Opportunities and Risks of Digital Transformation

Bearing in mind the constant and disruptive character of digital transformation, the polarizations in Figure 3.1 are currently recognizable.

In addition, polarization is possible between groups of workers because of differing expectations and needs within a workforce regarding the design of working time and location, and tensions may emerge between individual preferences and collective arrangements (BMAS 2017, 80). This list can be used as general guidance when determining the specific influence of digital transformation on a company or on a particular job type. An analysis within the particular organization is essential in order to identify concrete design requirements.

3.3.3 Digression: Example of Determining the Impacts

Digression: Example of Determining the Impacts of Digitalization on a Company

By way of example, we present below the qualitative analysis of the impacts of digital transformation in the context of the digitalization initiative of the corporate unit for Environmental Protection, Health Management and Safety (EHS) in Siemens. The goal of the project was to understand the impacts of digital transformation with reference to the three EHS subject areas, in order to identify opportunities and risks as well as action to be taken. In particular, the project aimed to determine whether digital changes entail new psychosocial work stressors and what new requirements will result in terms of occupational safety and health management. The Siemens unit received support in designing the survey and evaluating the interviews from the working group for Applied Medicine and Psychology at Work at the Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine of the University of Munich.

The analysis was conducted by means of semi-standardized interviews with 52 leaders from 15 countries and 16 different job types. The interviews were structured according to the elements of the work system and their content was based on a comprehensive survey of the literature regarding the influences of digital transformation on work. In total, the evaluation considered about 1,500 individual statements (there were some multiple assignments of statements to work system elements). The main results of the survey are as follows:

  • • The change in working caused by digitalization, and especially the influence on health and wellbeing, was rated as positive overall by 61% of interviewees, as negative or potentially risky by 31%, and as neutral by 8%.
  • • The main impacts of digital transformation are seen in relation to the work task followed by work equipment and work environment; the influence on work organization and the workers was rated much lower.
  • • For work tasks, the main opportunities (positive effects) are felt to be the variety and coherence as well as the technical support (work equipment); the main risks are felt to relate to the complexity and intensity of work.
  • • In terms of work equipment, the surveyed leaders expect digitalization to make much better use of resources thanks to IT applications; they are more critical of the possibly inadequate ergonomics and adaptation of software to human abilities and needs.

• The leaders expect the digital changes to make it easier to organize work; meanwhile they see risks around social integration of workers and the blurring of boundaries in tasks and roles.

The results of this survey confirm what the literature has found: that the influences of digital transformation are always seen as a balancing act between opportunities and risks with regard to safety and health at work. It is also plain that the estimation of the impacts of digitalization can be very different even within the same company. Of particular note are the largely positive expectations of the benefits of digital transformation for work, and the very specific suggestions regarding the design and support requirements from the EHS organization in the company. For example, the interviews suggest new aspects or emphases of investigation when carrying out risk assessments of workplaces and tasks that have undergone digital transformation, such as the ergonomics of new IT-based work equipment or social support in the context of new forms of collaboration.

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