28.08.2018 | Research

Business Models for Industry 4.0

How digitisation is gaining a foothold in the regional economy

By: Agnieszka Grzesiak, Katrin Reil

How can businesses in the region develop digital business models in a way that is methodical, useful and targeted? A new study from ESB Business School at Reutlingen University provides initial answers to this question. Commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, ESB Business School, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Labour Economics and Organisation (IAO), engaged in two years of research  on the project “Business Models for Industry 4.0”. The results are of particular help to smaller companies in developing their business models. 

The study focused on the experiences, difficulties and success factors of successfully implemented digital business models, across all industries, both nationally and internationally. At the same time the project partners interviewed regional companies without a digital business model about their views on the topic and what they consider to be the main barriers to it.      

One of the results shows that companies that have already gained experience in the digitisation of their business models basically have a more positive attitude to this topic than companies without any previous experience.  The majority of current projects and initiatives are not the result of targeted innovation processes or current discussions about Industry 4.0 but have frequently been triggered by internal problems whose solution was transferred to a business model.   

“The commercial potential of a digital business model cannot be predicted finally. As with every innovation project, there has to be a certain willingness to take risks. That can be a problem”, says Professor Dr Vera Hummel, coordinator of the research project at ESB Business School. A major success factor was the involvement of external partners who master the technologies required for the specific case and have provided their know-how from outside.

Companies which have already implemented digital business models are also significantly more likely to have a digitisation strategy as well as an employee in charge of this. Although companies without models of this kind are aware of the topic, they are not able to explore its potential adequately or transfer it to themselves.   

“There is a great difference in the perception of the current and future importance of digital business models in the companies surveyed. This may lead to a two-class society“, says Professor Hummel. With successful practical examples from different areas, the study will also act as an impetus to take proactive measures to establish business models.   For this purpose success criteria for the selection of good practice examples have been defined and flagship companies identified. The study presents six exemplary implementations of digital business models. 

Overall the study “Business Models for Industry 4.0“  and the success stories it presents prove that the way to a digitised business model using a targeted, structured and efficient approach can also be a recipe for success for small and regionally operating companies. Upon request ESB Business School and the Fraunhofer Institute for Labour Economics and Organisation will actively support companies in the digitisation of their business models. The development process follows a sequential logic of potential determination, generation of ideas, formation, test and implementation.  

Download of the complete study, which may be used and quoted free of charge. (in German)