Customers invest in added value. Added value can be unfounded personal wishes, but also objectively-measurable added value. Although this is more of a commercial truism than an upper management maxim, this statement also implicitly refers to the opportunity offered by digitisation: digital services expand upon or replace existing business models by offering added value, as compared to the status quo. It doesn't matter whether they are manufacturers of capital and consumer goods such as machinery and automotive manufacturers, household appliance manufacturers or service providers such as insurance companies, banks or software producers.
Nothing is closer to the customer than the information provided to him or her. From the first contact with a potential customer to the end of the product lifecycle, information represents the company, product or service for the customer. This begins with Marketing, which reaches prospects through various channels. But this information also includes the conclusions of a piece of predictive maintenance AI software that continuously evaluates sensor data. And, of course, technical documentation, explanations of services and software product help are also included.
If companies now dedicate themselves to digital business models and services, they can often create innovative customer journeys. When these are made concrete and defined, the undoubtedly important technical possibilities and challenges quickly take centre stage: Which systems need interfaces? Where do we need which sensors? How can user data be meaningfully evaluated? These are important questions to be answered. But later.
Prior to that, the business model should be made clear to all stakeholders – for example, in a Business Model Canvas: Will we still offer our customers the same value proposition tomorrow as we do today or do we even offer added value? To create this added value, it usually takes different resources and activities. Accordingly, it should be considered how these additional expenses can generate revenue – this will be accessible to everyone. In digital business models, for example, “pay-for-play” or subscription models are common today. However, information and its channels can also offer their own value proposition and thus become part of the digital portfolio themselves.
An example: A manufacturer of industrial 3D printers is setting up an online information portal for its customers. Here, they can find all the information they need, whether they just want to find out about products, download the manual for their 3D printer or contact the manufacturer's Service department. In order to establish a unique sales proposition in the additive manufacturing industry, a voice assistant is also deployed to provide information on products, for example. For a monthly service fee, the operator receives additional functions. If an error occurs, the voice assistant could now use the question-and-answer principle with the operator, in order to narrow-down the error, identify it and call up the corresponding solution steps directly from the information portal. The voice assistant could also be asked for the appropriate setting parameters. Feedback from the operator in the information portal and anonymous usage statistics from the guided troubleshooting will then be followed by further improvements:
- The manufacturer's Technical Editorial department can individually customise the content and error trees
- The operator could be offered more appropriate configurations
- The manufacturer can receive information on how their products are used and can develop them further
Such digital business cases can result from several paths such as Design Thinking for Industrial Services or developing digital service systems in accordance with DIN Spec 33453. The critical factor here is that the content strategy is viewed holistically, across departmental boundaries, taken into account and considered as the bedrock of a digital portfolio. For each company, the business case must be different, depending on the various challenges and requirements and must therefore be calculated individually.
Let's take the simplified example of our industrial 3D printer manufacturer, who has discovered that its customers from different suppliers produce important components on multiple 3D printers. Complex errors, which are difficult to identify, result in losses of around 10,000 Euros per month, over the entire production period. The voice assistant is provided for a monthly subscription fee of 500 Euros. If our manufacturer manages to use this voice assistant with only 50 of its customers, this information channel alone can generate 300,000 Euros per year. Although the information that feeds the voice assistant is already available, the proportionate software and personnel costs must be compared. In addition to the remaining 200,000 to 250,000 Euros, our manufacturer would receive first-hand information on how users use their products and how they can be improved.
This example only picks up one point of a digitisation strategy and must be considered in real-life within the context of the entire business model. It’s still necessary to verify what proportion of future sales will come from information channels and content strategy – but to not act is no longer an option. For it’s precisely with digitisation strategies that the following applies: Those who are not among the first are among the last. And the last usually have little room to manoeuvre.