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5 Questions With Prof. Dr. Mark Harwardt

07 September 2023
Ida Lorenz
Mark Harwardt is a Commerce, E-Commerce, and Marketing professor at the University of Applied Management in Ismaning. Additionally, he works as a consultant and author in digital transformation, digital technologies, and E-Commerce.
What topics and trends in the field of Data & Analytics do you consider particularly important for remaining competitive in the coming years?

Fundamentally, I still wonder if many companies have done their homework in the foundational areas. I'm considering aspects that should be taken for granted, such as data storage, quality, privacy, security, and ethics. Once these issues are addressed, many companies will still focus on themes marked as trends for years: real-time analysis, predictive analytics, data visualization, and IoT data analysis.

But in recent times, two trends have stood out: Firstly, data is now seen as a company's central product that can be monetized. Secondly, artificial intelligence and machine learning are gaining increasing importance.

How do you assess the current state of AI-based initiatives in German companies?

I believe caution is necessary when evaluating this situation. ChatGPT, for example, has significantly brought AI into decision-makers' consciousness. Unfortunately, this has also led to much actionism, which always carries risks – especially because many companies often lack genuine AI experts. I'm glad that companies are embracing this technology. Still, I fear that many AI initiatives will lead to disappointments due to impulsive actions and a lack of expertise in proper planning and execution.

Your books provide practical recommendations for action. We approach our clients armed with a suitcase full of tried-and-true guidelines. Why is so much persuasion still needed, even though it should be clear to everyone by now that nothing works without a data strategy?

I think this is similar to many IT initiatives: many people don't immediately see the benefits, and the initial investment is high. At the same time, the results in terms of value contribution often become visible only much later. Take data quality as an example. Why invest in it when you could put that money into marketing activities that directly impact revenues?

What's the recipe for success in implementing digital strategies?

It's essential to recognize that it's never about deploying the technology itself but always about the value that can be achieved through its use. It's absolutely not sensible, for instance, to adopt AI without a clear understanding of the objectives. Unfortunately, I often observe the aforementioned actionism when it comes to digital strategies.

Often, meaningful actions are initiated, but they don't receive enough support from top management afterward. This leads to skepticism among employees or a lack of resource allocation.

Is there a master plan to regain control over the crisis in retail?

No, unfortunately, there's no master plan. Each company and target group is different. However, I believe the retail sector still hasn't grasped two essential points: First, consumer behavior has changed. Digital channels are a necessity because people often no longer want to travel to city centers, endure long commutes, and go through the hassle of finding parking. After a long workday, they usually prefer to conveniently do their shopping from their couches. Secondly, the central advantage of brick-and-mortar retail lies in its proximity to customers and the resulting service opportunities. But often, when you enter a store, the service provided doesn't justify the visit. This is where retailers should focus their efforts.

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