© iStockphoto.de/AlexRaths

Getting to the Heart of Digital Maturity

Steinbeis and Pforzheim University analyze the digital maturity of SMEs

The role of manufacturing firms is shifting fundamentally. Until now, everything has revolved around the development, production, and selling of high-quality tangible goods. In the future, customers are going to demand end-to-end solutions to a specific problem – from the pure products, products with service add-ons through to pure services . Products will still help satisfy customer needs, but for customers the product will no longer be the main priority. Thus so-called product-service systems (PSS) will have to be set up for companies to safeguard their competitiveness in the future. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) is conducting a research project called Use-PSS as part of an alliance initiative focusing on the promotion of “digital SMEs.” The priority will be to develop product-service systems for industry. This will involve establishing an innovative design framework and a methods tool kit for SMEs to create and test their own PSS concepts. To do this, it will be necessary to ensure companies are in a position to analyze the current situation regarding their existing products and services, customer requirements, and their digital business strategy. The experts at Pforzheim University have been working on the project with bwcon, which is spearheading the alliance, conducting evaluations on the digital maturity of SMEs in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Franziska Blatz, a student at Pforzheim University, has researched the topic for her bachelor degree, also examining the factors that influence the maturity of business enterprises. She has drafted a questionnaire covering six dimensions:

  • Strategy and leadership
  • Company culture and organization
  • IT infrastructure
  • Data maturity
  • Processes and operations
  • Products (post-delivery to the customer)

“We asked a set of further questions in order to shed light on key aspects relating to digital technology for each dimension,” explains Blatz. Under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Rebecca Bulander, a questionnaire was designed consisting of 58 questions, each to be answered on a Likert scale (five points) from “Strongly disagree” (0) to “Strongly agree” (4).

To check the questionnaire in a business environment, it was distributed through the bwcon network. In total, 55 companies from Baden-Wuerttemberg participated in the first round of the survey and completed the questionnaire. Explaining the process for the survey, bwcon project manager Rudolf Mietzner says, “The study examined the digital maturity for each company for all six dimensions which were used to suggest recommended actions.”

The project team analyzed the responses and discovered three typical patterns in the answers given by the companies. Type I companies (49%) achieved high scores in certain items of the questionnaire with respect to digitalization . Despite this, they have not overalladdressed issues of one dimension, or even several dimensions regarding digital maturity. Blatz and Mietzner would recommend that these companies consider all aspects of digital transformation for each dimension, working systematically and over the long term.

Type II companies (22%) scored highly on some dimensions (for several connected questions) and are thus advanced in terms of digital transformation. However they scored significantly lower in other dimensions. For example, a company could be at an advanced digital stage within the dimensions of strategy, company culture, and IT infrastructure. Despite this, the business may still need to achieve the same high levels of digital maturity for other dimensions such as processes or products. These companies have already laid a digital foundation for a high digital maturity score . They have the right strategy in place, employees and senior management believe in the potential and importance of digital transformation, and the IT infrastructure is of a relatively high standard. The priority now has to be to use this foundation as a basis for taking digital maturity to the same high levels on the other dimensions.

Companies that answered the survey and were categorized as Type III (18%) are generally at a high level of digital maturity. They scored highly for a variety of questions across a large number of dimensions. There were exceptions for certain aspects which deviated from the high values. The Type III companies now just need to work on these single aspects and keep up in terms of their degree of digital transformation.

The Use-PSS project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) in order to help SMEs keep up with digital transformation and in doing so, consider usability aspects. Pforzheim University, bwcon and 2 Digital Business, the Steinbeis Innovation Center, and three small/medium-sized companies are working on the project together to develop a best practice model for SMEs to set up their own digital product-service systems.


Rudolf Mietzner
bwcon GmbH (Stuttgart)

Franziska Blatz, Prof. Dr. Rebecca Bulander
Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)