by Adrian Weiler

INFORM was recently ranked among the "Digital Pioneers of Medium-Sized Businesses 2020". We owe this award to the German business magazine WirtschaftsWoche which, in a study, evaluated 4,000 medium-sized companies. The top 50 were honored with this award. In the study, each company received a "Digital Score," which is made up of two-thirds digital performance and one-third ability to grow. In 2019, INFORM achieved 15th place in the study's ranking, and this year, we have advanced to 5th place.

Hearing about this honor, I am happy for all our employees. However, it would be strange if I hadn't always thought of INFORM as a digital pioneer. After all, what does digital pioneering mean, and hasn’t INFORM embodied the pioneering spirit for some time now? For example, as early as 1991, we successfully deployed mathematical optimization software for production planning and scheduling in make-to-order production, although ERP systems providing the necessary data were far from having conquered the market at that time. That is pioneering spirit. Deriving an equally rapid need for digital decision making from the rapid market penetration of ERP systems also reflects the pioneering spirit. Our company history is rich with other examples of this kind, but rather than focus on the past, let’s talk about the future.

Digitization is still in its infancy

Digital Decision Making combines Artificial Intelligence and Operations Research technologies with human expertise and industry know-how to optimize operational business processes in a targeted manner at precisely those points that are crucial for the profitability and resilience of a company. This applies particularly to business environments characterized by high complexity and dynamics, where sound yet fast management decisions are required.

For example, think of real-time planning and scheduling of commodity flows in postal and parcel centers especially now as these processes lead up to Christmas. Other examples include the management of industrial freight traffic or scheduling incredibly detailed processes like airport ground handling or optimized staff scheduling in a large corporation involving tens of thousands of employees.

Notwithstanding our long success story spanning more than five decades and with well over 1,000 customers around the world, one could argue that the time for digital decision intelligence has only just begun. Over the past few years, data availability, computing power and, of course, the quality of algorithms have increased dramatically, such that nowadays one in two companies considers Artificial Intelligence (AI) to be a key technology to remain competitive. While digital business models and processes are becoming more and more a natural aspect of everyday business and life throughout all industries, potential applications for digital decision making are multiplying enormously. This is especially true given that ubiquitous megatrends such as increasing complexity, dynamics, volatility, and ultimately the unpredictability of many decision parameters require agile planning and management methods.

Encourage innovations

So what ideas are we moving forward with? I am convinced that digital decision-making intelligence will contribute enormously to a better world. Checking financial transactions for possible fraud within milliseconds and thus being able to combat financial crime using AI is a good example of this.

Platforms could also be an innovation model for the future. When the Corona pandemic forced the world into its first lockdown, for example, within a very short time and in cooperation with the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), we created the platform "TeamTausch" ("TeamSwap"). The idea was that companies with staff shortages or surpluses could assist each other. Admittedly, this cost-free offer was only actively used in the first few months, after which interest ebbed. While the platform is now offline, I'm still proud of the initiative.

Two important operating principles are illustrated by this. On one hand, innovations need the opportunity to experiment, an appreciative corporate culture and agile structures in which employees can contribute their ideas. Perhaps this is why we were awarded the "Germany's Best Jobs with a Future" award by the business magazine Focus Money in 2018. On the other hand, platforms, when linked to optimization technology, in particular, can create real win-win situations for all parties involved. For instance, will it still make sense to plan sales, inventories or transports on a company-centric approach in the future? Or could cross-company optimization offer many more improvements in terms of profitability and sustainability?

This kind of sustainable economy may still seem a long way off. That's why we need digital pioneers who boldly face the future and prepare themselves for the challenges of the coming years.

What pioneering ideas are you moving forward with?

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