European Trade Fair for Machine Technology, Equipment and Supplies for the Wood Crafts

19 - 22 March 2024 // Nuremberg, Germany


Entrepreneurs in the skilled crafts sector need this knowledge for self-determined digitisation!

© G+F Verlags- und Beratungs- GmbH

Knowledge has always been a future factor in the skilled crafts sector! Those who have access to profound knowledge gain a fundamental advantage: they can make fact-based decisions and act in a targeted manner!

Especially in the digitalisation of business processes, knowledge plays an enormous role: What is it actually about? What is important? How can I convince my employees? How do I benefit from access to vast amounts of data and project knowledge in the cloud that can be accessed at any time? How do I implement digitalisation in practice? And who can support me in case of doubt?

We asked Heiko Fischer and Klaus Teßmann from the knowledge platform DIGITALISATION PRACTICALLY DESIGNED (in german).

Mr Teßmann, when do we actually talk about digitalisation?

Klaus Teßmann: That's a great introductory question. Over the last few years, I have met numerous digital pioneers from the skilled crafts sector who have filled the term "digitalisation" with life in an impressive way. These companies have shown amazing innovation potential.

Scaffolders have become drone pilots, interior designers have become marketing experts and carpenters have become software developers. We have been supporting the trades for many years now. And it has always been our message that digitalisation is more than just optimising organisational systems and workflows.

Digitisation means making your own business better through the use of internet-based technologies. Our digital pioneers have proven that every area of a craft business can be optimised through digitalisation, from productivity to work culture, customers to corporate strategy and business model.

Mr Fischer, how do I plan concrete digitisation measures, where do I start?

Heiko Fischer: First of all, I have to know where I stand. And I have to understand my processes. So it always starts with an analysis of my CURRENT state. Without knowing where I start, the foundation for all further considerations and the resulting measures is missing.

What is the importance or benefits of networking the entrepreneur with industry colleagues, entrepreneurial networks or digitalisation experts?

Heiko Fischer: From my point of view, it offers decisive advantages - because it allows you to learn from your colleagues, get ideas and avoid mistakes. The motto is: "From the craftsman for the craftsman".

Mr Teßmann, what information does the entrepreneur need before he starts to "convert" his day-to-day craft work from "traditional" to "digital"?

Klaus Teßmann: If you don't know your own starting point, you will always have difficulties defining a goal and a way to get there. Simply put: without a plan, most digitisation projects in the skilled crafts sector end in a dead end at best. Unfortunately, this is a sad reality that we often experience first-hand.

That means: a plan is needed. And a good plan includes determining my current status, defining the desired target status, the right priorities, a well-developed schedule and a smart implementation strategy. And I have to find out which technologies and software solutions are best suited for my business.

All this does not happen or emerge overnight. Impatience is out of place when starting your own digitisation. And if I don't really know where to start: There are great information and advisory services available today that can help me.

Mr Fischer, how do you design the transition period?

Heiko Fischer: If I follow the procedure just described, the question arises whether there is a transition period at all. If a project is planned, for example the introduction of a new craftsmen's software, at the beginning only a very small number of employees should work in parallel with the new system, check it for weaknesses and have them eliminated by the provider. Afterwards, depending on the size of the company, we recommend successively training individual employees or teams and then converting them. This keeps the transition period very short.

How important is it to dispel employees' fears and concerns - and how can that be done?

Heiko Fischer: That is one of the biggest challenges: to have your own employees "on board" with far-reaching changes. If you don't do that, digitisation projects can quickly fail.

From my experience, you have to explain to your employees the meaning of the change and the advantages for their work and for the whole company. You can also take time for this and do several rounds of talks and presentations. In the example of the mobile fitter, it has proven successful that either the boss or someone from the IT service provider, for example, spends some time on the construction site and shows what has to be entered where and when.

Mr Teßmann, should employees be able to evaluate what is going well digitally - and what is not? With what consequences for the digitisation measures in the company?

Klaus Teßmann: Digitisation is also always a question of mindset and not a purely technical development. It goes hand in hand with a social component in society that changes the way we think and live.

For example, the expectations of young people with regard to their employer of choice have changed greatly: Sustainability. Fun. Personal responsibility. Cooperative working. Innovation. These are important elements that a modern craft business must have in order to be attractive to young people.

This also includes that the boss asks the employees for their opinion on relevant topics and lets this flow into decisions. Most of the time, one's own team also has very valuable things to say. This is a source of information that should not be ignored. How the information gained is then integrated into the overall process must of course be decided by the boss.

Mr Fischer, how can the entrepreneur concretely incorporate the experience of his employees in dealing with digital tools and ways of working into the progress of digitisation?

Heiko Fischer: This approach is ideal if there is at least one employee in the workforce who is enthusiastic about the topic and open to it. Recommendation: Consider including this employee in your considerations and schedule him or her as a coach for the rest of the staff when familiarising them with the new digital tools. This is much better than having it done by external consultants, for example.

Mr. Teßmann, to what extent are digital working methods an argument that entrepreneurs can use to successfully promote their company on the labour market? 

Klaus Teßmann: Innovative work already has a very positive effect on customers. At least that is what the Digibarometer Handwerk, a very good study on the building and finishing trades from 2020, says.

Of course, smartly developed and implemented digital ways of working also have a very good effect on young people and modern skilled workers. As a rule, they make work much easier, more innovative and less stressful. That goes down well when looking for employees.

Mr Fischer, what are the most important criteria for assessing digital skills in applicants?

Heiko Fischer: You can't give a blanket answer to that. Every company has a different "digital maturity level" and thus the requirements for digital skills are also different. However, if the applicant does not know how to use a smartphone and tablet, I would seriously think about whether he or she would fit into our company.

Mr Teßmann, why (and how) can every craft enterprise benefit from cloud services, regardless of sector, trade and size?

Klaus Teßmann: Classic software solutions are usually tied to expensive server structures in the company. These have to be bought for a lot of money, maintained and updated from time to time. Yes, the data on servers are in-house. But this does not make them more secure.

An on-premise server in a craft business can never compete with a good and certified data centre in terms of data security. And as far as data protection is concerned, there are numerous DSGVO-compliant cloud solutions available today.

Modern software should come from the cloud. It's more secure, more flexible, simpler and usually much cheaper. Nevertheless, one must realistically say: it is not yet always and everywhere possible, especially in the area of classic craftsmen's software.

How important is it for the business of a craft enterprise to offer digital services itself? Can you give examples?

Klaus Teßmann: It has to fit. For the company and for the trade. If a crafts business wants to move forward here, then it will certainly be worthwhile for them. There are many possibilities.

For example, the online scheduling of appointments or the maintenance form that can be filled out online. Or the predictive maintenance and the intelligent service app with camera function for the plumbing, heating and air conditioning trades. Or the legally compliant scaffolding inspection using drone technology. Or a virtual tour of the new bathroom using VR glasses. And, of course, it is also a testament to the innovative capacity of the trade when small repairs can be paid for directly by the customer using a debit card.

Mr Fischer, customer service is of course also a matter for employees. Why should and how can a crafts business ensure that its employees also support and internalise the service orientation digitally?

Heiko Fischer: First of all, the prerequisites must be created in the company. By this I mean that the customer service employee or fitter is equipped with a tablet and the corresponding software connection. If the company stipulates it, then it will have to be carried by the employee.

Especially in the case of maintenance and small repairs, it definitely makes sense to map the commercial process via a mobile device. The solution should also offer the possibility for the customer to sign on the mobile device - in this case usually a tablet. And the highlight would then be the possibility of immediate payment via EC card, credit card or a payment service such as PayPal.

Mr Teßmann: How does an entrepreneur find out which (digital) future technologies make sense for his business?

Klaus Teßmann: Craftsmen are extremely innovative by nature and find exciting solutions for almost all everyday problems. Inspiration and good input on existing future technologies and possibilities can be found, for example, at the advisors for information and technology of the chambers of crafts, BIT for short.

But you can also get excellent information on knowledge platforms such as forum handwerk digital or our in-house platform "Digitalisation Praktisch Gestalten". Generally speaking, the exchange with others is very important. This works particularly well at relevant events such as craftsmen's bar camps, trade fairs and the like.

How can I acquire relevant future technologies for myself and my business?

Klaus Teßmann: Definitely methodically and purposefully. Of course, you can deal with the topic of innovations and future technologies at any time. Even if there is no special reason. Simply because it is fun and keeps your mind open. But you also have to have the necessary time. If you have a rather tight schedule, then the solution to a problem should always be at the centre of my considerations. Either this problem is in my company and blocks my work efficiency or it occurs with a certain target group that is interesting for me and I want to offer this target group a solution to their problem.

Either way, the problem should first be analysed and then a concept should be developed on how the corresponding future technology or innovation can solve this problem. Methods and tools such as the CANVAS business model, design thinking or the SWOT analysis help here. And finally, of course, a cost-benefit calculation should be made that takes all relevant aspects into account.  

When does it make sense to bring in outside knowledge on the topic of digitalisation?

Klaus Teßmann: Always. It has been proven that the most successful companies are those that are in a regular and fruitful exchange with their environment. There are various ways of shaping this exchange.

First of all, one can and should always and regularly exchange ideas with like-minded fellow craftsmen. The next step would be to take advantage of all the free advice that the market offers in this area.

And if essential questions still remain unanswered or if one needs intensive process support or coaching at one point or another, one can seek the help of a good and renowned consultant who is well versed both in the field of technology and in the requirements of the craft.

Mr Fischer: Where can I obtain the knowledge for the targeted approach to implementing digitisation measures in general - and future technologies in particular?

Heiko Fischer: Using the internet with a portion of openness and curiosity and searching there is one possibility. There are a lot of events organised by organisations, associations and various manufacturers that also hold bar camps for craftsmen. Many future technologies are shown and discussed there. In addition, there are many start-ups around the craft sector - every entrepreneur can also draw inspiration from these.

Mr Fischer, Mr Teßmann, thank you very much for these interesting insights!

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