Networking that adds value
Business concepts like Industry 4.0 have to take the already advanced and continually advancing trend of digital transformation into account, not to mention the process of continually accelerating convergence between different fields of technology, sectors of industry, and entire areas of the economy. Dr. Michael Ortiz, who is managing a Steinbeis project called Expert Network X.0, describes how this can work in practice. The idea of the project is to enable manufacturers and experts to join forces and offer their services and Industry 4.0 solutions together, especially across fields such as measurement and test equipment, work station systems, operational installations, software systems, and factory planning.
Digital solutions and convergence make it implicitly necessary to form networks on several levels, beyond the traditional boundaries of organizations and business enterprise. Key requirements in this respect are flexibility, agility, and an openness to possibility. Steinbeis promotes value- adding networking by initiating and moderating regional pilot projects. This allows companies and key players from a variety of markets to work together in the long or short term by forming groups, networks, or platforms. The aim is to develop new offerings, but also to try out and implement new business models or technologies.
One such project is called the Expert Network X.0. The catalyst for this initiative was the realization of the producers involved in the collaboration that it would already be impossible for them to sell their Industry 4.0 solutions through established selling – at least not without changing something. If anything, when they offered or introduced their products to customers, detailed advice had to be provided because the new solutions would entail sweeping changes in company processes, systems, and organizational structures. They would also require workers to acquire new skills. The management and technology experts also recognized that without a detailed understanding of the services offered by producers, it was becoming increasingly difficult to sell their consulting services, especially in the different areas of Industry 4.0 – ranging from project planning to organizational development, change management, and strategic skills development.
Selling and consulting have overlaps, so offering clients highly individual services that fit their requirements like a glove requires close interplay between producers, technology experts, and management experts. Establishing digitally networked manufacturing structures and fostering business competence not only entails supporting customers while they are selecting or configuring suitable solutions, or planning projects, but they also need help with the introduction of new technology, business models, or new work environments within the company – partly through coaching, partly through workshops and consulting in the course of live processes. During the current phase of setting up the Expert Network X.0, the partners involved are working together on a common competence profile, business and consulting models, coherent sales and marketing strategies, and a sustainable network structure. The unique selling proposition (USP) will have to revolve around the networked know-how of the key players involved: The network provides a uniform interface for customers, pulling together flexible project partners with the right skills, spanning the entire range of required services, offering individual solutions with “a batch size of one,” granting access to the comprehensive range of services offered by the over 1,000 Steinbeis Enterprises in the Steinbeis Network, yet still agile enough to develop and react quickly to current market developments.
Pulling together a meaningful competence profile through all of the partners involved in the network is essential in order to show clearly where there are overlaps with other key players. This is also important so that the services offered are more visible to clients. Developing a shared competence profile for the overall network underscores its compatibility with other possible network participants, especially given the group’s intention to expand. The Expert Network X.0 was first unveiled to a pubic audience at the Hannover Messe trade show in April 2017. The network has its own website for the network partners to showcase their competence profiles and portfolios of services. The network will determine further processes and optimize the services it offers by taking part in initial pilot projects.
Steinbeis headquarters and the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute are helping to coordinate the launch of the network by providing support and moderation at networking meetings and workshops. In the future, the aim is for the network to take care of coordination itself and when the time is right, a separate legal entity will be created for this.
Dr. Michael Ortiz gained a PhD at the University of Mannheim in the field of comparative innovation systems research. As part of his research and teaching at the University of Mannheim and the University of Oldenburg, Ortiz has been involved in the topics of innovation research and management, knowledge and technology transfer, regional knowledge economies, business and organizational sociology, Europeanization processes, comparative macro-sociology, and qualitative empirical methods. Since 2013, Ortiz has been a project manager based at Steinbeis headquarters in Stuttgart, working in business and strategy consulting, transfer management, business competence analysis, the setting up and supervision of Steinbeis Enterprises, digital transformation, and a variety of studies and evaluations.