How digitization reaches the middle class

Too complicated, too expensive, too tedious – and the employees have more important tasks. The list of objections to actively promote the digital workplace in the company is long. And this despite the fact that an interactive work environment brings decisive competitive advantages. It is true that German SMEs are increasingly recognizing the relevance of digitization. However, the digitization of internal communication and cooperation necessary for long-term business success is often neglected.

It is not that the German middle class sleeps to adjust to the digital age. However, he is not quite awake yet. According to the “All for One Steeb” study “Digitalisierung im Mittelstand 2018”, more than 80 percent of SMEs already pursue a digitization strategy. But: Only 28.6 percent are already actively working on new business models.


Why is it that digitization is not yet fully completed in many SMEs? Experience shows that, in addition to the fear of high costs, it is above all the internal factors that hinder holistic digitization. In particular, the defensive behavior of executives, uncertainties about the benefits and long communication and decision-making are crucial obstacles.

Digitalization has to come from within

No wonder, because the reality often looks like this: Almost all companies are now – in digital media, for example – using mobile websites, apps or social media channels – better in digital communication with customers, partners and suppliers. Between external presentation and actual internal work environment, however, often creates a huge digital gap on. Digitalisation can only be designed to be holistic and successful if internal changes are made and employees no longer have to work in the Digital Stone Age.

Because only if they can network easily and directly via modern tools internally and work together with their colleagues, they are also able to initiate further digitization projects as well as react faster and more flexibly to changing market and customer requirements.

Digitization projects do not have to be expensive and time-consuming

Exactly this modern internal cooperation becomes possible, for example, via an interactive intranet platform. And the whole thing does not even have to be associated with high costs. In general, the costs associated with an intranet deployment are of course dependent on the size of the business and the number of licenses required. By default, however, such a modern intranet can be introduced for a company with 300 employees starting at 35,000 euros and within six months (including software licenses). It is specially tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses, supports modern forms of group communication and collaboration – and is ready to use from the first day.

However, it is always important: it is not enough simply to provide employees with this modern technological platform with social functions such as chat, newsfeed and virtual workspaces. At least as important is to anchor the concrete benefits of the intranet for everyday working life in the minds of employees.

Involvement of employees builds digital competence and fears

In the end, internal digitization can only be successful if it is also supported by the employees. Essential for this is that all employees really have appropriate communication and coaching measures – such as: B. Training and Trainings – be achieved. When introducing an intranet, for example, employees with no fixed PC workstation can be picked up with print products such as set cards. The maps then explain which tool should be used for which purpose and concrete examples of use illustrate the added value.

Acceptance for a new platform can be increased by three factors: brief explanatory videos, online training (“Where can I find what?”, “How do I properly populate my staff profile?”), Or setting up support communities. The latter provides feedback and exchange opportunities. This is particularly evident in the case of employees who are less digitally affine or who are not yet as competent in dealing with modern working tools.

Digital competence is not a question of age

Who actually has the most digital catching up to do? Other than you might think, it is not the older professionals. According to a recent Kantar EMNID survey commissioned by HIRSCHTEC, it is above all the age group of 40- to 49-year-olds who are often associated with lack of personal know-how (24 percent) or unclear regulations on the use of digital instruments (20 percent) feels impaired by internal communication and cooperation.

This suggests a great need for training and further education in dealing with innovative communication and collaboration technologies in this age group. Not insignificant when you consider that employees in this age group often hold senior management positions in companies. Especially for them it is important to have the necessary digital skills or to acquire them. This is the only way they can live up to their role as role models as “digital leaders”, digitally empower their employees, and decisively help drive internal digitalization.

From theory to practice: Modern intranets in the middle class

Where all this already succeeds and the internal communication and cooperation is successfully digitized, is shown by the examples of Stadtwerke Düren and RheinEnergie. In June 2017, Stadtwerke Düren, with the support of HIRSCHTEC, introduced a COYO4-based social intranet for 260 employees. Thanks to “Uschi” (short for “Our fast intranet”), employees can now access information and documents that are relevant to them across all locations and via mobile devices.

In addition, they can easily network via “Uschi”, which also facilitates social collaboration and group chats, and exchange views on topics relevant to their daily work. The result: Already today there are 130 work groups in the intranet of Stadtwerke Düren and also 12 help groups, in which employees answer questions like “How does the chat function work?” or “What do I have to look for when creating a workgroup?” change. Voting on photo competitions is now also taking place via USCHI.

RheinEnergie established a platform for the transparent working world in May 2017 with its “MingNet” (Cologne dialect for “MeinNetz”). Via “MingNet”, the 3,200 employees – with or without a PC workstation – should be able to network across locations and communicate with each other in a low-threshold manner and be able to work. Already in the first month there were 400 workspaces and 700 profile photos were uploaded by the users. As the leading medium of internal communication, MingNet today strengthens the digital collaboration of team and project groups and provides an open feedback culture.

The middle class has the right starting position

Stadtwerke Düren and RheinEnergie illustrate how internal digitalization can lay the foundations for successful, holistic digitalization in companies. Anyone who has short internal communication and decision-making channels can test out and implement other digitization projects more quickly and is prepared for the future. Especially medium-sized companies are often more flexible than corporations due to their structure. It is therefore important for mid-sized companies not to leave their opportunities unused and to perceive internal digitization as a central factor for its long-term business success.

Lutz Hirsch is the managing partner of HIRSCHTEC. In 2005, the physicist founded the Hamburg full-service intranet agency. HIRSCHTEC specializes in the digitization of internal communication and cooperation and, according to the BVDW ranking, is one of the top 5 intranet agencies in Germany. The customers of HIRSCHTEC include Deutsche Bahn, RTL, Air Liquide, FRoSTA and Weleda.

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