Digitalization Fosters Sweeping Change in the Value Chain

SIBE innovation teams help firms shape up for digital transformation

When a company that makes bicycles suddenly has to become a provider of transportation solutions (“mobility”), it is a fitting reminder of the changes sweeping through industry value chains – changes that include Industry 4.0 (smart production) and digital transformation. The School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin has already embarked on a number of innovation projects relating to digital transformation. The aim is to empower firms to plan and implement digital transformation strategies under their own initiative.

Given the rapid rate of change being brought about by digital technology, it is crucial for companies to actively shape their own future by innovating now and innovating continuously. This is because digital solutions and connected factories do not just have an impact on individual areas, they result in digital transformation throughout the whole organization. This is an extremely open process, and being in a position to take independent action in open-ended situations is pivotal to success, as is the ability to establish the required skills base in the company. SIBE has developed an HR development model called Digitalization Innovation Projects to enable companies to build their own digital technology skills and prepare for changes in the business environment.

Dr. Heiner Lasi, director of the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute (FSTI) and professor for Industrial Intelligence at SHB, who also coaches people involved in innovation projects, explains how the initiative works for companies: “Our assumption is that competition between companies is shifting more toward a competition between ecosystems. So to succeed, firms need to become part of an ecosystem.” Given this, Lasi sees innovation projects as strategic initiatives that allow companies to work through scenarios and explore new ways to add value in the future. For example, it will no longer be enough for a company to produce and sell bicycles: More and more bicycles in Germany are now hired temporarily and simply constitute one link in the transportation value chain. So one firm makes bicycles, another makes bicycle stands, and another still creates apps – which in Germany include solutions like nextbike and DB Call a Bike. Producers thus face a choice: Should they simply provide access to their own link in the value chain – and thus potentially become easy to replace – or should they become part of the ecosystem as a invaluable partner? A number of students have already worked on digital transformation projects at SIBE. One such project was completed by Felix Lauer, who has been studying at SIBE since May 2016 and currently works as a strategy and innovation project analyst at DEKRA. To a certain extent, the topic of digital transformation transcends business strategy and innovation because it has an impact on the overall digital strategy of an organization plus any other digital technology projects currently relating to business innovation. The area Lauer works in also covers different departments so he always becomes involved if his company needs to implement a new digital technology project. Such projects can range from simple process enhancements to extensions to an existing service offering, but they can also entail the launch of innovative products with every potential to change the market. The role of Lauer’s department on such projects is to offer workshops or coaching sessions on developing the business model. Aside from these kinds of projects, the department is also developing the group-wide digital technology strategy and working on digital transformation at the company. One thing Lauer really values about his SIBE degree is that it offers him the opportunity to exchange ideas with other students and the lecturers, and he can look at his own work from a broader angle. Lauer says, “You could say it’s like getting external advice from the university on your project so you have an adviser working with you and don’t feel like the burden is only on your shoulders.”

The services offered by SIBE include recruiting young students, who work full-time at the company in parallel to their studies and systematically develop and implement a digital technology strategy over the course of two years. If companies do not need help with recruitment, they can also integrate people already at the company into the SIBE model. Depending on the scope and complexity of innovation initiatives, projects can be worked on by individuals or teams of two or three employees. This also allows for interdisciplinary teams, so people from different backgrounds complement each other. With this model, instead of simply bringing in expertise from outside, firms build internal skills in the fields that are becoming more and more important to them in the long term. The employees at the company receive support from an interactive, 100% online management degree offered by SIBE: the M.A./MBA (USA), which runs in parallel to full-time work. A central idea of this concept is to transfer ideas from the degree into the business project. The students also receive close, ongoing supervision and advice from the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute and other experts in the Steinbeis Network.


Michael Gundelach
Steinbeis School of International Business and Entrepreneurship an der Steinbeis-Hochschule Berlin (Herrenberg)