Digital Transformation Requires New Ways of Collaboration

B2B companies are increasingly embracing the digital revolution. Lagging behind in this era of digital transformation is not an option, as it becomes

Customer event “Digitalization in Industrial Practice” of thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions in Aachen, June 2018
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Dr. Michael Honné

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Head of Strategy and Business Development Global Service at thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions AG

B2B companies are increasingly embracing the digital revolution. Lagging behind in this era of digital transformation is not an option, as it becomes increasingly evident that business success in today’s world hinges on how a company masters this revolution, and leverages digital technology. Hence, each company needs a proper digital strategy that fits best to its business model and objectives. One crucial element of this strategy is the way of collaboration.

Science and Industry – the Convergence of Two Worlds

End of June, I had the chance to return to my former place of work, studies and home, Aachen a city often referred to as “the energetic city of science right in the heart of Europe”, located at the border triangle of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. This is the location of the renowned technical university RWTH. It was very impressive to see the changes that had taken place in the city over the past few years, especially seeing the impact the digital revolution had on the renowned university and its Campus. Fortunately, we were able to experience this transformed environment directly with our customers during an exclusive two-day customer event at the RWTH Aachen Campus.

Previously the world of science was quite clearly separated from the industry; however, today we see changes in this regard – as the worlds of science and industry are increasingly converging. RWTH Aachen seems to be an example of what future cooperation between these two worlds could look like. Currently, the university is working collaboratively at the RWTH Aachen Campus with various companies, e. g. with thyssenkrupp, to develop visionary innovative solutions and technologies of tomorrow, through comprehensive application oriented research in various disciplines. The harmonization of work between scientific and industrial innovation processes is helping companies remain internationally competitive, and is shortening the innovation life cycles.

B2B Collaboration – Leveraging Strengths to Enhance Digital Solutions

It is not only collaboration between companies and science that changes, but there is also a trend of increasing collaboration within industries and supply chains. A current study by FIR at RWTH Aachen shows impressively two things.

Firstly, successful providers of digital B2B solutions (“Top Performers”) have developed strategic partnerships that assist them in developing and providing data-based services. Actually, the study shows that this is the main differentiator between successful and less successful (“Followers”) companies. But why is it that way? And how is it different from other non-digital solutions that were provided by companies decades ago? From a practical point of view, the reason lies in the coincidence of fundamentally different disciplines that are needed to develop and provide digital B2B solutions: on the one hand there are classic engineering focused disciplines, on the other hand new disciplines which are much more IT and programming focused. Actually, there are very few companies, which originally hold both competencies to a similar high level. Instead most companies are either good at developing, engineering and manufacturing products and solutions, or they are specialists in the provision of other types of digital solutions. Therefore, it is often crucial to collaborate with companies that can complement them, and fill in gaps were they lack.

A second quite interesting finding of the study is the fact that, strategic partnerships are especially important in two phases of the product life cycle: the early idea phase and the implementation phase. In particular, it turns out that successful companies involve partners earlier on at an elementary phase, than companies that are less successful in offering digital solutions. From a practical point of view, the reason for this is quite obvious. By involving partners – e. g. implementation partners but also key customers – at the idea phase of the product life cycle, the probability that the future solution fits the customer demands is much higher. Beyond this, the early integration of implementation or technology partners allows a company to identify major obstacles early, and it therefore reduces the risk of failing at later stages. This is the best way to develop visionary innovative solutions and technologies that meet the needs of customers. But is is not only the idea phase where collaboration plays a key role. When it comes to the implementation a close collaboration is again key to success. Here it is again a question of filling the capability gaps but also a questions of gathering first valuable customer experiences e. g. in the context of pilot projects.

Practice Example: thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions’ Client Event “Digitalization in Industrial Practice”

The customer event ” Digitalization in Industrial Practice” organized by thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions end of June is one example of how collaboration between science and industry, and also how collaboration between B2B providers and customers could look like. The event was organized in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University. About 30 selected B2B customers were invited to this two-day exclusive event at the RWTH Aachen Campus. It consisted of impulse presentations, industry specific workshops, and speeches from thyssenkrupp experts in additive manufacturing, drones, mixed reality, radar automation and data analytics. Furthermore, there was a factory tour through the ” Demonstration Factory Aachen “, to generate innovative ideas.

B2B companies don’t have a choice on whether they should join the digital revolution; the question is which digital strategy or path do they choose? For my industry, collaboration is one of the key effective strategies.

Through specific customized sessions, thyssenkrupp experts, customers, and thought leaders exchanged ideas, identified customer challenges and problems and developed digital solutions that help improve our customers’ businesses. Through the event, our customers obtained knowledge that will help them stay ahead of the unfolding trends and disruptions in the digitalization world. They also discussed the impact of digitization on their industry, gained innovative insights into tomorrow’s digital opportunities, and were inspired to think out of the box. Due to the great success of the event, within the next couple of months further events will take place on all continents of the world.

Head of Strategy and Business Development Global Service at thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions AG

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