das magazin / 15 June

    “We need more digital pioneers.“

    Interview with Prof. Dr. Klemens Skibicki, economic historian and professor of economics, marketing and market research in the monitoring of digitalisation in the health care sector.


    Prof. Dr. Klemens Skibicki (born in 1972) earned his PhD after completing his degrees in business administration and political economics in 2001, becoming a ‘Dr. rer. pol.’ in the field of economic history at the University of Cologne.

    Since 2004, he has been working as professor of economics, marketing and market research at the Cologne Business School. In addition to his scientific research on the subject of online marketing, he went on to operate his own internet platforms and dedicated services as a business angel/investor in digital start-ups, and in 2012 he co-founded the Convidera business consulting firm. In May 2016, Skibicki sold his shares in Convidera to turn his attention to his work as keynote speaker and advisor to a select groups of top managers, ensuring he could maintain his flexible position working with, and supporting, a broad network of clients.

    From 2013 to 2018, Klemens Skibicki was a key member of the “young digital economy” advisory board of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. In June 2014, he continued to serve his calling by as a digital ambassador for the economic minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, taking up a further post as a political advisor in a voluntary capacity. He has published a great many books on the results of his research and management consulting work.

    Are these topics on the agenda of modern day CEOs? In your opinion, what point have we reached in the area of digitalisation in the D-A-CH region? Are other markets in Europe, Asia or the US ahead of us in this area?

    The D-A-CH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) has made little progress in the field of digitalisation, in my opinion. Other markets have clearly taken the lead, and even Europe as a whole is a small player here. The US and China are the real drivers behind this revolution. CEOs in these countries are far more accustomed to real-time communications than managers in Europe, for example. Only a small percentage of CEOs of DAX companies have an active Twitter account.

    What are the causes behind this significant differences?

    Currently, the attitude towards the subject of data in Germany is rather more negative, i.e. risks take precedence here over the potential opportunities of modern and future-oriented approaches to data handling. In my opinion, it is our negative attitude towards Data which prevents us from taking advantage of the advantages offered by digitalisation. My motto: Don’t lose sight of great opportunity in the face of risk!

    I would define the digital revolution as “the adaptation of existing structures, ways of thinking and metrics for measuring success to the opportunities offered by a new era of data networking.

    Which sectors are setting the pace in terms of digitalisation, and what examples could you give of best practice here?

    First we have the media and consumer-goods industry, but I wouldn’t describe the media as setting the pace per se. Rather they have been forced to make the painful discovery that their success strategy to-date is no longer working, and they must find new revenue models in order to stay relevant in the VUCA world (Note: VUCA describes the challenging conditions of the increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world in which we live)

    In the US, there is Silicon Valley, with Amazon, Facebook, Google: all good examples of companies that have found success in the digital world. In Europe, everything is a lot less developed in this respect. Now is the time for companies and politicians in Europe to engage fully with the digital revolution.

    I would recommend implementing comprehensive management of companies’ digital transformation, always bearing in mind one key question: “How do companies, from all different sectors, need to adapt to their new environment of a networked economy formed by the social web, mobile web and the internet of things (Industry 4.0)?”

    Does Europe need its own Silicon Valley?

    The question here is how do successful companies come into being, or how do they adapt, when faced a new mindset.

    In Germany, the focus has been on how companies such as Google & Co can be brought under control. The real question here, in my opinion, is rather: why are these companies not being created in Germany in the first place? Around the world, there are approximately 326 start-ups valued at over one billion dollars before going public. But only 9 of these are based in Germany.

    I believe that we must let digitalisation take hold anywhere we see the economy thriving.

    In general, where do you see the health sector in terms of digitalisation? Do you find that it is affected by the strict regulations in place?

    There is good reason, of course, for there to be regulations on the health services. However, I’m of the impression that there is a little too much caution in this sector. What would the health sector look like if you could recreate it from scratch today? I touched on this topic at the VISION.A digital conference. To give an example: Why do customers need to go to a pharmacy for a consultation? Pharmacists can provide their consultations perfectly well through WhatsApp or Facebook. Where Amazon, for example, is taking advantage of its expertise in the data world to expand its online business model to fixed, physical shops, pharmacies could take advantage of online consultations, in addition to offering their traditional in-shop services.

    Are there certain areas within the health services which are already ahead in this respect, or does the general status quo apply across the board for all organisations, from the pharma sector to the health insurance bodies?

    There is some movement in the sector, but I would say that we are talking about individual pilot projects which are being developed and implemented within the framework of strict regulations. In the medium term, the sector cannot carry on without addressing areas such as artificial intelligence, the opportunities opened up by data networking, surgery of the future, additional safety features for diagnosis, or digital patient health records. The same holds true in this respect: we need more digital pioneers, and what’s more, we need them in all the different international markets.

    What do you believe to be the biggest challenge of our time with respect to digitalisation of the health services?

    Anyone looking to keep pace with digitalisation will not be able to simply transfer their old structures over into the new system. It will be a question of developing entirely new ways of thinking about data and finding solutions to meet these new requirements within the framework of existing regulations.

    What megatrends can you see in the sector, both in medicine, and for medical devices?

    Currently we are still tackling the issue of explaining the advantages of digitalisation to the different target groups. Imagine if there was an app which could tell me that I’m extremely likely to suffer from a stroke in the next 10 minutes. What advantages would that bring for the patient and for doctors? I can’t help but to be somewhat snappy when considering this question. In Germany, the Ethics Committee is summoned long before any real benefits are discussed, something which I think is a great shame. Companies who provide comprehensive explanations of the advantages offered by their products and solutions have enormous potential for shaping the digital transformation of the health services, even within a highly-regulated sector.

    How open are patients to the idea of digitalisation?

    Again, the most important point here is to make sure that the potential advantages of digitalisation are properly explained, particularly in terms of the individual health benefits for patients.We also need to listen more closely to people to find out what they want.

    What is it that you personally find so exciting about digitalisation, and why have you become so committed to this area?

    As an economic historian, I have seen that development cycles repeat themselves over the course of history. The information age began just as the process of industrialisation started. People have adapted their lives to live alongside machines. Now it is digitalisation that is casting doubt on tried-and-tested principles, and it is difficult to adopt new phenomena if we adhere to the old rulebook. For me, the digital transformation is more in our heads than it is any great technological leap. I feel comfortable in both of these worlds, but I believe that we must let digitalisation take hold anywhere we see the economy thriving.