Digital transformation

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The digital transformation (also called "digital transformation") refers to a continuous, grounded in digital technologies change process, specially in economic terms business concerns. In the narrower sense, the change process within a company triggered by digital technologies or customer expectations based on them is often referred to as digital transformation.

The basis of the digital transformation is a digital infrastructure as well as the digital technologies - traditionally referred to as information technology - which are being developed in ever-increasing speed and thus pave the way for new digital technologies. The main drivers of digital transformation include digital infrastructures ( e.g. networks , computer hardware ) and applications ( e.g. apps on smartphones , web applications ) as well as the potential for exploitation based on digital technologies, e.g. digital business models . The expectations of individuals - especially many younger, innovative members of society, including companies - are themselves a strong driving force behind the digital transformation.


The digital transformation is an ongoing process of change. The digital technologies as well as their diverse possibilities and potentials of utilization and application are the facilitators of the digital transformation. In particular, they are the following:


Digital technologies are the basis for digital transformation. A variety of skills are required to develop digital technologies. Key competencies and technologies are, for example, software engineering, systems engineering, IT security, data analytics, big data , cloud computing , etc.


The digital infrastructure is the basis for digital applications . A multitude of access and terminal devices such as smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and an increasing number of embedded systems in devices (machines, vehicles, buildings, ...) together with the network structures (wireless or wired) and the associated protocols form the digital infrastructure. This forms the basis for digital applications and thus creates the opportunity to exchange data between these digital applications and to network them.

According to Jeremy Rifkin , every major economic turnaround includes three components: new communication media to control the economic system more efficiently, new sources of energy and new means of transport to transport energy and goods more effectively ("manage - power - move effectively", as in the Trias) Telegraph - Coal - Railway in the Industrial Age). Today, the fast Internet forms a basis for the development of digital networks in the areas of industry, logistics and e-mobility through to automated driving.


Digital applications are programs (application software) that implement and offer certain functions and services (e.g. electronic banking ). These functions and services were previously not available in digital form and are now being "digitally transformed". On the basis of the digital infrastructure (networks and computer hardware) that is becoming increasingly widespread, powerful and innovative digital applications can also be created using software alone (e.g. apps on smartphones). Thanks to the purely digital representation of these applications, they can be reproduced at will without loss of quality and made accessible worldwide (for example as web applications). This enables the rapid diffusion of digital applications on a global scale and, depending on the application, without significant duplication costs.

The (digital) infrastructure is also increasingly becoming a digital application, i. i.e. it becomes virtual. In data centers, for example, cloud providers provide virtual machines (simulated computer hardware) ( IaaS ) that exist purely digitally. For example, several virtual machines (servers) can be operated on a physically existing computer (server). This purely digital infrastructure is managed again via digital applications. These tasks were previously performed by administrators. Maintenance work is controlled via digital applications and thus carried out automatically.

Exploitation potential

On the basis of digital technologies, there are a multitude of ways of using them. In digital transformation, we understand exploitation potential as potential (for example, to become successful with digital business models) that arise in the short term, but also disappear again because, for example, new technological developments make them obsolete. For many companies, digitization is reducing the entry threshold into the market. However, it is only possible, for example, with a very large amount of resources to develop an Internet search engine and to position it successfully on the market.

Business models

Business models describe activities how companies can create value, i.e. convey customer segments and economically capture the value created. Digital business models in the broadest sense include all business models whose value-adding activities are based on digital technologies. Oliver Gassmann defines it more narrowly as "Internet-based value proposition based on intelligent value chains". Due to the constant progress in digital technologies and / or due to changing expectations, the possible digital business models are also constantly changing.

The analysis of listed companies shows that companies based on digital business models, especially in the USA, have grown rapidly in recent years and have achieved many times the market capitalization of traditional companies in a short period of time. The analysis of young companies and those preferred by venture capital investors shows that the emergence of disruptive innovators can be expected in many other sectors . The availability of cloud computing accelerates the success of new digital business models as it supports rapid scalability.

Value networks

The networking of digital applications allows the combination of business models and value chains beyond the borders of companies and also beyond the borders of the state. This creates new networks of value chains that link business models and thus form a value chain. Its initial form has only to do with the following links in the chain to a limited extent (for example when booking a complete trip with the following components: flight, taxes, hotel, rental car, commissions, credit card fee, etc.). The communication between the organizations connected to the value-added network is largely fully automated , for example with cognitive systems .


Contributors to the digital transformation

The digital transformation in the corporate sector is - like the digital revolution as a societal and global epoch phenomenon - co-determined by commercial and consumer interests as well as government action and research results.

Consumers and Beneficiaries

Digital technologies are also being used more and more to meet the needs of daily goods. 45 million people in Germany bought online in 2013. In 2017, the turnover achieved was almost 49 billion euros.

The daily handling of people in dealing with digital technologies and the data traces they leave behind also make their behavior predictable. This is used by the providers of communication portals to refinance their portals by evaluating and passing on data and enabling more targeted advertising.

The large amount of data that is obtained from the multitude of individual people can also be of benefit to individual users. For example, the collection of health data enables certain sick people to receive tailored therapies. The basis for this targeted adaptation is the data of a large number of people and their diseases, as well as the success or failure of the therapies used.


For companies, the digital transformation is complex. Digital exploitation potential, if used correctly, can lead to rapid growth, for example in a start-up . But just like that, failure to understand this digital exploitation potential can put large companies in trouble (for example Kodak and digital cameras . This phenomenon is known as The Innovator's Dilemma ). The digital transformation also has a massive impact on the organizational structure of companies. Digital technologies are no longer just a tool to support business processes, but they ensure that organizations (have to) be redesigned. One of the reasons for this is that customers now expect to be able to contact an organization through various channels. This becomes evident when the entrepreneurs encounter the complex customer journeys with multichannel marketing strategies. The customers must therefore be captured with all conceivable market strategies on their “digital excursions” and won over to their own products.

Software engineering is a core competence in digital transformation . Constantly changing enablers ( digital technologies and exploitation potentials) mean that customer expectations change continuously for companies. These changes make it necessary for companies to adapt to new circumstances in an agile manner in order not to be left behind by the competition. Companies react or have to act proactively in order to help shape these new realities as a company. The ability to adapt software to support the changed organizational structures of a company is thus becoming a key competence of a company in the digital age.

The redesign of organizational structures within a company also requires a new culture in dealing with employees within a company.

Companies in the digital age ( New Economy ) have at least one of the following core competencies

  1. Use of the Internet as a platform
  2. Inclusion of the collective intelligence of the users
  3. Access to data and its further development (being master of the data)
  4. Trust in users as contributors (users bring the content with them)
  5. Profitable occupation of niches
  6. Creation of software across the boundaries of individual devices and media disruptions


According to the consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers in Germany, the state has not yet had a primary steering function in the change process of the digital transformation, but is exposed to its mechanisms and effects (for example, through the expectations of citizens of state and official processes). Targeted funding and legal regulation provide the opportunity to create an environment that allows companies to use the potential of the digital transformation

The regulatory influence through the creation of a legislative framework affects the application and use of digital technologies in various subject areas (e.g. digital infrastructure , network neutrality ), but also in the use of technologies in state and official processes themselves (e.g. e-government ).

The digital transformation and its influence on society is not yet fully scientifically penetrated. Society is facing major challenges. Three examples:

  1. The jobs that may be lost with the digitization of business processes and the changed requirements for people's qualifications.
  2. The formation of quasi-monopolies, for example in the search engine market, and the question of whether Schumpeter's mechanism of creative destruction even applies to the Internet economy.
  3. The concentration of capital, know-how and data through ever larger and more powerful internet companies on a few countries and people.

These problems represent exemplary challenges for the state and also for associations of states.

Science (research and teaching)

Science is a key driver of digital transformation; on the one hand through the actual scientific progress itself and on the other hand through the creation and publication of directly usable products, for example in the form of software libraries. The teaching activities of science also create an important multiplier. Through teaching, current research results are brought closer to the students. The students are enabled to implement the latest findings in practice (for example in companies) or to participate in research results themselves.

However, research also benefits directly from the development of digital technologies; For example, simulations in the natural sciences have only become possible through powerful digital technologies, which without them would have been theoretically formulable, but would not have led to usable results in an acceptable time. In genomics, for example, systematic sequencing and analysis of DNA molecule data is only possible through the use of powerful digital technologies .

Digital technologies make it possible for students to directly implement what they have learned with limited resources and to disseminate it on a global scale (e.g. app development as part of internships at universities). This creates new opportunities for innovation.

See also

  • Industry 4.0 - (also called fourth industrial revolution) is a term that goes back to the research union of the German federal government and a project of the same name in the high-tech strategy of the federal government and has its origin in the agendaCPS . It is intended to describe the interlinking of industrial production “with the most modern information and communication technology”.
  • Digitization - describes the process of converting analog quantities into discrete values ​​for the purpose of being able to store or process them electronically. Digitization is also synonymous with the change to electronically supported processes using information and communication technology.
  • Digital revolution - describes the upheaval triggered by digitization and computers, which has been causing a change in both technology and almost all areas of life since the end of the 20th century and which has led to the digital world .
  • Change management in organizations - describes all tasks, measures and activities that are intended to bring about a comprehensive change in an organization.
  • Information society - refers to a society based on information and communication technology. The process of penetrating all areas of life with the help of information and communication technologies is called "informatization".
  • Digital society
  • Next Industry , trade journal


  • Michael Pachmajer, Carsten Hentrich: d.quarksX. To the point of the digital company . Murmann, Hamburg, 2017, ISBN 978-3-86774-578-9 .
  • Key Pousttchi: Scientific definition of "digital transformation" in the lexicon of business informatics (available online). GITO, Berlin 2017.
  • Oliver Stengel et al. (Ed.): Digital Age - Digital Society: The end of the industrial age and the beginning of a new era. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2017, ISBN 978-3-658-16508-6 .
  • Christoph Keese: Silicon Germany: How we create the digital transformation. Albrecht Knaus Verlag, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-8135-0734-8 .
  • Felix Stalder: Culture of Digitality. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-518-12679-0
  • Christian Hoffmeister, Yorck von Borcke: Think New! 22 success strategies in digital business . Hanser, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-446-44228-3 .
  • Eva Geisberger, Manfred Broy : agendaCPS - Integrated Research Agenda Cyber-Physical Systems . Ed .: acatech STUDY. Springer, 2012, ISBN 978-3-642-29098-5 .
  • Martin Schmitt, Julia Erdogan, Thomas Kasper and Janine Funke: Germany's digital history - a research report . In: Technikgeschichte, 83rd Vol. (2016), H. 1, pp. 33–70.
  • Armin Nassehi: Sample. Theory of the digital society, CH Beck, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-406-74024-4

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Michael Wolan: Digital Innovation: Faster. More economical. More sustainable. BusinessVillage, 2013.
  2. a b c d e f g h Christian Hoffmeister, Yorck von Borcke: Think New! 22 success strategies in digital business . Hanser, 2015.
  3. Christian Hoffmeister: Digital Business Modeling: Developing digital business models and anchoring them strategically . Hanser, 2015.
  4. a b c d e Tim Cole: Digital Transformation . Vahlen, 2015.
  5. ^ A b c Frank Keuper, Kiumars Hamidian, Eric Verwaayen, Torsten Kalinowski, Christian Kraijo: Digitization and Innovation: Planning - Development - Development Perspectives . Springer, 2013.
  6. a b c Christoph Keese: Silicon Valley: What is coming from the most powerful valley in the world . Knaus, 2014.
  7. ^ A b c Alec Ross: The Industries of the Future . Simon & Schuster, 2016.
  8. ^ Rifkin's solution: Go beyond renewables . Interview with Jeremy Rifkon on, July 11, 2017.
  9. a b Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur: Business Model Generation: A manual for visionaries, game changers and challengers . Campus, 2011.
  10. Oliver Gassmann: Shaping digital transformation in companies: business models, success factors, case studies, instructions for action. Munich 2016.
  11. Simon C. Müller, Simon, Markus Böhm, Marina Schröer a. a .: Business models in the digital economy. Studies on the German innovation system 13, 2016, Expert Commission for Research and Innovation (EFI), Berlin 2016.
  12. Federal Statistical Office: 45 million people in Germany shop on the Internet. (PDF) September 2, 2014, accessed April 29, 2014 .
  14. The digital revolution - how it changes individuals, culture and society. Retrieved April 29, 2016 .
  15. Federal Ministry of Education and Research: Medical Informatics Funding Concept: Networking Data - Improving Health Care . 2015.
  16. ^ Clayton M. Christensen: The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business . HarperBusiness Essentials, 2011.
  17. a b c d Malte Foegen, Christian Kaczmarek: Organization in a digital age: A book for the design of responsive and lean organizations with the help of Scaled Agile & Lean patterns . wibas, 2016.
  18. . Alfred Höhn: 'State 4.0' - digital transformation is an opportunity and a challenge for the public sector. Retrieved April 28, 2016 .
  19. ^ John Komlos: Has Creative Destruction Become More Destructive? Ed .: CESifo: Center for Economic Studies & Ifo Institute. 2014.