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“We see sustainable action as a corporate and socio-ecological responsibility for the future”

An interview with Dr. Philipp Liedl, Steinbeis Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Consulting Center Technological Transformation

Accelerated innovation cycles, the rapidly decreasing half-life of expert knowledge, and multiple crises pose a variety of new challenges to innovation systems. How can all involved stakeholders – especially at small and medium-sized enterprises – not only deal with constantly changing demands, but also derive benefit from those demands and thus safeguard their competitiveness and future viability? TRANSFER magazine turned to Steinbeis expert Dr. Philipp Liedl for some answers. The advice he offers: Allow for sustainability, spot changes early, and identify the right partners to work with. And, last but not least: Train (or retrain) and develop people.

The sustainable consulting concept


Hello Dr. Liedl. Innovation cycles are accelerating dramatically. What does this mean for innovation systems, not just in national or regional terms, but also for companies?

Accelerating innovation cycles require increasing adaptation capabilities and the ability to quickly spot and exploit opportunities. It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to gauge the long-term impacts of business decisions.

On a national level, policymakers and corresponding institutions will have to come up with more flexible and agile strategies to promote innovation. This can be achieved by allowing for more flexibility within the areas covered by funding programs, or by supporting startups and creating a more favorable legal framework to accelerate the implementation of innovation processes. In this context, it is not only important to promote the development of new innovations, but also their dissemination through appropriate investment support programs – especially for SMEs.

On a regional level, faster and more dynamic innovation needs closer collaboration, between companies and also with research institutions in order to fortify clusters of innovation. If regions establish infrastructures for knowledge-sharing and collaboration that are adaptable, they can position themselves as attractive locations for hi-tech enterprises and startups, and this allows them to benefit from rapid innovation cycles.

To succeed in a dynamic business environment, firms need to optimize their innovation processes and gear themselves to faster market introductions and adaptations. Companies that learn to adapt quickly to changing market conditions have a clear competitive advantage.

What can companies do to react to these developments?

The challenge companies are facing is to pursue more agile innovation strategies and accelerate their innovation processes. This can include systematically introducing a culture of innovation, collaborating with startups, or making more intensive use of digital technologies. Investing in research and development and leveraging the benefits of technology transfer are crucial when it comes to safeguarding and boosting competitiveness. Collaborating with other companies can help SMEs gain access to complementary fields of technology and know-how – without having to invest into the time consuming process of acquiring the corresponding know-how and expertise in-house.

And of course human factors play an important role: Companies should invest in talented and adaptable people – employees willing to keep developing. This is where it helps to provide training on emerging technologies and new methods. One approach that helps companies react with greater agility to changes is to leverage vocationally integrated degree programs – to recruit and retain young talent – or to organize upskilling programs for experienced employees.

Continuously monitoring technology across all sectors of industry enables companies to identify opportunities and threats to their business early. It’s also important to monitor the performance of internal innovation processes and, if necessary, make adjustments. Knowing how to learn from mistakes and having an open corporate culture can be particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with the required change processes.

What services does your Steinbeis Consulting Center offer to help companies deal with the challenges they currently face?

We offer companies a broad range of services, which are effective at different levels and can be utilized from a wide variety of situations. So, for example, we help companies identify cross-industry tech trends that might have a bearing on their products, and can harbor both,  opportunities  or threats. With our broad cross-industry overview, we make our knowledge of the relevant technologies available and at the same time capture the necessary problem-specific depth.

Together with the companies, we develop tailor-made technology concepts, which can be in the field of digital transformation or for a specific manufacturing process, or a specific application. As we know the dynamics as well as the time and resources required for complex technology projects, we can determine the exact technology requirements depending on the company’s situation.

In addition, we help companies to identify potential collaboration partners and establish technology partnerships based on trust with other companies or research institutions. Depending on their requirements, we support companies right from the initial phase of planning and development, through the application process for R&D or investment projects, to actual project implementation.

You adopt a structured and holistic approach to consulting. How exactly do you do that, and what role does staff training play in this?

In our consulting approach, we combine our knowledge of cross-industry technology trends with our ability to identify suitable development partners. Our aim is to establish a much clearer basis for decision-making for our customers, to improve their technological positioning in the long term, and with that: to improve their success as a business. We achieve this through a comprehensive and holistic analysis of technology and sustainability trends. Working with the customer, we use this to derive short-term and long-term technology development goals.

Depending on the implementation options available to the customer and the knowledge from the required domains, we work with them to forge partnerships in key areas with other companies or research institutions. Many projects and partnerships fail in the initiation stage because stakeholders from different domains speak different language. We therefore see ourselves as a translator between the different domain languages  and a mediator between the corresponding areas of knowledge.

We identify suitable formats for the implementation of the technology project. . In doing so, we build on our experience with a large number of completely different project setups. This enables us to develop a concept for a framework offering the ideal combination of partnerships. If necessary, we support our clients to elaborate and submit applications and later on, we help with project management. Our aim is to implement successful technology and R&D projects that have direct benefit and avoid misinvestments from the very beginning.

We see sustainable action as a corporate and socio-ecological responsibility for the future. When developing new technologies, the focus is on future viability from both an ecological and technological perspective.  That said, sustainability also concerns issues like establishing knowledge management at the customer and effectively build on the knowledge in the long term. And it’s about being in a position to spot emerging development trends at an early stage and boosting resilience to the impacts of technological disruptions.


Dr. Philipp Liedl (interviewee)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Consulting Center Technological Transformation (Esslingen)