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Both young and well-established enterprises try to identify and exploit the potential that digital technologies offer. The tenth anniversary of the conference “Bridging the Gap” and the subsequent FORUM of the Elite Network of Bavaria provided a platform for 300 guests and fascinating speakers to approach the topic of “Unlimited Digitalization – a journey with opportunities and challenges” in the Munich Residence. Both events were mostly organised by the final year of the elite graduate program “Finance & Information Management”.

According to the attending speakers, digitalization is not only the increased use of technology, but also a broad concept that changes and creates completely new business models. At “Bridging the Gap X” this issue was highlighted from different points of view. Today’s society, for example, cannot be imagined without smartphones. Many new start-ups recognise this trend as an opportunity and try to innovate in new markets. However, bigger and established companies as well as medium-sized enterprises also address this topic and rethink their traditional business models.

Digitalization is on the political agenda

A political introduction to the subject was given by Günther Oettinger, the EU commissioner for Digital Economy & Society. He addressed the importance of multi-disciplinary education and individual advancement in the context of digitalization. Therefore, he welcomed the excellent education in Business & Information Systems Engineering and Business Administration of the elite graduate program “Finance & Information Management”. Afterwards Franz Josef Pschierer, the Bavarian Secretary of State for Economy and Media, Energy and Technology, gave an insight into the government’s efforts to strengthen the Bavarian economy’s role as digital pioneer and outlined the goals for the coming years.

Virtual and real world converge

Dr. Martin Petry, CIO of Hilti, gave proof of the fact that digitalization is equally important for politics as for companies. Leading into speeches from representatives of business and practice, he exemplified how digitalization affects the product portfolio of a company in the field of construction site equipment. One example would be that in the future Hiliti could constantly monitor the professional tools and if necessary repair them on site, even before the damage occurs. In his speech, Gerhard Fohringer, Head of Digitalization at Siemens, also outlined the path towards intelligent machines, which has been substantially driven by the innovation capacity of Siemens. He also addressed the increasing convergence of virtual and real world, which will foster its importance in the future of production.

Data as currency of the future

Nowadays data is being collected in nearly all areas of life and analyzed with increasingly capable algorithms to contribute to the decision making process within businesses. Hereby the variety of data is a major challenge to humans and computers. The new ways of handling data have major impacts on the financial industry, but also allow for new possibilities such as identifying customer needs more precisely. Thomas Lechte, Partner at KPMG Wirtschaftsprüfungsgesellschaft AG, illustrated his view on digitalization from the perspective of the Financial Services division. He proposed the hypothesis that due to the rising data volume, the abilities of linking and reducing data to the crucial aspects has to be improved. From his point of view, only an integrated observation across different sources of data can enable a profound and clear decision. The skillful analysis of existing data also includes the potential to achieve lasting improvement of the innovation process. Dr. Sebastian Schömann, Principal at A.T. Kearney, especially pointed to the ability of creating functioning prototypes from initial ideas within short time.

New distribution opportunities and business models by digitalization

Dr. Klaus Driever, head of digital sales for Allianz Deutschland AG, illustrated that in the age of digitalization the marketing of insurances will also follow new paths. In the past, customers were visiting a branch to get informed about insurance products and to conclude a contract; today one click is all it takes. An app enables clients to contract insurances at any time and from any location or – when required – to directly contact the personal advisor.

Start-ups accomplish to create new business models by innovative ideas. An example is IDnow. This young company has identified that the Postident process is time-consuming and could be conducted online. One of the founders, Fabian Lindner, describes how IDnow provides personal identification and the possibility of signing contracts digitally. IDnow offers companies and institutions an innovative and platform-independent solution for a secured and legally binding conclusion of contracts with clients without any media discontinuity. In the next speech, Johannes Martens depicted how he and his team from ThinxNet make connected cars already possible today. With their solution users cannot only save two cents per liter fuel, but particularly can get information about driving characteristics and the state of the car conveniently by their smartphones. This works with a standardized adapter for the legally prescribed ODB II connection, which is currently provided to the clients free of charge and which turns the car into a ’smart thing‘.

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Employees are the key to success

“Bridging the Gap X” concluded with a panel discussion where representatives of start-ups, consulting and industrial companies were sharing their experiences. Prof. Dr. Krcmar, Chair for Information Systems at the TU Munich and promoter of digitalization, moderated the discussion between Johannes Martens (ThinxNet), Fabian Lindner (IDnow), Dr. Sebastian Schömann (A.T. Kearney) and Dr. Klaus Driever (Allianz Deutschland AG). In answer to the question how to make the best out of the potential of digitalization, the panel concluded that among other things the mentality of the employees in the company plays a decisive role. Particularly, this is a matter of balancing between established processes and free space for creativeness.

Surfing ahead of the „digital wave“

Organized by FIM students, the tenth anniversary of the conference took place along with the Elite Network Bavaria (ENB) FORUM. The latter is organized every half year alternately by different Elite Network graduate programs. The speakers of the ENB FORUM combined an economic and an academic perspective of digitalization. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. August-Wilhelm Scheer is one of the fathers of Business & Information Systems Engineering. He spoke about his impressive life’s work and shared his experience starting from his doctorate to the foundation of his successful companies. He made it clear to the audience that it always requires self-assertion to implement new ideas. For instance, together with SAP, he invented the concept of ARIS which – back then – was a revolutionary method for visualizing business processes. In the following, Prof. Dieter Kempf discussed whether digitalization is purely an issue for big companies. As chairman of the DATEV eG and former BITKOM president he is particularly familiar with the IT sector. In his opinion, digitalization will also shape small and medium-sized enterprises. Among his many examples was an online shop that used 3D printing to let customers design their own jewelry. He finally recommended students to actively participate in digitalization, thereby surfing ahead of the „digital wave“.

After the presentations, both speakers joined Prof. Dr. Hans Ulrich Buhl in an open discussion with the audience. They raised a number of topics, from the implications of digitalization on the labor market in the form of changing job profiles to automatic driving. „If you can’t beat them, join them“, was the key message the three experts in Business & Information Systems Engineering agreed on. Therefore, to comprehend change as the status quo and to shape it actively are, together with an interdisciplinary education, ideal conditions to welcome digitalization as a chance. Yet, regardless of all opportunities, one should not turn a blind eye to the moral perspective of digitalization. Regulation cannot keep up with the fast development of digital technology. And not everything that is possible today, is also necessary and appropriate.

At the final conference dinner in the “Theatinergang” of the Munich Residence, attendees and speakers were given time to make new contacts and have stimulating conversations in a relaxed atmosphere. We would like to thank all our guests for contributing to this great event and the Elite Network Bavaria for the successful collaboration. We look forward to welcoming you next year again!

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