Digital Minds: Stefanie Waschk
Stefanie Waschk is responsible for Project Management at Engage.NRW – a project by Mülheim & Business GmbH and Wirtschaftsförderung metropoleruhr GmbH.
To what extent has the digital agenda and digital transformation already arrived in medium-sized businesses in Germany, especially in the construction industry?
There are plenty of companies that recognize the importance of digitalization, and the opportunities it brings, but we have established that digitalization is still not playing a major role for the majority of medium-sized companies. Some companies see the potential for innovation and want change, but need reliable expertise and support. Others don’t recognize the potential of digitalization, and are underestimating the risk of waiting as well as overestimating their own market position. Some construction companies feel that their products cannot be digitalized. It would be wrong to think that digitalization only affects industries where goods can be made digitally available e.g. books. New digital opportunities, such as 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, process optimization and automization, and interactive staff training are opening up completely new potential and opportunities to increase efficiency.
Es ist falsch zu denken, Digitalisierung beträfe nur Branchen, deren Güter digital zur Verfügung gestellt werden können wie z.B. Bücher. Neue digitale Möglichkeiten, wie z.B. 3D-Druck, Virtual- und Augmented-Reality, Optimierung und Automatisierung von Prozessen und interaktive Schulungen von Fachkräften, eröffnen völlig neue Perspektiven und Möglichkeiten der Effizienzsteigerung.
What risks do you see with regards to national and international competition if companies miss the boat?
With regards to potential, we see lots of opportunities that are introduced by digitalization to become active supra-regionally and internationally, and most of all, to be or remain competitive.
This is mostly because efficiency is increased and, therefore, costs are decreased and implementation times are considerably reduced. Employees can be motivated and involved anew. Products and services can be adapted to suit individual client wishes. All of this creates a relevant competitive benefit and will make clients loyal in the long term. If a company is prepared, they do not need to be afraid of competitors turning up out of the blue with streamlined process, agile methods and the same business model.
How would you explain the skepticism about digital process optimization such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the construction industry?
Digitalization is a far-reaching strategic change that affects every part of a company, from the business model to individual work processes i.e. it is a management task, not an IT task.
Many construction companies with processes that have been practiced the same way for many years find it difficult to approach new topics and to change and develop processes that have been successful up to now. Successful change starts with a strategy and ends with operational implementation. This involves not only the rejection of established processes, but also the internal allocation of completely new roles and tasks.
In addition, digitalization requires speed, as technology cycles are getting shorter and allowing less and less room for change. This kind of change isn’t easy in ongoing operation.
How is Engage.NRW dealing with this skepticism and supporting companies stepping into the digital world?
A lot of explanation is still required. We use plenty of existing practical examples so companies can better understand the possible applications. We advise companies that haven’t yet recognized the importance of digitalization on how their own company can benefit. We also support companies that already have an idea for a project. Together, we consider potential applications and recommend developer teams that would suit the project. If required, we can also guide the company through implementation.
Engage.NRW is supported by the EU and the state of North Rhine Westphalia, so support is non-obligation and free of charge for the companies. This neutrality is one reason that companies appreciate our services.
Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with a company from the construction industry?
There has been an increase in requests, e.g. for augmented reality solutions that allow you to visualize plans and processes on the construction site, or to experience buildings using virtual reality before they’ve even been built.
The University of Duisburg-Essen and The University of Bochum are currently developing cable robots that can already precisely stack stone in their first stage of development. Although this may sound banal, it’s a huge step towards faster construction while maintaining safety and quality. These robots will even be able to handle conventional building materials available from a standard industry materials supplier. So, there is already a lot of interest from the construction industry.
The Schultheiß company developed a modular software solution for the construction industry, which manages all project requirements from CRM, land purchase and logistics right through to the key hand-over. In the future, supply chain management should also be transparent, in real-time and authenticated, and gamification should be used to further develop software efficiency. These projects will show what digitalization can do for companies in the construction industry.