You hear more and more in companies: “We need a digital mindset”. Great, another buzz word like New-Work, Agile structures… and what does that mean exactly? Do we all have to be able to program in the future, too, or does it simply mean a different basic attitude towards faster developments, changes in structures and processes in the company and digital processes?
While “classic” ERP systems tend to be as flexible as a railroad track, the requirement for today’s IT is to constantly adapt. Today’s IT developments will no longer be digital or automated enough tomorrow. The technologies of the future are difficult to grasp. Many can’t imagine anything under buzzwords like blockchain and AI.
Janine Lampprecht, Managing Director of Grenzlotsen, and Christian Schmidt, a sought-after speaker at business events for global trade management and technology, exchanged views on “Digital Mindset”. “Digital Mindset” is often described as the basic attitude towards new technologies, and the understanding that digitalized processes have an impact on our lives, work and communication.
Janine Lampprecht: Christian, what would you say “digital mindset” means to you, and what does a customs expert need for it?
Christian Schmidt: Especially on the path to optimization in the customs industry, a digital mindset is a prerequisite. The most important thing here is to deal with the topic of digitalization and to get involved with it. Confidence, belief in it and acceptance of the change that is already taking place are the crucial steps in developing a Digital Mindset. The development we are in right now, for example in industry, is leading to ever faster, automated and multifunctional products.
What do you mean by getting involved in that and believing in it? Does it have anything to do with motivation or with “putting aside” the typical worrier that we need in the customs world? For example, on the subject of artificial intelligence and classification: many people say that the subject of customs tariff classification is such a sovereign area that it requires human expertise… is that what you mean by “believing in it”?
Well, you actually have to ask yourself the question: Why shouldn’t we believe in it? What’s good about the way things have been, why shouldn’t things change? “It’s always been this way” or “it’s always been good” are statements that call for further development, both for organizations and for people. People work in processes and use tools like IT programs. What we used to write down with pen and pad was then typed on a typewriter and is now stored as a file on a PC. Ongoing processes and technologies must always be further developed, which inevitably means that we are becoming more and more digital. This also means that people in a company should always take a critical look at their fixed procedures and processes and adapt them.
So Digital Mindset also means that we humans need to work on our basic mindset of constantly reviewing and optimizing processes and workflows. In the past, definitions of processes were much more long-lived. Today, it is the case that today’s processes and habits will have to be rethought tomorrow. Or what do you think?
Yes, absolutely. The whole world has become more fast-paced. Business enterprises are characterized by this industrial way of thinking and acting. This “industrial mindset” that we have lived up to now is characterized by standardization. Managers always looked exactly at what their employees were doing, collaboration was different, people looked more at themselves, and the role of information was also completely different. If you now try to transfer this to the “digital mindset,” then today none of this is standard, but specific. Solutions tailored to customers now play a more important role. Whereas in the past we tended to deliver standards, today we take a close look at who my customers are and then find customized solutions.
The digital mindset is also about people, who should develop the right qualities. What skills do you think are currently lacking, and how can a company promote them among its employees? Do you think people simply need time or targeted training on digital business processes?
In our company, as an example, we focus on “People, Processes and Technologies” in the department. You need your tools of the trade, the so-called tools, then the workflows and processes, and of course the people who use these tools to carry out these workflows. These three components are very closely interlinked. For motivation, it would also be important to show people success stories where digitization has already been implemented. Only then can they start to believe in it. Ultimately, this is what creates the spirit of optimism, which others then follow and begin to take an interest in.
This point, that you show people success stories that have already taken place and thereby also show that it is possible, is very interesting. That’s how you motivate and inspire people for this topic.
Right. You can also find many topics outside your own field. Another important point is leading – across borders and beyond one’s own nose. There are already these case studies there. The trick is then to find the application for your own area of expertise. But there are – I don’t think there’s an industrial company today that doesn’t have a digitization initiative. If we’re honest, no one expects full automation. Even if it’s only 20 or 30 percent, it’s just that 30 percent that makes things easier. That, in turn, creates the freedom to deal more with this topic.
What is it like in your company? Do you have a time allotment or some kind of structure that you use to set this up? Personally, I always see the danger of getting bogged down with these digitization topics.
In fact, you can get bogged down very quickly. But it’s actually very important to digress for a moment and try to define the customs in 2050 for yourself, in which direction it can go. An essential part of digitization is when you also compare how other large companies or platforms have emerged or what has made them strong. These have focused on the essentials: are the things that have been implemented scalable? Can they be implemented quickly? As a rule, fast also always means error-prone, but it is precisely these errors that you have to allow. Because you can then analyze them and improve them.
Yes, I see it the same way. These little quick wins to motivate people. A so-called constant update!
Yes, that’s right. This permanent looking again, where can I go again. In companies there are many possibilities. You could form task forces, people come together, can exchange ideas, networks or communities emerge.
I completely agree with you there. But I also see the danger, especially with smaller companies, that you have to focus quite a bit in order not to exceed certain budgets or quotas that you’ve set for yourself. It’s incredibly difficult to find the right middle ground here.
Yes, I can understand that very well. Every company, whether large or small, has to find its own way and decide what it wants to focus on. You’ve already said the right thing about getting bogged down: You just have to be clear about what’s out there in the world, what can be out there, and where you see yourself. To do this, you need someone who can then break it down into small, manageable portions. In other words, the manager or the leader behind it is crucial in order to ultimately help implement all these things together.
Yes, it takes diversity in the team: on the one hand, the super organizational talents who may not be particularly creative, but can demand results. But it needs the creative and visionary ones just as much. In these projects, it really comes down to the composition of the teams and the diverse strengths and roles that have to come together.
Right. You should bring together the right people for each topic, but also not be afraid to change the team when necessary. Processes evolve, and so do people. You need visionaries who get lost in the future, but also those who catch them again and bring them back to reality. Then a real, constructive conversation can take place where you realize: This is the future and this is the reality, and these and those steps are needed to get to that future. You exchange ideas in the group and use the existing swarm intelligence to generate completely new ideas.
So Christian, what can you draw as a conclusion from our conversation?
Just do it! The departments should simply start to deal with the topic of digitization, and not put it on the back burner. If you want to play a role in shaping the future, you should jump on the bandwagon. Or you are in the comfortable situation of waiting, analyzing and using the mistakes of others, and then implementing the solution. In this case, however, you may have to catch up and may be at a disadvantage.