Internal showrooms, VR glasses, home office: How the coronavirus changed Berlin’s medium-sized enterprises – the economy

A pandemic as a driver of innovation? At least when it comes to digitization, the corona crisis has obviously put many Berlin companies on their feet. According to a survey by the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK), from late July to mid-August, almost 66 percent of all companies surveyed relied more on their home office for the pandemic than before. About a quarter want to continue to rely on mobile work in the future. Almost half of the companies surveyed will try to combine both types of work in the future.

At Horiba Tocadero GmbH in Adlershof, people worked exclusively from home during the lockout. Meanwhile, half of the workforce has returned to its original workplace to ensure continued production. The company was founded last year, currently has 15 employees and manufactures water quality analyzers. Customers include large industrial groups such as Bayer.

“I used to be a big opponent of the home office.” So, in the beginning, I was correspondingly skeptical, ”recalls CEO Oliver Rothe. As a medium-sized entrepreneur, you sometimes have a certain interest in control and you want to have an overview of how things work, admits Rothe. But the company’s 47-year-old boss was taught better: “It worked better than we expected. However, we also have a very young team with the appropriate determination. “

From the point of view of Sven Weickert, CEO of the Berlin-Brandenburg Trade Associations (UVB), the corona crisis has even provided real support to the digitization process in medium-sized Berlin companies, at least in everyday office life.

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“For example, video conferencing systems existed before.” But because of the need to work from home, it has now found its way into everyday office life. “Weickert can hardly imagine a return to the old days. “The benefits are obvious.” I don’t always have to meet on the spot. It’s often much faster, more efficient and more cost-effective on a computer, ”says UVB’s CEO.

The digital bonus starts in November

The state of Berlin wants to promote the digitization of companies with the so-called digital bonus from November. The companies receive a subsidy of up to 17,000 euros. According to Weickert, this is an important political signal and the offer very important. “I’m sure there is a very good demand for the digital bonus.” But he would like more money to be available for it. After all, it is now not just a matter of more flexible everyday office life, but also of introducing other, sometimes more complex processes into a digital test facility. “Service, production, distribution, sales – these are now tasks.”

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Even at Rothes Horiba Tocadero GmbH, an expanded home office is only part of digital innovation. For entrepreneurs, the question suddenly arose as to how to introduce and explain a new product if you cannot visit a new customer in person? The solution is our own showroom equipped with cameras, from which the products are presented virtually through video conferencing and VR glasses. Mandatory extension, which has a decisive advantage for the company’s boss: “A service call in Malaysia costs me around 5,000 euros. First I have to send a technician there. In the future, a company employee will put on his glasses on the spot and solve the problem together with one of our experts in Berlin. “

Small companies have a hard time

Of course, the technical possibilities are not new, but Rothe also believes that the fact that they are now being used so quickly is due to a pandemic. Meanwhile, the Berlin branch of the Japanese Horiba Group is a technologically proficient company. For many other medium-sized companies in the city, the digitization of all business processes is certainly a “huge challenge”, estimates the entrepreneur, who is also a member of the IHK competence team for small and medium-sized enterprises. “It’s quite difficult for a company of five.”

Especially because some companies have introduced this topic to the background due to lack of resources and with regard to day-to-day business, adds UVB CEO Sven Weickert. Many seem to have realized the importance of digitization before the crisis. After all, in a corresponding IHK survey in 2018, approximately three-quarters of companies said that digitization was of great and crucial importance for business success.

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However, from the point of view of business associations, it does not have to do the homework of the company alone: ​​”An amazing digital help for Corona would be to digitize Berlin administration, speed up processes and make more administrative services digitally accessible,” explains Sandra Trommsdorf, IHK – Head of Business and Policy. It would also be useful to massively increase Berlin’s low quota for optical connections to the house by three percent.

Sven Weickert would also like a better online offer from the Senate and districts. “From the issuance of a residence permit to foreign employees, through the registration of a company, to the parking of motorway stamps for vans,” he gives just a few examples. In perspective, at least as important as innovative software and hardware, high-performance broadband on an industrial level and comprehensive digital management are good digital skills of future specialists for the UVB CEO. Getting tablets and blackboards for schools is not a problem at all. “On the other hand, we are still at the beginning when it comes to creating appropriate educational content and in-service teacher training,” says Weickert.

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