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“Self-Initiative Increasingly Important at Work“

Learning from startups: IAV sets up the Digitization Network and champions new working methods

Digitization is not only changing the technology in vehicles – it is also demanding some rethinking in terms of the development processes. IAV has responded to this with the Digitization Network. In the automotion interview, Kai-Stefan Linnenkohl, President and Chief Human Resources Officer at IAV, and Stefan Schmidt, Executive Vice President for Project Management and head of the Digitization Network at IAV, explain the strategy IAV is pursuing in preparation for the challenges of the future.

The automotive industry and IT segment are moving ever closer together. How is IAV responding to this development?

Linnenkohl: We have already been gearing ourselves towards these trends in the past and built up the necessary resources – today, over 1,000 members of our staff are working in digitization. We are now taking the next step: our Digitization Network is a new unit in which colleagues from different areas, such as engineering, management accounting and human resources, are working together in an interdisciplinary, agile and cooperative partnership. It is, in a sense, an in-house startup that will involve up to 90 colleagues in future.

Schmidt: It was important for us keep the Digitization Network closely interlinked with our various divisions. This way, the colleagues in the Network can benefit from expertise at divisional level in their projects and the divisions, for their part, have the opportunity to integrate new ways of thinking and working from the startup world into their projects. The Network is a success if both worlds benefit from one another.

Which aspects are at the focus of the Digitization Network?

Schmidt: We are pursuing four main goals. The Network sets out to build up new expertise – the search is for findings and solution strategies for the digital transformation of processes and value chains. Besides this, we want to develop new business models and identify opportunities that digitization will produce for IAV. On top of this, there are specific application cases we would like to try out and incorporate in our line organization. And finally, it is also about changing our entire organization. The Network is to extend into all divisions and help them, for example, in reaching their targets and applying them in practice.

How far have you managed to get in this regard? 

Linnenkohl: The Digitization Network has been in existence since September 2016, and, as an initial step, our staff developed over 100 business models as part of a two-week
“sprint”. Every two to three days, they were presented to a jury made up of top management and senior vice presidents and discussed with them. From this pool, we have identified four strategic projects which we will now be looking at more closely. At the moment, the Network is completing the step from the idea to programming, and before the end of the year we want to present at least one new product.

You just mentioned the keywords “sprint” and “agile working”. How does working in the Network differ from working in the divisions?

Linnenkohl: On the one hand, work is more closely focused on a collaborative and interdisciplinary setup. On the other, it is also defined by agile work organization and project management. This approach comes from software development and is particularly well suited where there is a need to be flexible in responding to changing customer demands and quickly arrive at tangible results. This requires a clear vision of the product and a stable team that engages in an intensive exchange of information at personal level.

Schmidt: But this also means an adjustment for our staff and executives. It is producing new roles, such as the “product owner” and the “scrum master”. Above all, they have a coordinating function – instead of steering projects in the classic sense, these staff provide the teams with the optimum framework for their activities. This is the best platform for the “sprints”: these are understood to mean project phases lasting two to four weeks that are interrupted neither by the management nor by the customer, at the end of which the team will present its results.

Linnenkohl: But we also want to use other methods from the IT world in our Network. For example, I can well imagine our staff taking part in “hackathons” in future where they will share their knowledge with other developers – at least in part. Besides this, they are also the natural partners for our customers’ “digital labs”. Many possibilities are conceivable here, from swapping expertise to working together on products development.

What impact will this have on the requirements profile for new staff?

Linnenkohl: In future, taking self-initiative will doubtlessly become more important in the work that goes in the teams. But from what I can see, many students come with this attitude anyway because it is also encouraged at the universities. In addition, the new working methods also accommodate the wishes of many graduates on another score. The high level of flexibility in working hours and mobile working make it far easier to reconcile job and private life – an aspect that plays an important part among the rising generation of staff.

What about the future of the Digitization Network?

Schmidt: At the moment, staff are seconded from the divisions. In addition, we will be creating separate new positions in the future for developers and students. We are also thinking about complementing the new style of working with an appropriate setting – such as with rooms with an “open space” character and themed islands.

Linnenkohl: But in the long term, the difference between the Digitization Network and some of the divisions will gradually disappear. It may well be that in a few years entire divisions will be working on the basis of this new model.