101: Digital transformation from the perspective of a tech company! - With Vittorio Emmermann
Digital transformation is one of the hottest topics these days, and so many businesses from many industries are digitizing their services or products. We’re all witnesses of digitalization happening all around us, but in this interview, the founder and CEO of the cierra, Vittorio Emmermann, explains to us from the professional side, how day to day work looks like in one German tech company, and what interesting challenges this industry is facing.
What digital transformation really means for businesses, and why is it so important? What does the startup scene look like? How to start? - These are just a few of many topics that we are covering in this interview.
Vittorio, can you explain what you do within the context of cierra, and the topic of digital transformation we are discussing today?
As founder and CEO of cierra, my allday-work is an excellent mix between the usual digital paperwork, social aspects in my role as leader of the fantastic teams, and interesting tech stuff when I have time to help out in projects as a developer. One of the greatest things in my job is that I can talk to so many people in so many different branches and countries and learn various things from so many other companies. In my job, I'm an all-rounder, and that's what makes it so enjoyable: I'm doing sales when acquiring new partners, I collaborate with the marketing team to present our company to the world, I manage the finances of the company with the accounting team, the Projectmanagement Department needs to be supported and coordinated, the HR is also still a part of my job and even the management of all other departments like design and development are part of my work. You can see: It's a nice mix between almost everything we offer at cierra. One day I discuss contract templates with our controlling team, and the other day I can help designers create a fantastic UX for a new project or support the DevOps team in creating stable infrastructure.
Digital transformation is a ‘hot term’, but often seems to cause confusion. Can you tell us what it means in simple terms?
Digital transformation is something that is happening to us at the moment in almost every type of business. Companies are getting more digital, and customers expect more digital solutions, and the business world is “transforming” into digital. So, in short: It’s a term for the transformation the world is making at the moment.
Why is digital transformation so important for businesses?
When talking about digital transformation regarding a single company, I would say the most important reason is to keep up with the ongoing changes in the world of digital media and changing habits of users at B2C as well as at B2B businesses. Digital transformation does not just affect businesses but also consumers, users, and society in general. Let’s use the term “user” for companies doing business with each other as well as for consumers in B2C markets. Users are expecting an easy flow of information, easy checkouts, and intuitive communication interfaces between them and their service providers, suppliers, and shops they are visiting. Especially in Lockdown, almost everything went online. Today it’s more or less expected that if I order something online that the user wishes an intuitive way of interaction, instant delivery, or at least an instant response. Let’s give a simple example: Imagine you would need two days to deliver an eBook to your user. Your business will not stay alive in times of services like kindle or other eBook Stores. This is translatable to almost all other businesses. When a competitor offers an intuitive way for instantly providing products and services, your company will not be able to keep up with the growing expectations of the market’s users. At the moment, not all branches are digital, and not all users are expecting a fully digitalized journey. But the time will come that also businesses are going digital, which aren’t at the moment.
Besides helping companies to digitize their businesses, cierra is also focusing on start-ups. Why working with startups is important to cierra, and what approach you take towards businesses that are just starting their journey?
Startups are interesting in two different ways: On the one hand, we have the opportunity to join their companies as an investor and get more out of a deal than just a single project contract - a great long term partnership, and on the other hand, we have a different kind of business we do with them: We don’t have to stick to corporate identity, we can create it. We don’t have to stick to a given product or service; we can again create it with our partner. Also the startup as a company needs to be built up. I personally love it build-up things. To develop together with the founders of a startup an operating company is something completely different than building just a digital platform or product. We try to build up with the startups in general. We try to implement CRMs from minute number one, make everything measurable, and use modern digital practices to keep costs low at the beginning and make it scalable.
Also: Today’s startup is maybe the next Tesla of tomorrow: How great would it be to be part of something world-changing?
If businesses are aware of a need to digitally transform, why, in your opinion are so many organizations struggling to get going with business change?
Tricky question! I think there are a lot of possible answers. I would say one big issue is the fear of something new. When you go big steps, you can fall deeply, of course - so most companies are making small steps, one after the other. They don’t feel comfortable with changing big things. I hear so often “never stop a running system” and “it works like this for 40 years, why should I change something?”. The problem is: If you’re stopping your progress in terms of digitalization, then you’ll quickly be in a situation where it’s tricky to keep up with the current state of digitalization. I would also go further and predict that companies working analog in total will not survive the next five years - I mean complete analog businesses without any kind of digital infrastructure.
The second issue I see quite often is that digitalization is made by people who’re not experts in their business. The market is full of (marketing) agencies building customer portals in an unstable way because they think that they can make quick money with it. Also, the companies’ internal human resources are not educated in the digital world: You wouldn’t believe how many “Digitalization associates” I talked to, who cannot explain what an agile process is, docker is useful for, or what a UX Designer does… And of course you don’t have to know that, but then you shouldn’t lead the digitalization inside a company and should rather ask for support from external service providers, and that’s where our job starts.
Are there any particular examples of how you have helped your clients get going with digital transformation?
My most used example is the intec AG. In their business, everything can be digital. For more details here check out our case study. The intec AG now is the most digital company in the market they’re serving. You can create insurance online on their website in less than 5 minutes, for existing customers actually less than 1 minute. Before we’d start collaborating they’d have paper-contracts to fill out and send via post or fax.
What experience and expertise do you offer that can benefit our digital transformation initiatives?
At cierra we have the whole focus on digital platforms, apps, and measurement of our actions. We focus on the greatest opportunity the digital world can offer: the chance to measure everything. In addition to that, we have the expertise in-house regarding data privacy, which helps us to create secure apps and consult our customers in the right way. On top, we focus on the users. We’d learn that it’s not that important how many features an app does have, but it’s more than important that all features are good to use for the user. Cierra is also an AWS technology partner, all our current infrastructure is made with AWS in partnership, which’s of course a big chance for our customers to use that suite of their tools with our support in a secure, scalable and efficient way. As for the last point, I wanna mention something which is a kind of obvious, but mentionable: We’re working in so many different industries, and each branch does have its own special environment we have to interact with. This brings a lot of potential into a partnership with cierra. For example, we’d had it quite often, that when company A wanna offer something company B already offers, like for example when an online shop for petfood wanna offer insurance for dogs, we can just directly create this product with our clients without searching for the best partner here.
What is your approach to leading digital transformation?
Focus on good measurements, scalability, and start lean. You shouldn’t start a 12 months long project as the first step into the digital transformation. You have to start with small steps. The same logic is transferable to startups. Maybe again people would say “but this is obvious” - but it’s not, trust me. Even when a client says “Let’s start small, let’s do …..”, then the rest of the sentence is filling a whole 12 hours long meeting to just understand everything. So when you say “let’s start small”, then take the features and platforms you wanna have when you wanna start small and take half of it to start with. And there is no downside: You can directly after the first iteration starts with the next features, rolling releases are usual today! In all 2 weeks, you can release a new increment of your product with new features - but first of all, you should start something in general and not work on it over years. There are many reasons why we do it like this: Requirements are changing, needs are growing, technology changes, and way more.
Where should businesses start with digital transformation?
This totally depends on the kind of business you have. You should start defining your processes in your company in a nice and understandable way. Then you should analyze step by step these processes and search for time or resource blockers. But this is just a general hint. I think in general the most common first step of digitalization is marketing as well as sales. When you start inhouse-sales on the phone or video-calls you can serve a greater amount of customers and you save a lot of time because there is no need for driving a car or waiting at traffic lights. This is the most effective step you can take in most cases, also the effect is more or less instant visible for the decision-makers in the company. Also, our sales team is focussing on marketing departments because they’re in most cases the departments with the most potential for us and the best understanding of digitalization. I also saw a lot of companies with sales teams that are not coordinated under each other. Salesman 1 doesn’t know what salesman 2 does and also the in-house team doesn’t know exactly what the sales team is doing. Sales Teams are many times a kind of black boxes in companies we try to eliminate this black boxes as first. One of the best things about digitalization is the ability to measure almost everything - we should use this to optimize processes.
If there were some key pieces of advice you would give to a client before they embark on a major digital transformation project, what would it be?
Like I said in the previous question, the process documentation is great for companies like ours to create digital concepts. It’s important for us to understand the business in a short time. We’re experts in our business and our clients are the experts in their business. So we have to learn in a short period of time a lot about their customers, processes, and needs. This helps internal as well as external digitalization experts understanding and restructuring the processes.
If you would like to talk and get advice about digitizing your business, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +49 551 8 9999 000 for a free consultation.