How great are the effects of digitisation on skilled crafts?
10/25/2023 Experts Know-how HOLZ-HANDWERK

How great are the effects of digitisation on skilled crafts?

Digitised skilled crafts businesses communicate differently, plan differently, and work differently than non-digitised skilled crafts businesses.

Digitised skilled crafts businesses communicate differently, plan differently, and work differently than non-digitised skilled crafts businesses. Without a fundamental refurbishment of the IT infrastructure, which has often evolved over the course of many years, this is hardly possible – a situation that makes it difficult for many companies to get started and puts investments on hold.

Should it be PCs, servers and licensed software or smartphones, apps and cloud solutions – or a combination of all these? Interestingly enough, the question of what forms the basis for successful digitisation in skilled crafts companies and of how viable for the future or “old school” the different technologies are is still hotly debated among entrepreneurs.

And how is anyone supposed to find their way without technological expertise and appropriate information? Ultimately, the (still) well-filled diaries of so many skilled crafts entrepreneurs may be leading them to conclude: Digitisation? Don’t need it!

Is analogue working in skilled crafts doomed?

How important is digitisation? And are companies without digitisation destined to fail, as is so often prophesied? Gregor Müller, whose start-up Synatos developed “Das Programm fürs Handwerker” (the programme for craftspeople), says that this is “nonsense”.

In an interview with Handwerk Magazine, he explicitly emphasised the continuing importance of proper workflows and processes in companies. For digitisation to be effective, everyone has to know what needs to be done and cooperation has to be well-functioning. Then the potential of digital ways of working can be fully exploited to create a booster effect and added value for all the stakeholders, from the CEO and employees to the customers.

The technology from apps and cloud-based applications that is necessary for digitisation is just the machinery that makes it possible to acquire, store, and evaluate data at any time and from anywhere – whether manually or automatically – and to access the created, networked knowledge independently of time or place. This is totally different from pecking away at the keyboard after hours, entering worksheets, delivery notes, offers or purchase invoices.

What are the challenges of digitisation and networking?

According to a survey by the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) and the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM), digitisation is one of the greatest challenges for 64 percent of the companies surveyed.

A substantial majority consider the topic to be open (83 percent) and basically see it as an opportunity (77 percent). At the same time, high investment costs (71 percent), concerns about IT and data security (65 percent) and insufficient access to high-speed Internet are seen as drawbacks.
How well is the digital transformation being implemented so far?
Just over half of those surveyed (55 percent) say that digitisation ensures their company’s existence! But when it comes to taking proactive advantage of the associated opportunities, the situation is less brilliant: Only 30 percent also offer new products or services as a result of their digitisation.

On the other hand, the demands of skilled crafts customers have significantly changed. From 77 to 97 percent of companies know that today’s customers expect

  • A fast response
  • Fast product delivery
  • Offerings that are (more) customised
  • Top price quotations and
  • Constant accessibility and availability

However, only about 40 percent of companies are active on social media in an effort to meet these demands for visibility on the Internet, information, transparency, comprehensive service and fast communication. Only 27 percent are registered on a crowd-sourced review platform or use online platforms for ordering and scheduling.

What is holding digitisation back?

A specific problem cited by around 80 percent of entrepreneurs is the fact that the technologies available on the market are over-dimensioned. More than half (54 percent) also consider them to be too expensive.

Federal and state funding programmes should be of help here, but 97 percent of those surveyed find that applying for grant money involves too much bureaucracy. One consequence is that only 26 percent consistently use funding programmes for their digital transformation. BITKOM’s Managing Director Niklas Veltkamp has this to say: “Above all, it’s up to the skilled crafts companies themselves. Those who want to digitise have to get going.”

What is needed?
Skilled crafts companies need a cloud-based cockpit for their daily operations. This provides them with a constant, very easily obtained overview of the status of their orders and building sites. They also need this for the large amounts of information and documents – from the initial customer contact to the project handover, not to mention the archiving obligations.

The possibility of digital collaboration ensures that the project data that all participants need to access for their work is up to date. Digital construction files play a huge role, save a ton of work and make certain that important information can be retrieved – without having to conduct a long search.

Mobile payment systems for invoicing small orders directly on the customer’s premises simplify everyday work: Enter a report, issue the invoice on paper or digitally according to the customer’s wishes, collect the relevant amount in cash or via credit card or online banking. Ideally, the transaction is posted automatically. In-house receipts are digital so it’s no longer necessary for anyone to “touch” them.

What entrepreneurs absolutely need is technology service providers who offer easy-to-use, cloud-based solutions that are truly tailored to the skilled crafts sector as well as the required active support services if needed. The service providers also have to be actively interested in the requirements of their skilled crafts customers.

But the skilled crafts entrepreneurs themselves also need to accord this topic the importance it deserves. This means that they have to figure out what can be suitably digitised and what solutions are available for this purpose. Speaking to industry colleagues and IT service providers directly can provide inspiration and a broader perspective.

At FENSTERBAU FRONTALE + HOLZ-HANDWERK 2024, skilled crafts entrepreneurs and experts with different points of view and experiences discuss how (and whether) digitisation in the skilled crafts sector actually works, how necessary it is and how deeply it has penetrated companies. DAS ROTE SOFA: How profound is the effect of digitisation and connectivity on skilled crafts? Friday 22 March 2024 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

For information on the topics of all the practical interviews and discussions, including the times and information on the participants, consult the event schedule for the PRACTICAL GUIDE TO DIGITISATION Forum being held from 19 to 22 March 2024.


Portrait of Jasmin McNally

Jasmin McNally

Public Relations HOLZ-HANDWERK