Industry 4.0: A Guide in 4 Parts

The term “digital transformation” has become an indispensable part of everyday corporate life. But it is vague and does not offer much insight into practical aspects of this process. At which point has a company completed its digital transformation? Digitalization today goes far beyond the use of computers. At its heart is the interconnection of people, machines and products through information and communication technology; insert “Industry 4.0”.

So what might a digitalised company look like in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution? To speak of “digitalised companies” implies that digitalisation has a beginning and an end point. But in a world that is constantly evolving technologically, this is no longer the case. Rather, digitalisation is a transformation process that involves connecting to and navigating in a world that is characterised by ever increasing digital developments and technologies. This applies to individuals as well as to companies and involves a constant learning and improvement process.

What stage of development has your company reached in this process? We have compiled four central aspects that will help you understand and optimise the status of digitalisation in your company. 

1. Does your company use (the right) software?

Did you know that one of the most effective measures in the digital transformation process of companies is the optimization of already existing software? In the body of your digitalised company, the software is the skeleton. In order to determine how stable this skeleton already is and where to operate, it helps to look at different parts individually. The following guiding questions can provide an orientation aid during the examination: 

  • Which areas are already covered by software?
  • Is the software used still the best option for you?
  • Are there alternatives that are cheaper, more efficient or more productive?
  • Which recurring areas are not yet covered by software solutions?

A practical example: Customer Relationship Management

Two central aspects of Industry 4.0 are the use of data and customer-centric solutions. CRM systems are indispensable for companies to accurately capture large amounts of customer data, which then help to focus on the individual wishes of customers. The effectiveness of your CRM system can therefore have a decisive impact on the future of your company.

How can you optimise your CRM system? For instance, by switching from a desktop system running on a single PC to a server or cloud-based system. A central database, which all employees of the company have access to, ideally also on mobile devices, makes the cooperation between different departments much easier and more effective. To avoid misunderstandings and ensure a smooth transfer of knowledge between employees, there should be standardised guidelines for the use of such systems.

2. Is your company meeting the need for digitalisation?

In some industries the need for digitalisation is more concrete than in others, that much is evident. But it is equally safe to say that no industry is excluded from digital transformation processes. Even in agriculture the importance of digital tools is growing, for instance in the regulation of irrigation processes, the optimisation of plant growth, or compliance with quality guidelines. 

The digital transformation of the corporate environment is not a temporary, drastic event — making it all the more important to keep pace with the steady transformation. Just because there is no concrete need right at this point does not mean that this cannot change in the (near) future. 

A disruption in the business environment can bring about sudden and sometimes dramatic changes. This can be a technological development or–something that has long been underestimated–a pandemic. Cue: Covid-19. Even those companies that previously had little to be concerned about in terms of specific digitalisation procedures, were suddenly faced with the challenge of coordinating work processes from a distance. According to a study by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, during the corona pandemic, 70% of all surveyed companies have employees working from their home office. 57% of employees had participated in a digital meeting for the first time.

The moral of the story’: Disruption hits those companies hardest that are relying on their current level of development and are “future blind”. Although disruptive events are relatively rare in the corporate world, this does not mean that they do not exist and will not cause immense difficulties for unprepared companies.

3. Is your company’s cyber-security and data protection mechanism up to date?

Did you know that according to a Bitkom survey of 2019, about three quarters of more than 1,000 German business representatives interviewed experienced a cyber attack? Cybercrime Security Ventures estimates the annual damage caused by cyber crimes to reach $6 trillion by 2021. The bottom line: Anybody who associates cyber attacks with predominantly Russian hackers and US elections is betting on the wrong horse.

Yet a great many attacks can be prevented relatively easily. For example through regular IT updates – because hackers often exploit known gaps in IT security. Two-factor authentication is a similarly easy means of minimising external security threats from stolen credentials. 

In data protection, as in IT security, one of the biggest threats to companies are their own employees. Training them is one of the most effective measures against criminal attacks. Sensitise your employees to social engineering, i.e. the interpersonal influence of informers with the aim of obtaining sensitive data. Also the handling of phishing mails should be learned in order to prevent the theft of personal data and thus reduce possible areas of attack on your company. 

Conclusion: Do not underestimate data protection. Do not save on IT security. Educate yourself and your employees about these topics in full range and consult experts if necessary.

4. Do your company's employees have the necessary digital skills and stay up to date?

A company is only as digitalised as its employees. The world’s best software solution, digital foresight and data protection measures are of little use if they fail in use and implementation. Because the main users are the company’s employees, it is absolutely essential to keep them up to date and thereby ensure a successful digital transformation process.

How is this done? Common methods of digital learning are web-based trainings or virtual classroom trainings. While very important, these kinds of formal learning processes are usually a single instance. The problem here is that the human brain forgets more than three-quarters of something newly learned after six days, on average. An important strategy to counteract this is the regular repetition of newly acquired knowledge.

This usually takes place in practice, that is when formally learned knowledge is applied at work. However, it is not uncommon for initial memory gaps to appear between the initial acquisition and first application of knowledge. Spontaneously occurring problems or new software updates that require additional skills can also cause further difficulties (keyword “Five Moments of Need”). This is where informal learning comes in, be it in exchange with others, such as colleagues or superiors, or along the workflow itself. With the help of bite-sized information, for example in the form of step-by-step instructions, the employee can help himself exactly when and where help is needed.

Informal learning actually makes up a major part of the learning process.  According to the 70:20:10 model, 70% of learning activities take place directly in the work process, 20% in exchange with employees and only 10% in formal training. Accordingly, it is important to provide support to employees in the workplace. If you have not yet implemented a performance support system in your company, our documentation software FlowShare promises a successful start. With FlowShare you can quickly and easily create step-by-step instructions and make them available to your employees.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is, digitalisation is an integral part of today’s corporate world. It is no longer a question of whether a company is digitalised, but to what extent. Sooner or later, companies that are unwilling or unable to adapt to a constant process of learning and improvement, will no longer be competitive in an increasingly digitalised world. 

Therefore it is absolutely essential to keep up to date with new developments, adapt your company accordingly, and–very importantly–don’t rest on what you have already achieved. We’d happily inform you about current trends in the world of IT. Simply subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the page and receive regular updates!

Create resources and establish structures with FlowShare: Bauvista case study

The Bauvista case study tells the story of a rapidly growing company with a great need for documentation, which uses FlowShare in its very own way.

They represent a strong community: Bauvista is one of the largest purchasing cooperatives for DIY stores and building materials retailers in Germany. The company is growing and currently cooperates with more than 700 specialist stores – and therefore has plenty to do. In coordinating across Germany, there is a lot of work to be done in the IT department. For example, if users want to use the company’s own accounting program or the PIM system, they need help.

The problem: Three tracks and too little time

This is where Thorsten Räker and the team from Bauvista’s IT department come into play. They regularly produce instructions for software users. In the past, they have followed three tracks for this. Räker explains: First, they created user manuals, for example for the company’s shareholders, “with proper Word templates”. Second, internally PowerPoint was used to “show something on the wall” and third, Bauvista also has a wiki where the respective instructions were also published.

“When things went badly, we had a Word version on the outside, a PowerPoint on the inside and another documentation in the wiki.”

The result was: A lot of work. The trinity of documentation cost Bauvista’s IT a lot of time, which in turn was lacking in other areas. At the same time, there was a lack of uniformity and structure: Sometimes it was “topsy-turvy”, because structures in the company did not always grow with the rapid company growth. When things had to be done quickly, documentation requirements were not met. The result was a rag rug. In clear language Räker: “When you maintain a wiki, one person takes this headline, another those, the next makes it colourful – and in the end it looks terrible”.

Individual solution: Export directly to the company wiki and test documentation with FlowShare

When the DSGVO became effective in 2018, Bauvista’s IT staff decided to change something about documentation – and came across FlowShare. Thorsten Räker tested the free version and was quickly familiarized with it. “After a quarter of an hour it was actually clear how it works.” For him this makes it especially interesting: “Because it doesn’t have so much bells and whistles and “chichi”, but instead there is simply a rule where content is placed and how texts and pictures are displayed. That’s very pleasant from the user’s point of view.”

The software is particularly well suited to Bauvista because of its numerous possibilities: Whether Powerpoint, Pdf or HTML, all use cases are combined in one tool. “If you want to make it nice, you can export a Powerpoint and have fun with the 1000 Microsoft Office fonts. And if I need a manual, you can do it in Word.” However, the HTML export is particularly exciting for Räker itself. Bauvista employees have used it to build their very own application: Thanks to an adjustment in the sharepoint, FlowShare HTML text can now be copied one-to-one into the page structure. After inserting and saving, the complete manual is uploaded fully formatted to the company wiki within seconds.

“Then we used FlowShare to fill up the entire wiki pages.”

The predefined structure of FlowShare establishes a uniform form of instructions – adapted to the corporate identity of Bauvista. If required, instructions can still be freely formatted with the PowerPoint or Word export. The HTML export has established itself in everyday life: This is the “fast, practical approach”.

 

Then Bauvista applies FlowShare in another use case: in the application development. In test runs, Bauvista employees let FlowShare run on the side. If error messages appear when clicking through, the testers can easily generate a Pdf and send it to the developer. “He can directly follow the click path. You don’t have to run over and point here, there and there every time.”

Result: 90 percent time savings and resources for growth

Räker sums up: “FlowShare is a tool that enables very simple documentation and test documentation. It is very intuitive to learn: for anyone who is not IT-affine as well”.

 

At the same time, the time savings for Bauvista’s information technology are enormous. No more screenshots, no more uploading manually “When I used to work on a relatively complex documentary, I might have spent two days on it. Today, especially with the sharepoint solution, it’s no longer 1.5 hours. You can’t get it any more simple in that area.”

This is good for everyone: IT no longer has to spend the whole day dealing with documentation and can use its time more efficiently. This means that FlowShare is already freeing up internal resources at Bauvista. The company wants to expand this further: In the future they want to work even more with FlowShare across departments: “We want to get away from isolated solutions that are prevailing across departments,” says Räker. With FlowShare, IT can instead establish a uniform and functioning structure.

Räker: “That’s how we got from the three-track system to a smooth solution.”

Image Sources: Bauvista GmbH & Co. KG

E-Mail: info(at)bauvista.de
Internet: www.bauvista.de
Bauvista GmbH & Co. KG
Triftenstr. 115
D-32791 Lage

Organize Knowledge: Databases and Helpdesks

Share user knowledge internally and externally

The world around us is becoming increasingly complex, digital and fast. The range of things we are dealing with is getting wider and wider. This is why there are more and more experts who have a lot of specialized knowledge in their fields.
The key challenge in this world is the successful transfer of information between experts and those who need the information. Such an exchange requires an organized structure: a database in which information can be 1. stored and 2. retrieved in an orderly fashion.

Especially with regard to digital structures and IT problems, communication otherwise quickly ends in chaos. Did you know that studies show that the IT department in companies spends 30% of its time answering support requests from employees or customers? This is inefficient and costs time, money and creates stress. At the same time, good customer support significantly increases the overall quality of your business.

That’s why companies, whether small, medium or large, always need an orderly channel through which information is transmitted. In this article we will show you how to organize your information exchange in databases or a helpdesk.

What is a helpdesk or a database?

Both, knowledge databases and helpdesks, store special knowledge in a structured way and make it accessible for users. At the same time, users can submit new requests for help and ask for solutions.

There are two main target groups for these databases:

  • Knowledge databases (or knowledge bases) for internal user in the company
  • Helpdesks for support requests from external users, for example customers

What do I need this for?

1. Efficiency

Helpdesks and knowledge bases can significantly increase efficiency in companies. Problems are solved faster and more cost-effectively: Through the organized channel instead of countless phone calls, e-mails or portal messages. In addition, a constant repetition of the same calls is eliminated.

A good helpdesk makes an enormous difference in the number of calls made. One example is Deutsche Bahn. With the establishment of a new helpdesk, the so-called “Unified Enterprise Mobility Management”, Deutsche Bahn has reduced the monthly number of calls from mobile device users from 2100 to 210. The costs of this support offer were thus reduced by 75%.

2. External: Increased quality

A helpdesk is an elementary part of your customer relationship management (CRM). It makes you as a company accessible to your customers, makes you a contact person and problem solver. This generates a high level of satisfaction, increases the perceived quality of your offer and binds customers to the company in the long term.

Studies show that almost all customers accept good knowledge databases: 91% of all respondents say they want to use a knowledge database if it meets their needs. 67% even prefer the self-service option to talking to a customer service representative.

3.Internal: Standardized processes and resource gains

A knowledge database supports internal processes within the company: It relieves much consulted experts, such as the IT department. The IT experts can answer support queries in a compressed form via the knowledge database. This saves time and resources that can be used for more strategic tasks.

4. Internal: Knowledge Backup

In studies 38% of firm respondents stated that much or even all information would be lost if they left the company immediately. That demonstrates that knowledge of employees leaving the firm is often not well or insufficiently secured. With a structured, high-quality knowledge database, knowledge remains available to the company even when employees leave the firm. New colleagues can acquire know-how independently using the available material.

5. Organisation

In a database or a helpdesk, important information is centralized and accessible for everyone. This way, all employees in the company are actively involved: they can help themselves more easily and are more independent of experts. This is of immense value and promotes interaction, innovation and initiative.

How do I set it up?

The development of a knowledge database is mainly divided into three steps:

  1. Analysis: Collect data
  2. Select a tool provider
  3. Create tickets

1.      Collect Data

Define goals: Which requirements should the helpdesk meet? Which areas should it cover and which features should it have (tickets, live chat, forum…)?

Define target group: For whom is the support intended? What knowledge does the group have and through what channels does it seek support?

Analysis: Where are the problems, what kind of questions do users have? Which problems are particularly common? What are their causes? Which processes do users perform particularly frequently? Which requests have been recently submitted by customers or employees?

Then you create a list of the most important tickets to be created and divide them into meaningful areas.

It is possible, for example, to divide the list into sections:

  • Time of the need for support (first steps, start, in-depth use)
  • Software (in the company: Questions about different applications in different categories)
  • Different use cases
  • Customer groups
  • Prices, application, administration, troubleshooting

Of course, you must define individually for yourself which structure makes sense for you and your company, taking into account your target group and work area.

2.      Select a tool provider

Of course, you can also create your own website to provide customer or employee support. However, the use of specialized help desk software has proven to be a good solution. This software helps to track, prioritize and resolve support requests (so-called tickets) from customers through its provided structures.

When building a good support system, the choice of a good tool is fundamental. There are numerous providers on the market that offer a wide range of features for varying prices. Many providers also provide a basic version of their software free of charge. In many cases it is worth testing this before buying the extended version of the software: This way you can check in advance if the product meets your requirements.

Possible features according to which you can select the software according to your needs:

  • Adaptable to your requirements?
  • Live chat possible?
  • Integration of your existing channels (Facebook/ Twitter/ etc.) possible?
  • Compatibility with your software?
  • Ease of use and intuitive operation?
  • Customer surveys possible?
  • Including a user forum?
  • Task management possibilities?
  • Analysis tools (statistics, usage reports)?
  • Price?

When making your selection, you should always keep in mind the future users of the support on the one hand and the support desk agents who will operate the support desk on the other.

Some of the largest providers on the market are:

… but there are many others.
You can find current comparisons of the best helpdesk software providers on the Internet and in trade magazines, where you can search for the best solution for your needs, individually adapted to your requirements.

3.      Create tickets

Then it’s time to get down to business: creating your tickets and uploading them to your database.

There are a few things you should keep in mind – Checklist for your tickets:

  • As short as possible, as long as necessary?
  • Question words (Who, Where, How, When, Why) answered?
  • Clear structure? (enumeration, numbering or step by step explanations)
  • Clarity: paragraphs added and important things highlighted?
  • All technical terms and abbreviations explained?
  • No prior knowledge required?
  • Read and understood by external users (test users)?
  • Supported with pictures/screenshots/graphics but not overloaded?
  • Linked to further tickets?

In addition to the tickets that you create in advance, you should also make one or more employees responsible for processing incoming tickets. They will answer further user questions that go beyond the available information in the database and thus constantly expand your support service.

Which mistakes should I avoid?

When creating a helpdesk or a knowledge base there are a few mistakes that you should definitely avoid:

  • Outdated content
    Nothing is worse than a support description that doesn’t help me because it is outdated – due to updates, new developments or something else. That’s why it’s essential that you manage your help center at least occasionally after it has been set up and update it whenever changes occur.
  • Unclear content
    The second big faux pas: I, as a user, visit your helpdesk, find exactly the topic I need – but do not understand the content because it is not well described. This frustrates and creates dissatisfaction, which is projected onto your company. That’s why you should keep your tickets as simple as possible, start at the very bottom of the basics and take all users with you! If I as a user can skip something because I already know it, that’s not so bad. But if I miss something important, the whole helpdesk becomes useless for me.
  • Unclear structures and categories
    The best content in your database is of no use to your users if it cannot be found. That’s why you should give your categories and tickets meaningful names and create a clear, concise structure.
  • Promises that are not kept
    When users submit tickets, they expect a response from a support center. Delayed orders and lost tickets make users feel that they have been let down. In the IT Excellence Benchmark (ITEB), 22% of respondents said they were not kept up to date while their problems were being resolved – avoid this, be available and answer urgent tickets if you consider this part of your service.

Additional tips

What else can you do?

  • Give your users the choice: Offer your answer in several formats. Then your users can choose, for example, between text instructions, a video link and pdf instructions for download.
  • Don’t forget internal acceptance: Measure the use of and satisfaction with your helpdesk to create the basis for your work internally as well. Concrete figures prove the indispensability of your support efforts.
  • Optimize also in the mobile view. Today mobile is no longer an option, but a necessity that should not be ignored.
  • Don’t leave your helpdesk alone even after the installation! Analyze its use, which tickets are requested, which terms are searched for, where comments are made and where improvements may be necessary. Because: Feedback is a gift! Accept it and optimize your structures.
  • Let users join the game: Forums and user-help-user facilities can take a lot of work off your shoulders – and sometimes other users can explain solutions much better than the experts might be able to.
  • Last but not least: Pay attention to quality. Especially in support, quality prevails over quantity. In times of the internet, we are drowning in information but lack really relevant knowledge. Better do less, but do it well!

For us, as developers of documentation software, the topic of information management is indispensable. We are glad that FlowShare has already helped many companies successfully to share information efficiently within the company and to build up knowledge databases. You can read an example case here.

We hope you enjoy implementing our tips and wish you success in developing your own knowledge base!

5 reasons why you should start documenting software

Miraminds often refers to one thing: software documentation. Read here why we are so convinced of recording digital processes and why you too should start with it:

Software documentation is the process of recording digital processes in order to explain how software works, how it was developed or how to operate it.
The finished documentation is often addressed to colleagues or customers and can have a variety of formats: From user manuals, knowledge bases and company wikis to individual step-by-step instructions.

But why should you do this at all?

5 reasons why you should also document software:

  1. Successful onboarding of new employees
  2. Implement new software effectively
  3. Reduce support costs
  4. Empower software users in the long term
  5. Sell software – communicate benefits

1. Successful onboarding of new employees

Imagine a new employee coming into your company. It is the first week, everything is new – administrative structures, use of the company’s own software, work-related IT processes.

It is essential to provide the new colleague with the tools she needs to get her work done: precise software instructions and documentation of everyday processes. These offer new employees an overview and the possibility to look up processes.

On the one hand, software documentation enables new colleagues to work. On the other hand, the instructions give them a feeling of appreciation and involvement. They are directly regarded as part of the team and are provided with the information they need to fully participate.

Onboarding also includes the transfer of information between colleagues: For example, when colleagues are on vacation, they must be given details of the process flows in order to adequately replace the absent team members. Information on digital processes in particular can be passed on very well with the help of documentation. Carlos Leber from the Limbach Group reports that his FlowShare documentation was received “very well” by his colleagues.

2. Implement new software effectively

The opposite case is that not new employees come to your company, but instead the software changes: Software evolves, new features go along with updates and often entire existing systems in companies have to be converted.

This involves risks: Not without reason the boss of the Liqui-Moly company, Ernst Prost, said 2019 that a software changeover is “worse than Brexit, Trump and trade war“. The motor oil company had suffered a 30 percent drop in profits in 2019 due to a change of its ERP system – because the conversion had not worked as smoothly as it should have.

The example shows how important it is to implement new software carefully and to take all employees along with you during this change. Colleagues need to be trained in the use of the new software at an early stage and be given the opportunity to look up new procedures if necessary.

The insurance company BDAE, for example, managed the changeover to a new database system with the help of software documentation using FlowShare. The documentation quickly spread the user knowledge on how to work with the new system and thus enabled all employees to work successfully with the new structures.

3. Reduce support costs

Software documentation can make a significant contribution to relieving the burden on IT and guaranteeing efficient support. Particularly with increasing digitalization, the IT in many companies must deliver top performance – and is chronically understaffed at the same time. As a result, IT experts spend an average of 30% of their time providing technical support for colleagues or customers – time that is then lacking to implement technical innovations.

Software documentation helps to reduce this time. Especially when using efficient documentation tools, the workload for IT is reduced enormously. It does not have to explain processes again and again, but can create documentation once and thus reach many users simultaneously. If the documentation is clearly stored and easily accessible, users receive immediate help exactly when they need it.

In addition, documentation is a good reminder when direct support has been provided. For example, Kapsch uses software documentation during helpdesk calls when service desk employees show users the solution to a problem. This makes IT support more sustainable: users who have forgotten the solution from the support call can simply look it up again. The document can also be made available to other employees with the same problem. In this way, software documentation reduces the number of support calls and support costs.

4. Empower software users in the long term

Software documentation empowers employees. It serves as a reminder, enables employees to carry out tasks independently and eliminates the need to constantly ask colleagues or superiors: “How exactly did that work? – “Could you help me with this later?”

With their compressed information, documentations also function as mnemonic aids for your own processes. Especially concerning processes that are executed less frequently you often don’t feel as confident as with those that you do every day. To avoid having to start from “zero” every time you perform these tasks, it is worthwhile to briefly record the processes.

Another advantage is that each employee can view documentation at his or her own pace and at any time. If information is also provided in various formats, as our Flowshare customer Scopevisio does it, for example, users can help themselves individually. They use the type and format that suits them best and are thus more likely to be successful: whether with printed manuals in combination with virtual wikis, or with videos in combination with step-by-step click instructions.

In addition: when users work out their own solutions to problems with the help of documentation, they often learn much more effectively than when they are presented with the answer from the IT support team. Documentation promotes the independence of users – not only internally within the company, but also in external communication. The IT company IPD NOW, for example, has set up a comprehensive wiki with software documentation that enables its customers to help themselves.

5. Sell software - communicate benefits

Software products are often relatively abstract goods – sometimes it is not so easy to present the advantages of a certain software solution quickly and clearly. What makes your solution special? What are its capabilities and why is it better than those of its competitors?

Software documentation can also be useful here: With documentation you can help customers to understand your product better. Workflows illustrate how software is used and what your USP is. Step by step, customers can follow how work processes run in your software.

If your product is then used by the customer, the documentation can explain the tool to the customer in more detail: For example, the consultant Wolfram von Rotberg uses software documentation to explain the activities of ERP software such as Navision or Axapta to his customers step by step.

Extra: Communicate processes also in the home office

In this March 2020 everything is a bit different and the world is in uproar: the Corona crisis is affecting people’s working and living environments. This includes the fact that due to the risk of infection, many employees stay in the home office instead of going to work.

Software documentation can also be helpful for your home office. Because especially when you are not in the office, it is sometimes more difficult to understand work processes. To illustrate processes to colleagues or customers, it helps to prepare a short documentation. This way, workflows can be given for discussion, results can be communicated in the team and handovers can be designed comfortably from home.

Tools for software documentation

After all the arguments for the documentation of software processes, the all-decisive question remains: And how should this be done?

You are by no means left on your own, but have a whole range of tools to choose from: With our documentation software FlowShare you can automatically create step-by-step instructions. Snagit byTechsmith is a professional screenshot creation tool. In fact, most Windows users have the Windows Problem Step Recorder pre-installed – and these are just a few of the many solutions. For a detailed overview of documentation tools on the market, please visit our blog. There you will find tips on which software is best suited to your needs.

We also want to give you some practical tips: Here we show you in 5 steps how to create successful documentation. If you have any tips or comments of your own, please let us know – we wish you good luck with your documentation!