18. October 2022

Christoph Keese in conversation: Processes are only being digitalised instead of reformed

Christoph Keese in conversation: Processes are only being digitalised instead of reformed

Christoph Keese is one of the leading digitalisation experts, a sought-after speaker and one of the co-founders of the Financial Times Deutschland. He was also editor-in-chief of WELT am Sonntag and WELT Online. Christoph Keese recently published his new book „Life Changer – Future made in Germany: How modern inventiveness is changing our lives and saving the planet“ and is a partner and co-CEO of hy. In doing so, he accompanies renowned companies and government institutions on issues of digital transformation and technological innovation.

On 20. Oktober 2022 he is a guest keynote speaker at Amagno.Connect and shows in his talk why we need modern inventiveness and a new start-up culture to move Germany forward. In conversation with Amagno’s CEO Jens Büscher, the two talk about their Silicon Valley experiences, the new generation of employees and decision-makers, but also about agile companies and increasing mobility.

Jens Büscher: Let’s take a little jump and talk about mobile working again: As a digital company, the government’s abrupt home office requirement due to Corona didn’t hit us too hard. We have voluntarily given our employees the remote office option to date for their protection. The initial talks for a flexible return met with such strong opposition that we now allow remote office to every employee on a permanent basis. In general, however, such a move also equally means the end of offices or the turning away of home-based employees for discounted internationally working colleagues. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of this movement?

Christoph Keese: Wenn du es dann mit der Kultur noch hinbekommst… Verlängerte Werkbank geht immer, aber wer ist denn der Kulturträger des Unternehmens? Die Kultur ist ja dann das einzig Entscheidende. Was ist dann der USP? Es kann dann nur noch die Kultur sein, weil es keinen anderen USP mehr gibt. Und das kommodifiziert jede Form von Arbeit. Also ist die Kultur der einzig entscheidende Faktor. Das heißt nicht, dass sie nicht entstehen kann. The employees at the Outdoor App Komoot for example – regardless of Corona – have never worked together in one place. They all work at home and around the world. They have managed to create a culture and that is an impressive achievement.

At hy, an annual retreat for all staff has become established. It used to go for three days, but now we have extended it to five days. Three days with a programme and two days without. The time is always very intense and you can feel Social Fabric with your hands. Everyone who was there always feels it’s a hard stall to sit back at home and work from there. Although the feeling of the stall is there, what the alternative is remains completely unanswered and unresolved. You feel the stall, but somehow you still don’t want to come to the office so much and so you look forward to the next retreat. If this is the prevailing trend, there is little choice as a company but to have two or three such retreats per year. Then you look forward to the next retreat because of social wealth – and then working in a group feels like the summer holiday you have been looking forward to all year. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I hear from many companies that things usually go wrong when they try to force the return of their people. Once again, Elon Musk is the most radical. He sent an email to his staff saying: “40 hours in the office – and if you don’t show up, I’ll assume that you’ve resigned and won’t pay you any more salary. Musk won’t get away with that and it certainly won’t become the model. From what I hear and from my work on the BDA Digital Council, all companies are experimenting with some form of incentivisation to get people back into the office. With average success, but almost never with coercion.

Jens Büscher: The new generation of employees in particular is very allergic to coercion. This is more or less a result of the new form of education. We have a rejection of coercion. The more that is imposed, the more coercion there is, the higher the rejection. That cannot be the way to bring colleagues together. It has to come out of the persons themselves. So the formats have to be interesting enough to make them want to be there.

Christoph Keese: That is correct. You also have to make sure that the market reacts. Like the domiciliation market, for example. Let’s take Greece. Greece offers digital migrants an extremely reduced tax rate of 10 to 15 percent income tax. Individual islands in Greece have switched completely to solar energy and only drive electric cars. With their lucrative portfolios, they have therefore now positioned themselves as refuges for economic normads. So many workers decide to pull up stakes here and move there. In Greece there are German schools, light, air, beaches, super clean energy – and you only pay a third of the income tax.

Lisbon and Mallorca go in similar directions. You can reach most German destinations better from Mallorca than from Berlin because the airport is better connected and the flight connections to most parts of the world are better than in Berlin. Of course, it could be that this domiciliation market will eventually go wrong and in the end only the operational worker in Germany will be on site because he cannot accept the offer of the Greek islands due to his limited mobility. But of course nobody knows that in advance.

Manufacturing economies have always been built where there is energy. There is no economic cluster in the world that was not built around energy. In Germany, the problem is already that Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg simply don’t have the energy and the concentrated energy is in the north. There are already serious forecasts that assume that energy will migrate to the north. But if you now have windy areas that also have a lot of solar energy – as is the case with the Greek islands, for example – and the trend just described continues over the next 15 years, it cannot be ruled out that manufacturing will follow because the people are there. Then suddenly you have talent, workers, energy and low tax rates. If you can also enjoy good schools, democracy and a stable currency, then: why worry? That’s actually a pleasant future. If you are European and not so much a German patriot, it strengthens the European South. I’m not really worried about this development.

Jens Büscher: I have one last question before we come to the end: As a software solution for digital documents and processes, we were able to enable the administration of many companies in Pandemic to leave employees in their home offices. Pandemic is thus a strong accelerator of digitalisation in companies; digital processes, automated data capture, digital signatures to the end of a mailbox. Nevertheless, large parts of the administration and small and medium-sized businesses are still in the analogue Middle Ages. We saw at the beginning of the pandemic that companies sent their employees to the office with travel suitcases to get files out. In your opinion, what is the status of digitalisation in Germany in international comparison – also with a view to the economy? And why are digital technologies still not catching on here as a disruptor of paper?

Christoph Keese: A mixture of “business is going too well to really want to change anything”, strong conservatism and a too-early hook on digitalisation. When we digitise, we mostly digitise traditional processes. The Elster tax portal has digitised the tax questionnaire, but has not changed the process as such. It is often claimed that a process has been digitised. In reality, however, it has not been digitised, but simply lifted from paper to digital without fundamentally rethinking the process as such.

In my observation, most CEOs in Germany will admit that they are a bit slow with the digitalisation of their processes. However, many have now also gained ground, but mostly the existing processes have not been reformed, but simply digitised. That is why the word Digitisation not without danger either. I prefer to speak of Business model innovation oder Prozessinnovation than of digitisation, because I don’t want to make it so easy for people to say: “I also digitised because I switched from fax to e-mail”. That can’t have been the answer. And it’s the same with document management: simply scanning a document, OCRing it and then making it retrievable is one way. But the question you have to ask is why the document was actually still created. Our editor Sophie and I recently had Philipp Sandner in the podcast. Sandner is a professor for blockchain at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. He described very impressively in the podcast that he also observes again and again and suffers to some extent from the fact that no smart contracts are made. Ether is seen as a cryptocurrency and not as a smart contract currency. Most documents exist in the first place only because people don’t trade property titles on the Etherblockchain. The moment you do that, you can save the entire document. So the real disruption in document digitisation is not document digitisation, it’s managing property rights on Ether. That’s the real disruption. If we already have the feeling that we are a bit slow due to the digitisation of documents, then – according to Philipp Sandner – we can say that we are even slower when it comes to the transformation of value creation processes in blockchain-based ether technology. Because there we are really at the absolute beginning.

Jana Treptow
Jana loves writing and communication. That's why she is responsible for the editorial contributions and the maintenance of the blog. She is also the contact person for all press issues.

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