The need to digitize it was a mantra that was beginning to permeate among Basque companies even before the pandemic. The arrival of the coronavirus has further reinforced that idea. Overnight the network began to flood every day with millions of teleconferences, ‘webinars’ and ‘online’ workshops as an emergency solution to home confinement. Digital tools have proven their circumstantial usefulness for many companies when it comes to maintain the relationship with your customers.
But beyond videoconferencing, there are companies that have known how to combine need and opportunity, in such a way that digitization has served them to reinterpret the crisis and reorient its long-term strategies. It is one of the main conclusions of the study ‘Digitization as a response to Covid-19’, produced by Orchestra in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.
The Basque Institute of Competitiveness gathered last Tuesday around a table the top executives of three Basque companies and the Spri Director of Technology and Innovation to discuss the role that digitization plays in the current economic and business scenario. A path towards digital transformation that was “already laid out” in the Basque Country before Covid-19, according to Aitor Cobanera. The representative of the Stop it maintains that there was “a good point of awareness” among the companies.
Those who had their homework done when the coronavirus broke out showed a greater ability to maintain their activity. “When facing the situation, digital has played a fundamental role, since it has been the central element of many of the responses of companies,” he says Agustin Zubillaga, coordinator of Orkestra’s Digital Economy Lab and co-author of the study together with Carla Peletier. The researcher at the Basque Institute for Competitiveness highlights that “the responses of companies to Covid-19 have basically occurred at three levels”: product (an expansion of the product portfolio); of process (organizational responses for the maintenance of the activity) or canal (relationship with the client).
The group Batz It is one of those firms whose activity – die-cutting and automotive systems – “requires the integration of digital technology. It is something non-negotiable », sentence Iban Lasagabaster, manager of the Igorre and Artea plants. Advanced technology “has helped us to withstand especially the first part of the pandemic with hardly any shocks” by keeping supply chains almost intact ” guarantee everything that the client demanded, and at all hours».
Three years ago, Batz (belonging to Mondragon) diagnosed its degree of digitization based on a methodology of German origin. «On a scale from 1 to 5, we did not reach 1.5. It may seem bad, but the best company in Europe was BMW, with 2.3 “, says Lasagabaster. That self-examination allowed them to redirect the digital transition towards a cybersecurity improvement, and to provide intelligence to the electronic devices of all its plants.
The pandemic has been “A catalyst” to speed up and reorder a not quite well used digitization. “In terms of technology we have everything, but perhaps in a disorganized way. To date, machines generated value, but not knowledge. Now is the time to organize all resources », acknowledges the head of Batz Igorre.
Sariki, metrology company of the Unceta Group, plays in divisions lower than Batz. With 60 employees and an exclusively national market, it has had to adapt its commercial activity in a way “that until now was unthinkable”, says the company’s CEO, Borja Gárate. «The client wanted to see, touch our product. But now we connect with the client remotely and we can even give them a good ‘demo’ of our machines remotely ”, he adds.
Video conferencing has also allowed them accelerate another leg of your business, that of training. «Before, someone who wanted to train with us had to come to our headquarters in Elgoibar, or to the office it has in Madrid. And now, thanks to the fact that subsidies have been approved for online courses, customers can stay at home, “he acknowledges.
In Aquadat, ‘startup’ specialized in smart water management, were “knocked out” by the first hit of the coronavirus. “But since we are used to living in uncertainty, we immediately focus on deciding the next steps. We were clear that this was not for two months, so we had to look for something structural “, says its CEO, Jorge Garcia del Arco. The next steps consisted of “locating funding sources, reviewing the portfolio to see where to go, and accelerating R&D.”
According to del Arco, digitization “is a bit like sex in adolescence: much is said about it, but little is practiced». However, “it is in the DNA of our company.” They, like many other companies, have found on the screens “opportunities that we had not foreseen. For example, the alliance with an industrial company interested in participating in the Aquamed project, which has endowed them with “an analytical capacity superior to existing ones”, welcomes the Arc.
Technology has also allowed them work thousands of miles away, but without leaving home. “Through satellite data sources, we can analyze water from any part of the world. We did this for an industrial company in Mexico that had heard about us and contacted us, ”says the CEO of Aquamed.
Paradoxically, the physical closeness that dominated commercial relationships has been replaced by other telematics that are just as or more fruitful. Lasagabaster acknowledges that these months have been a “tremendously successful time in terms of attracting projects. Before we were in Paris every week to meet Renault, or in Sweden with Volvo. That has been broken, but in telematic communication relationships have changed radically. They are infinitely better because It is no longer a relationship between companies, it is almost personal».
Enhancement of ICT departments
This step forward of the digital is verified in the enhancement of the departments ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). «Before it was an auxiliary department that provided a service. He put us computers and little else. It was almost an expense. Now it is a lever that has to promote not only success in attracting projects but also in day-to-day operations, ”admits the CEO of Batz. In Sariki’s case, “an ICT manager was appointed three years ago, not only for our company, but for our entire group.”
The future, full of both uncertainty and ignorance, invites us to “combine the short and long term,” believes Cobanera. In his opinion, the 2025 Digital Transformation Agenda should mark the step for companies that they must collaborate without restrictions or complexes regardless of their size. “Personally, it seems wonderful to me that the driving companies consider startups as an important solution to challenges they may have. It is a very interesting pairing ».
In any case, and as the CEO of Sariki recalls, few companies doubt that “digital it will make us much more competitive in the medium term.
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