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„Digital transformation and the challenges it poses are an opportunity for SMEs“

An interview with Michael Köhnlein and Peter Wittmann from the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium

Michael Köhnlein and Peter Wittmann from the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium explain how important digital solutions and networks are for companies, and how Steinbeis can help with the planning of change processes.

Hello, Mr. Köhnlein; hello, Mr. Wittmann – the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium was founded in October 2016. What are the goals of your Steinbeis Enterprise?

Michael Kohnlein: The digitalization of business processes is part of the fourth industrial revolution, but it’s much more than just a term like Industry 4.0. It doesn’t just change the production process, it affects the entire value chain. The Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium deals closely with this transformation, with an emphasis on enhancing the commercial viability of companies in manufacturing, the manual trades, retail, and services. Steinbeis Digital sees itself as a vehicle, offering the implementation skills that are needed for the challenges brought on by digital business processes. We kick-start digital transformation within companies, providing support to make sure there’s a sufficient basis of trust to form alliances, consortia, or both. We use the expertise of the Steinbeis Network, plus people with the right knowledge outside the organization working in a broad variety of areas of scientific know-how. The aim is to offer the knowhow required to solve problems. This makes us a platform of digital transformation.

You played a pivotal role in developing the concept behind the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium. What opportunities, but also what challenges, does it present for Steinbeis?

Peter Wittmann: We know from our work with the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute, especially with its director, Prof. Dr. Heiner Lasi, that big companies are looking closely at the market changes being brought about by digital technology, and that they’re also looking into specific solutions to address these changes. Small and medium-sized companies are different – they generally don’t have the required resources to cope with digital transformation themselves, which is where we come in. We offer Steinbeis Digital as a means to provide them with a platform and the required basis of trust to collaborate with others across multiple companies. The challenge for Steinbeis is to get companies that are frequently technology-driven to come together within the Steinbeis Network and form knowledge-sharing networks and project teams in order to offer solutions to clients that precisely match their needs.

Modern business would be inconceivable now without digital solutions and networks. What impact do you think this has on knowledge sharing and technology transfer?

Kohnlein: There are now more than 1,000 Steinbeis Enterprises actively involved in the network and Steinbeis has played a successful role in shaping technology transfer between companies over the last 30 years. The focus has essentially been on improving how problems are solved by technology, or innovations, or both. Digital solutions are also a new challenge for Steinbeis. Not only do individual processes need to be improved with respect to the details, but there’s also the issue that the entire value chain is changing inside companies. There is still demand for the knowhow of individual specialists at Steinbeis, but what’s needed is a well organized network that delivers the right partner with the right skills for customers, so they can be offered the end-to-end solutions they need from a single source. Knowledge sharing and technology transfer along the lines used until now – on a piecemeal basis – is increasingly being expanded through partnerships, both inside and outside Steinbeis.

The demand for services related to digital solutions and networking will rise sharply in the near future, as will the number of service providers. What advantages does the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium have over other providers? In which direction will things need to go in the future?

Wittmann: Thanks to our close ties with the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute, Steinbeis Digital can add to the actual delivery of a project extremely quickly by contributing just the right scientific insights. We have access to our own source of know-how. And by operating as a network that spans different industries, projects, and consortia, it’s easier to pick up on digital technology trends and offer the right solutions. Our goal is to pull together as many companies as possible from inside and outside the Steinbeis Network, to bring them under the umbrella of the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium, and to form alliances that would be fixed in terms of the time scale or scope of a given project. Digital transformation and the challenges it poses are an opportunity for SMEs and we want to shape this positively through our portfolio of services.


Michael Kohnlein and Peter Wittmann are managing partners of the Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium, which is headed up by Ralf Lauterwasser. A Steinbeis Enterprise, the consortium offers its clients services revolving around the initiation and coordination of alliances relating to the development and delivery of digitalization strategies in manufacturing, retail, the manual trades, and the service industry, as well as the analysis of value chain processes, the development of business models, and the setting up of SME alliances in order to cope with digital transformation (“micro-testbeds”).

Peter Wittma

Michael Köhnlein







Steinbeis Digital Business Consortium (Stuttgart)