Interview with Felix Menden, CTO at „Wer liefert was?“What do you think is the importance of digitalisation in business today?
In business, there is currently nothing more important that dealing with digitalisation. German companies understand this: 90% think that industry 4.0 will play a significant role in the future but only 30% say that they have a “clear” understanding of what industry 4.0 entails.
SMEs need to recognize the need for change and place this challenge on their company’s strategic agenda. Only when they start treating this challenge as a process can the right business divisions pave the way towards digitalisation and identify which investments to make first, without jeopardizing the existence of the company.
To do nothing is not an option and would endanger the future success of the company.
How was wlw able to make use of digitalisation?
wlw recognized the signs early and became one of the pioneers of the internet. wlw has been online since 1995 and has been offering its services exclusively online since 2001. Today wlw is one of the few companies in the B2B community that has successfully completed the digital transformation: from being a publishing company that was founded over 80 years ago, to being an internet-based company. There are currently 540.000 companies and almost 5 million products on the www.wlw.de platform, across a range of industries.
Which aspects of wlw in particular would be impossible without digitalisation?
Without digitalisation, an online B2B marketplace and the transparency associated with that would not be possible. Additionally, our clients profit from a monthly performance analysis, where they can see who has looked at the company’s profile or which areas and industries searched for them. With this information, our clients can directly contact potential customers more easily and thus generate more orders and more revenue. In addition, digital channels can be used to develop more markets with fewer personnel and fewer costs. None of this was possible ten years ago, and the expansion is going to continue.
What is wlw planning for the future?
Our goal is to become the leading B2B marketplace in Europe and to make European products accessible to the world. Since the parent company of “Wer liefert was” has acquired Europages, we are now significantly closer to achieving that goal. With around 3.5 million unique visitors per month and roughly 50 million visits per year, wlw and Europages together unite the largest B2B buyer demand in Europe.
The key steps over the next few months will be to strengthen the exchange between Europages and wlw, to increase the percentage of international businesses on the platforms and to improve our market position in underrepresented countries. We are only at the beginning of our marketplace strategy. We currently have almost 5 million products on our platform but in the future, it should be 30 million products that can be found easily and quickly either by searching directly or via categories and filters.
What advice can you give to other businesses?
In a nutshell: Take digitalisation seriously, see it as an opportunity and place it on the company’s strategic agenda. Because there are three risks.
First: international competitors could digitalise even faster and irrevocably occupy the global market. Second: the labour models of a “project economy” driven by digitalisation may no longer be manageable for companies. Third: insufficient understanding of data flows, data sovereignty and data security could lead to bad dependencies and could damage companies. In all aspects lawmakers, companies, trade unions and individuals need to prepare in order to keep up.
The good thing about the Digital Age is that you can start with small investments, see what works and then react accordingly.