Digitization in SMEs: Do robots take over our jobs?

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Digitization in small and medium-sized Company progresses inexorably. In which sectors is the increasing use of artificial intelligence particularly noticeable, and where does Germany position itself in the digital transformation in a global comparison?

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Hendrik Köhler is Co-Founder & CMO of the full-service web design provider Websitebutler.


From industrialization to industry 4.0

The digital revolution, or the age of the 4.0 industry, was ushered in at the turn of the last millennium and summarizes the multiple approaches to digital transformation in the manufacturing sector. However, a look back in history shows that the digitization of the world of work started much earlier. With the onset of industrialization the end of the 18. Century mass production became possible.

Nevertheless, the partly mechanical production of goods and services was still very much dependent on human labor, such as the operation of mechanical looms. When Henry Ford 1913 first used the assembly line in automobile production, he laid the foundation for the 2.0 industry. Because each employee managed only one production step, production became more effective and faster.

Since the 1970 years, industrial production with the use of modern communication and information technology is becoming more and more dependent on human resources. Today, humans and robots work side by side in many production facilities. More and more machines can automate production processes thanks to artificial intelligence. This allows the optimization and acceleration of processes, so that digitization in small and medium Company becomes more and more important.

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Where does Germany position itself in international comparison?

Germany is regarded worldwide as one of the most innovative countries and is a pioneer in the development of various technologies. However, this does not mean that digitization in SMEs is more advanced in this country than in other countries. On the contrary: according to the innovation indicator, Germany ranks 44,3 in an international comparison with an index value of 17 in terms of the digitization indicator and does not stand out from the international competition. The top positions include Finland (69,5), Sweden (66,4) and Israel (65,4).

One reason for the comparatively weak digitization in SMEs is the high investment costs and the data protection requirements as well as the data security in Germany. There is a shortage of skilled workers with the necessary expertise. Given the complexity of the topic, many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed. In addition, the fear of artificial intelligence slows down their application. The degree and nature of digitization in SMEs and the associated risks to jobs vary widely from sector to sector.

How strongly does digitalization endanger individual industries?

The retail, automotive and construction sectors are the sectors in which digitization will be the most prevalent in SMEs. Particularly high with 92% is the probability in retail that robots will take over the jobs of the people in the future.

An example that is already visible is the self-service cash registers in supermarkets, where customers independently scan the goods, pack them and control the payment process. Owners of brick-and-mortar stores also fear the competition of online trading. However, it should not be forgotten that consumers, even in times of digitization, value personal advice from human resources professionals.

Do robots replace human labor?

Robots are already largely replacing the manpower of automobile production efficiently and the trend is increasing. Although enormous digitization is to be expected with 67,4%, new occupational fields are emerging in research and development, especially in the area of ​​autonomous driving.

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There is still a lot of potential for digitization in the craft and construction industries. The likelihood that artificial intelligence will replace humans in the future is above 60%. The digitization in artisanal SMEs is currently evident in the use of digital sensor technology for the maintenance of equipment and especially in 3D printing for production in the construction industry. Although some jobs can be completed faster and more cost-effectively through the use of innovative technologies, in most cases the skilled craftsmanship of a specialist can not be dispensed with.

In medicine, gastronomy and counseling, man is irreplaceable

In gastronomy and health care, human resources are irreplaceable. Even if complex technology can help physicians recognize illnesses earlier and intelligently link health-related data to form a holistic picture of the patient, they can be

Decisions on interventions, care and therapeutic measures should not be made without human intervention. The interpersonal contact between the physician and the patient is only indispensable for the very few people.

Even though restaurateurs have to compete with online delivery services, professional chefs and a competent service staff are indispensable in the industry. The likelihood that the machine will replace humans in these occupations is very low. Nevertheless, it is especially important in this industry to keep up with the times. With no online presence in the form of their own modern website, social media activity and customer reviews, it is becoming increasingly difficult for restaurateurs to attract new customers.

No fear of digitization

More and more entrepreneurs see the digitization of SMEs as an opportunity. But workers are more critical of the 4.0 industry. They fear the risk of being replaced by machines at some point. However, a dystopian world in which robots dominate the world and humans is not a realistic scenario for the next few years. Experts of the IAB do not assume that in the near future entire occupational groups will be replaced by digital technologies. Nevertheless, it will hit some professional groups harder than others. The retail and manufacturing professions are the hardest hit.

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In many sectors, innovative technologies will simultaneously create new job profiles and jobs. Researchers use professionals to develop, program and monitor digital technologies. Machines and programs can do heavy physical work and facilitate administrative processes. In many aspects of society such as health and communication, progressive digitization can make life easier for people.

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