Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Forum at WHU
As part of the SME Forum event series sponsored by WHU and Koblenz Chamber of Industry and Commerce [IHK], on November 11 the second Afternoon for Businesspersons for 2015 was held at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. Under the motto "Production and Service – How WHU Graduates Successfully Contribute to the Digital Transformation of Value Creation in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises," representatives of the regional economy, experts from academia and the field and WHU alumni met to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the digital transformation presents to SMEs.
Digitization occupies increasingly large segments of our private and professional lives. This makes the topic of "Digital Transformation of Value Creation" increasingly important for small and medium-sized enterprises as well. Many public discussions involve cross-cutting issues, such as big data, information security and privacy, Industry 4.0, the smart factory as well as cloud computing.
To date, only rarely does a sense emerge of how, both today and particularly in the future, small and medium-sized enterprises enact these transformation processes as a practical matter, and how these transformations will affect the business models involved. At the SME Forum, young entrepreneurs – all WHU graduates and all working in the family business today – drew on experience with their companies and the concepts realized in a variety of industries to show concrete ways of tapping the potentials of digitization in the future to successfully work the market in the face of constantly evolving technologies.
After welcoming remarks by Ralf Lawaczeck of IHK Koblenz, Professor Dr. Thomas Fischer, holder of the Chair of Business Information Science and Information Management at WHU, offered introductory comments and stressed the unstoppable nature of digitization. Technological development, Fischer observed, penetrates all processes of value creation, and it alters society in the process. He advised the entrepreneurs in attendance to be open to innovation, to learn from the competition and to actively involve customers in innovation processes.
As the first speaker of the afternoon, alumna Julia Kasper introduced her company, "holzgespür." Having grown up around her father's carpentry shop, while still a student at WHU, Kasper developed the business plan for her start-up project, an online platform for individual, custom-made furniture made using high-quality local woods. If a person orders, say, a table from "holzgespür," he or she can design it online using a 3D designer developed specifically for the company. Kasper documents the production process with a camera, giving buyers an opportunity, through video, to share in the process that extends from the tree to the table. This is how Kasper not only intends to get her father's carpenter's workshop in shape for the future but also to offer a digital platform to other woodworking operations in the future as well. "Changes are quiet, fast and lasting," she explained, advising attendees to prepare for change as early as possible.
Alumna Milen Volkmar is active as an entrepreneur in her own family business as well. When her father founded the IT provider "Q-SOFT" in 1990, digitization and big data were still a long way away. Volkmar now devotes herself to developing and networking a digital assistant system, the "Q/M/S mediasystem", which is designed to help particularly the elderly lead independent lives in their own homes. The modular and cross-platform operating system can be connected to the TV in any home with Internet access and offers features such as a pill alarm, calendar function, or an automatic status query to permit age-friendly living within the scope of AAL (Ambient Assisted Living). Current concerns for Volkmar include the lack of networking and cooperation among the different stakeholders in the AAL market.
At the end of the afternoon, alumnus Dr. Christian Coppeneur-Gülz offered an insight into his company, "WWM Live Marketing Solutions." Originally established by his father in 1977 as a trade-fair construction company under the name "Werbewerkstätten Monschau," at the end of the last decade the company faced the challenge of remaining viable in the trade-fair construction sector, an industry shrinking thanks to globalization and the Internet. Coppeneur-Gülz ran an experiment and took on the task of digitization of live marketing. First, he digitized all of his customers' individual graphics, printed materials and promotional products, and then he virtualized their trade-fair stands. Today, among other things, his company has the capability of delivering complete fair stands, built with precise quantities of pre-ordered materials, in just 48 hours.
Concluding the SME Forum, Professor Dr. Fischer presented the ongoing research of his research assistant, Melinda Jiang. Within the framework of her doctoral thesis, Jiang is developing an approach to assess the current state of digital development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and to promote their individual digital transformation. Her offer to collaborate with the entrepreneurs on hand for the Forum was received with keen interest.
The goal of the SME Forum at WHU is to offer small and medium-sized companies, particularly companies from the region that is home to WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, qualified information about the latest scientific findings. Through regular events in cooperation with IHK Koblenz, the SME Forum seeks to make a significant contribution to the economic and innovative power of companies while promoting knowledge transfer between researchers and the business community.