Digital transformation – an upheaval that is reshaping every aspect of our lives. An interview with Dr Robert Mayr, chairman of DATEV’s Executive Board, on change driven by IT, valuable data, and actively tackling the opportunities unlocked by the transformation process.
Technological change has always existed. How is the digital transformation different?
Dr. Robert Mayr: Earlier, technological changes were more of a lengthy process. With the digital transformation, things are different – digitization is rapidly turning the entire business world, in all of its facets, upside down. The digital transformation isn’t some vision for the future, it’s already in full swing.
The term “digital transformation” describes a transition – a transition to a world where IT connects everything together. What does this mean for our working environment?
Dr. Robert Mayr: Smartphones and tablets have already lifted most of the geographic limits on the permanent exchange of information. At the same time, the systems are becoming increasingly fast and distributing an increasing amount of data. Devices and machines are being connected, a large number of processes are now fully automated. The primary goal for companies is to systematically digitize all of their business processes and increase efficiency. The basis for all of this is technology – cloud computing, big data analytics, and intelligent networks are affecting opportunities just as much as the increasingly varied, compact, and more powerful devices.
What is the significance of the digital transformation for DATEV and its members?
Dr. Robert Mayr: As DATEV, we need to clearly understand what we’re facing, and draw conclusions from it. After all, the digital transformation is having an impact on everyone, including tax consultants, auditors, and attorneys. The demands of modern financial management and the changes to small and medium enterprises mean that we need to rethink our views – both with regard to internal processes as well as strategic consultancy management. Anyone that doesn’t adapt might end up missing out on the future. This is because, in the foreseeable future, traditional activities will be replaced and an increasing number of businesspeople will enter the market that deal with digitization completely differently – and also expect it from their consultant.
But technological advancements aren’t anything unusual for tax consultants…
Dr. Robert Mayr: But this time, everything is changing as a result of the digital transformation – and especially because the fiscal authorities are also entering the electronic age and collecting and demanding an increasing amount of data in digital form. This level of digitization is still unfamiliar to some tax consultants, and many clients are also not yet fully tapping this potential. This results in the need to switch between data formats, which costs time and makes it more difficult to offer comprehensive consulting services.
What are the positive effects of the digital transformation?
Dr. Robert Mayr: It allows us to considerably simplify many activities, particularly unproductive administrative activities. Processes become increasingly interconnected. For example, connecting and automating order management and accounting has led to a significant increase in processing speed. Take, for example, the entire workflow of processing an invoice, which can be reduced by half an hour to only a few minutes this way. And, similarly, every task that can be standardized can be completed digitally, which allows tax consultants to spend more time actually consulting. This alone shows that digitization isn’t an end in itself – the point is to create more value for the client.
What do you believe will be the future role of DATEV and IT overall?
Dr. Robert Mayr: Up until now, IT had mainly performed supporting functions. But the digital transformation is changing this – IT itself is becoming a productive factor. This results in new expectations of us when it comes to the services we provide. We will take on a pioneering role, drive advancements forward, and develop new business ideas for our members – with our experience as a data center operator, we are a cloud pioneer and have decades of experience to draw on. We initiated the “DATEV 2025” strategy process, which builds on this.
What does that mean exactly?
Dr. Robert Mayr:We have defined strategic guidelines so that, in the future, our members will be able to even better advise their clients. We want to provide solutions that support business processes without the need to switch between different data formats. In this context, the DATEV Cloud is our top priority and, in the future, the number of online solutions we offer will increase significantly.
Furthermore, we want to unlock the wealth of data available in a manner that benefits our members. So far, we have only processed data on behalf of our members – in the future, we will need to intensify our use of the data, and it goes without saying that we will do so while taking privacy fully into consideration. We are going to develop ideas for data-driven and profitable business consulting activities on the basis of big-data technologies. This is how we will enable our members to provide their clients with even more comprehensive, forward-looking support.
We also believe the phrase “without needing to switch data formats” means creating interfaces to other manufacturers. This is how we want to optimize workflows between companies and consultants on a wider scale. With DATEVconnect online, we have already taken the first step in this regard.
In this context, how will you ensure that sensitive data remains secure?
Dr. Robert Mayr:DATEV has stood for privacy and IT security for 50 years. These two factors are always our top priority in everything we develop. Or, to put it another way: we only utilize a technology if we are absolutely certain that it is secure. In order to perform this balancing act between thinking ahead and maintaining security, we continue to refine our culture of innovation. We create the space necessary to more markedly stimulate our employees’ creativity and encourage them to play an active role.
And what does your vision for the future look like when it comes to your members?
Dr. Robert Mayr:Digital change represents an opportunity for all of us – if we can get the people on board. The same applies to clients as it does to a consultancy’s employees. Those that systematically take advantage of these opportunities will be able to largely free themselves from purely administrative tasks and, in the future, actively support companies in running their operations using a wide range of client-related data. This is both a challenging as well as promising outlook.
Thank you for the interview!