comes to digitization, Swiss SMEs are not among the avant-garde. This is in no way meant in a negative way. They relied on proven processes, and digitization was simply not necessary. In this country, the focus is on satisfying the needs of customers and the market – that is why Switzerland is such an innovative country. Increased internal efficiency was subordinate to this goal. But the pandemic has radically changed the way many companies work from one day to the next. And the companies realized that they have to act now. Digitization is no longer a matter of wanting, but a matter of having to. We’re talking about a “wildfire” here.

What effects can companies expect that are not digitized?

Anyone who does not begin to digitize processes and become more efficient must expect serious consequences. On the one hand, competitiveness suffers because competition simply works more effectively. On the other hand, they are less attractive to employees: For example, hybrid work models are state of the art today – but you first need a digital environment that makes such models possible. And that includes all business areas.

Why all business areas?

So far, companies have concentrated their digitization efforts on individual productive business areas. However, as the way we work has changed overall – not only internally, but also with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders – companies must take all business areas into account.

How do companies find out where they stand in relation to digitalisation in relation to competitors?

There are two starting points. First the inner vision. This includes, for example, whether all employees can access all the data they need. External indicators that competition is better placed digitally are, on the one hand, difficulties in recruiting new employees. On the other hand, the backlog is reflected in a sales loss, as certain customers can no longer be picked up. However, this is a gradual process that is not immediately noticeable.

In what areas is it best for companies to start digitizing?

This is individual for each company. However, what you should try to avoid is to start too many projects at once. This leads to an innovation lag and to frustration. Instead, companies should start where digitization promises the greatest efficiency gains. This motivates employees to see how the optimizations affect their everyday lives. A classic is the physical archive: For many employees, going to the archive every day is crucial. Imagine how much time companies can save by digitizing this archive!

What tools are used?

In our case, we perform a systematic process analysis with our customers. It enables us to assess the digitalisation status of companies very accurately and where we can support them. Since we know what is state of the art today, it allows us to compare it with the competition. Based on the analysis, we can derive concrete measures to make companies digitally fit. Our own system, M-Files, is a means to an end. It is important to us that these measures can be implemented with a healthy cost ratio. As a starting point, we do not offer luxury solutions – we are realists.

What if the necessary know-how is missing?

Lack of know-how is not the problem. Instead, it’s about companies realizing they need to work on their digital fitness. Depending on the organization and structure of a company, this insight is not obvious. And if companies then lack the know-how to implement digital projects independently, our experts can close this gap – whether it is accounting, archiving or project management. What companies need is insight, will and the necessary resources – we take care of the rest.

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