"We must allow innovation and greater conceptual diversity."
Ralf Pichler has been CEO of Detecon since August 2019. In the first part of the interview, he told us about his personal traits and his “all-consuming” passions in his professional life. The second part is about the “essentials.” We want to hear from Ralf what we can expect technologically in the coming years, how we can do better when it comes to sustainability, and what the future of consulting holds.
Ralf, what do you see as the biggest technological trend in the coming years?
When I look into the future, I think next-generation connectivity will certainly be one of the top issues. Everything that can sensibly be interconnected economically will indeed be interconnected. The new technologies – and 5G is only one of them – have enormous disruptive potential.
Speaking of 5G: what role does this technology play for you?
5G is nothing less than an enabling technology that will make it possible to implement digitalization much faster in many industries. So I see the advancement of solidarity with other industries as the key challenge for the telecommunications industry. The primary objectives for telcos will be to develop enterprise customers and to exploit the B2B potential offered by 5G. The decisive question from their perspective must be this: How can I help companies in the manufacturing, automotive, or energy sectors (for example) to utilize the technology for their use cases? Partnerships and ecosystem solutions must certainly also be considered because 5G is the first mobile phone technology that will unfold its potential in the B2B sector as well. While 1G to 4G focused classically on connecting people and connecting people with data, attention will now concentrate in particular on far-reaching connectivity of so many things in the corporate sector – key points in this sense are IoT and campus networks.
Where are we headed with respect to the internet of things?
IoT feels like the internet in the mid to late 90s; we know it's going to be big, but no one can predict what direction it will actually take. On the one hand, 5G as an additional technology benefits us because of lower energy consumption. IoT sensors using batteries that last for ten years make possible business models that differ completely from the ones familiar to us today. On the other hand, I see opportunities for a mass of IoT management. In the future, we will have about one million managed IoT devices per square kilometer as opposed to a few thousand today. This will lead to an incredible boost in innovation. We will see models that we have not even dreamed of today.
And what role will artificial intelligence play?
In conjunction with analytics, artificial intelligence gives rise to fascinating use cases and new business models. I expect a massive use of AI in the area of autonomous driving, for example. Personally, I am very enthusiastic about preemptive analytics because it changes our actions from reactive to proactive. For instance, an operator in the managed service area can now dispatch his teams before the error message arrives and prevent failures from ever occurring. The next step will be completely automated. This will lead to higher quality and higher order reliability. People who understand artificial intelligence are in great demand. And I see a bottleneck here, too; we will need many more experts in the future if we are to tap this potential.
Compared to the USA, China, or other European countries, entrepreneurship and innovation in Germany still have more than a little catching-up potential. How do you see it?
The decisive factor is this: How and where does innovation happen in the company? I do not believe that Big Bang successes from the innovation sector can be ordered top-down. We must allow innovation and expanded conceptual diversity. I see potential in approaches that encourage companies to let many delicate plants thrive and, following the slogan try and fail fast, to determine which of the ideas should be pushed and scaled and which should be dropped quickly. I also value approaches that give employees a certain amount of time for their own projects. But there are still too many breaks. An idea becomes a business case that is handed over to someone for implementation. But as a rule, this is no longer the person who is passionate about this idea. Ideally, the people who have an idea also turn it into something big – with the support they require. This is how innovation and entrepreneurship become connected in big business at its best.
Let us now turn to the topic of sustainability. You would be hard pressed to name any other trend that is so dominant in global headlines. How can we, a consulting company, contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions?
I do not regard sustainability so much as a trend, but rather as an issue that no one can ignore. This is about our future, the survival of us all and of our children. Everyone must develop ideas on how to operate more sustainably and optimize the CO2 footprint of processes and supply chain. And that always begins with reflecting on what corporate responsibility actually means. I myself have given intensive thought to sustainability and corporate responsibility with the aim of improving the CO2 footprint of a workforce of 70,000 employees from over 180 countries, all of whom travel a lot. The energy consumption of a mobile operator is also a starting point; does a solar panel create more efficiency here? Finding answers to these questions demands a tremendous amount of basic work to understand the interrelationships and to lay a foundation on which one can optimize or even find disruptive solutions. As we consultants travel a lot, we must also consider for ourselves what footprint we in fact leave behind and seek to compensate in other areas. Moreover, we can promote sustainability even more strongly through pro bono projects.
Future mobility also plays an important role, particularly in the context of sustainability. How do we achieve a turnaround in the transport sector?
This will certainly be one of the key issues in the coming years. Day after day, traffic in the metropolises of this world comes to a standstill because of congestion. This should in itself be enough to teach us that there is an urgent need to rethink our actions. It is important to me that we combine sharing economy approaches with sustainability. With this setting in mind, we must consider very carefully whether approaches like the volocopter really achieve their goal, or whether they just shift the problem to another area. As consultants, we are asked to think ahead and to find solutions, especially with regard to a coherent smart city concept. But no one player will be able to find the ultimate panacea. We need an overall concept based on partnering and ecosystem thinking that cities can tailor according to their specific circumstances. Detecon’s international footprint helps us enormously at this point to build thought leadership for our clients and shape best practices.
Digital efficiency is a topic that is attracting more and more attention. Have efficiency issues returned to the board level?
In my opinion, this is the underestimated side of digitalization! As of the moment, we have saved most of our enthusiasm for new business models. However, the leverage effect of solutions to increase efficiency on the basis of digital technologies will not prove to be any less surprising. We develop major multi-year-programs accompanied by change management for our clients.
A digital transformation program that is globally initiated and that is thought-out and implemented digitally end-to-end across all business units and processes goes far beyond simple cost savings. Our digital efficiency approach shows companies what digital maturity level they have reached – and how much potential still awaits exploitation. We are also currently working on a digital efficiency index that offers orientation across companies and industries.
Finally, a question about the consulting industry itself: What trends do you see here for the future?
The upheaval in the consulting business began a long time ago. We at Detecon have initiated the Beyond Consulting approach that has begun to break up the traditional consulting business structures and to redesign them from a completely different perspective. Our Digital Engineering Center in Berlin is leading the way and involves clients in creative workshops right from the start. Top consulting increasingly covers the entire spectrum from innovation to implementation – i.e., beyond consulting. Offering interim management and setting up a NatCo, for example, that after two to three years is handed over as a turnkey solution to the client has a long history with us. Wherever it makes sense, we also use shared risk models to make our success more performance-related. This keeps our business model in a state of flux at all times! Beyond Consulting also lives by the principle eat your own dog food, however. From MS teams and OKRs to new ideas for office design and agile organizational concepts – we experiment with them in our company. This is the only way we can credibly present recommendations for concepts, methods, and tools to our customers.
Ralf, thank you for talking to us!
The conversation was conducted by Matus Qurbany.