Are CEOs taking digitalisation seriously?

Could it be that CEOs are not taking the matter seriously? Many factors suggest this is not the case: Digitalisation was the dominant theme in the World Economic Forum in Davos both in 2015 and in 2016. And also at CEBIT. The Business Book of the Year in 2015 was the digitalisation classic THE SECOND MACHINE AGE2. And the German daily newspapers and weekly magazines are full of articles about Industrie 4.0, new 3D print technologies, current publications on big data and success stories about internet-based business models. And this leaves the CEOs cold? Despite the fact that 60% of all jobs in this country are said to be under threat?

Every industrial revolution has its media hype

One hundred years ago the press was euphoric about all the possible inventions that electrification would entail. Some of them were actually successful as ground-breaking innovations (fridges, washing machines, electric light), others flopped. Over the course of time people became rather tired of things always becoming better, bigger and more fantastic. Many charlatans then tried to make money with novelties (modernities) without any real substance.

Nowadays CEOs are besieged by hordes of consultancy companies all of whom offer digitalisation products. And what goes hand-in-hand with this hype is fear and threats: "If you don't act now, your company is going to…."

Hype, fear and threats do not impress CEOs very much

Many CEOs are tired of all this and are asking more and more critical questions about the substance of the digital transformation packages. Four example the book which is top of the list at Amazon on the subject is "Digitale Transformation: Warum die deutsche Wirtschaft gerade die digitale Zukunft verschläft und was jetzt getan werden muss!“  (Digital Transformation: Why the German Economy is sleepwalking through the digital future and what needs to be done now) by Tim Cole3.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper called the ex-journalist a digital evangelist. When you read the book it initially seems positive that he places the transformation of corporate culture in the foreground. But I was soon disappointed: Where has he ever introduced a new corporate culture? Which hurdles did he have to overcome? And what success has he achieved?

CEOs know how complex the transformation of a corporate culture is! It's easy to describe it and demand it. However, putting it into practice is hard! Many CEOs who we know are aware that they need to transform their corporate culture. But hype, fear and threat do not impress them very much.4


1 Brand eins; Die Welt der Zahlen, 6/2016, S.18

2 Brynjolfsson, Erik; McAfee, Andrew (2014): The Second Machine Age. Wie die nächste digitale Revolution unser aller Leben verändern wird. Plassen, Kulmbach

3 Tim Cole, Digitale Transformation: Warum die deutsche Wirtschaft gerade die digitale Zukunft verschläft und was jetzt getan werden muss! Vahlen,  2015

4 Geschwill, Roland & Nieswandt, Martina, Laterales Management, Das Erfolgsprinzip für Unternehmen im digitalen Zeitalter, Springer 2016