Digital transformation is here to stay. We must therefore constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will be digital. Digitalization brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In my series “Dialogue Interviews” I discuss these topics with leaders in Switzerland, from our member organisations, digital shapers and the brightest people in the field of technology and innovation.
This time, I talked to Ewa Ming, founder of the Business Innovation Week Switzerland, a multi-location festival that looks at contemporary possibilities for businesses to stay up-to-date with digital developments. At the Business Innovation Week, an exhibition, a conference and a one-week academy put the world of digital innovation into focus.
Nicolas Bürer: You are an expert in digital transformation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the initiator of the “Business Innovation Week Switzerland”, how would you rate the state of innovation and digital transformation of Swiss SMEs compared to the most advanced countries in the world (Scandinavia, Canada, Estonia, Australia, etc.)?
Ewa Ming: On a global scale, Switzerland ranks behind our northern neighbors and a few other “digital” countries. It seems that in these countries, people are more rooted in the digital, with the capacity to meet the challenges that new technologies offer. In Switzerland, there are over 600’000 companies, 90% of which have fewer than 250 employees. These companies provide almost 3 million of the total 4.4 million jobs in the country. These SMEs are the backbone of our economy and, with their innovative strength, they contribute significantly to stability and growth. Compared to the leading digital countries, in Switzerland, we need to become faster and more agile in terms of innovation and transformation and more courageous to think outside the box.
Nicolas Bürer: There is a perception that SMEs are not at the forefront of digital transformation. If you look at our current economy, everything seems to be going well with stable growth and low unemployment. Why should SMEs in Switzerland invest in innovation and digital transformation?
Ewa Ming: The good economic numbers should not lure us into resting on our laurels. Change needs to happen for growth and even though it seems like there is no shortage of new ideas, products and business models, leaders should be prepared for radical change. We will not be able to avoid developing processes and productivity firmly rooted in the digital. SMEs have to foster that know-how and learn how to use data for their own businesses, for the market and for customers.
Nicolas Bürer: Who will be the main competitors for Swiss SMEs in the future?
Ewa Ming: Competition is everywhere and is not a matter of size and location. If you want to be a leader, you must be smart and quick. I would like to answer this question with an exciting example: The young Winterthur-based company Deep Impact is a leader in digital face recognition. When it comes to innovation, the management follows a disruptive strategy: a team must bring a good idea in the form of a prototype tested by a target group within a two week framework. The first version of the new offer or product must then be launched within six months – at the latest. It will then be continuously tested and improved on the market. This is fast, maybe too fast, but a pathway to economic success in times of digitalisation.
Nicolas Bürer: How should SMEs approach digital transformation, what specific measures do you recommend to start with today?
Ewa Ming: My mantra for every Swiss SME’s study book is trial & error. Push things forward courageously and with a calculated risk for digital transformation. Companies like Deep Impact do it with facial recognition. We’re also trying to follow this at EMEX Management. After twelve years of SuisseEMEX trade show business for marketeers at Messe Zürich, we are now betting on our new umbrella brand “Business Innovation” with a new setup and format. With the “Business Innovation Week Switzerland”, we focus on the central importance of SMEs for Switzerland’s economy. With this major convention in Zurich, we enable entrepreneurs and employees, future-oriented designers and trendsetters to change their perspectives and experiences in terms of space and content: keynotes, exhibitions, seminars, studio workshops, start-up pitches and company tours provide relevant innovation knowledge and ensure a great deal of networking. Incidentally, Deep Impact will be demonstrating facial recognition at Business Innovation Week. For more information, go to www.businessinnovation.ch.
Ewa Ming: Nicolas, let me ask you a few questions: digitalswitzerland intends to establish the country as a leading digital innovation hub. Not an easy feat. Where would you place Switzerland at the moment in this process?
Nicolas Bürer: If you look at worldwide rankings from different institutions, we rank pretty well, sometimes even very well. For example, the Worldwide Talent Competitiveness Index has ranked Switzerland as number 1 for 5 years. This is a clear indicator that we are doing well in terms of talent development. Also, the startup ecosystem is growing with 30% growth in invested capital that reached 1.25 billion CHF in 2018. There is still a lot of work to do to continue having a prosperous economy and a high standard of living for the next 10 to 20 years. Other innovation hubs in the world are moving very fast.
Ewa Ming: What role does digitalswitzerland play in order to achieve this?
Nicolas Bürer: Our aim is to connect people from different stakeholder groups like academia, business, government, regions and the Swiss population and create awareness for digital transformation. To do so, we develop specific projects in different sectors like politico-economics, startup ecosystem and education. We also foster dialogue with the Swiss public by organising the Digital Day. Our mission is to act as a catalyst for innovation.
Ewa Ming: The perception of digitalisation in Switzerland is very ambivalent: A new scientific survey of Zurich University of Applied Sciences (HWZ) says Swiss SMEs are still “digital dinosaurs”. In contrast Ruedi Noser, a member of digitalswitzerland’s executive committee, says: the Swiss economy produces the most innovation worldwide. How does this fit together?
Nicolas Bürer: Both are true. Most SMEs still need to embrace digital transformation, become more agile and foster new innovation, this is very important for the prosperity of our economy. On the other side, we have a number of companies that produce unmatched innovation. It is not enough to have only 5% of such companies, we have to ensure that the other 95% are sensitised and ready to transform their business models and ways of working. Working together is the only way forward, and that is also why the Business Innovation Week Switzerland is so important.