DigitalLife@Daimler: Setting the pace of change

Are you in love with new technologies? We are too. But for all the passion, one thing was clear from the beginning: Above all, every change needs people who support it and drive it forward. That’s why we brought the DigitalLife@Daimler initiative into being. Since 2011 all of the threads of the digital transformation run together here. Our goal is to enable everyone to experience the new topics — and thus strengthen the Group as a whole.

Hoodies in the strategy unit of Daimler AG Look, another visitor from a start-up… We frequently heard this kind of comment as we launched DigitalLife@Daimler, seven years ago. It was a small internal initiative that was intended to bring together all of the Group’s digital activities.

And our team really did have more in common with a start-up than just a preference for a certain kind of outfit. We too wanted to make the best possible use of the digital transformation. Not from a garage, but for our great time-honored Group. To do so we needed good ideas and new forms of collaboration.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche on DigitalLife Day 2016 at Daimler AG.

The fact that in many units at Daimler we’re on a first-name basis and wear jeans is probably one of the most obvious signs of the changes that are currently happening here in the Group. More important, however, is WHAT we are doing and HOW we are doing it.

Put simply, our mission at DigitalLife is to bring together ideas and people, to make innovations visible, and to drive their implementation forward — and to do that in an international, interdisciplinary way that cuts across all “lines” (big-company jargon for organizational structure). To accomplish this, we’ve organized ourselves into four teams using hashtags.

The strategies are: #transform

We design the strategy and its alignment with digital topics at Daimler. That means that we don’t just combine a couple of synergies for current trends when it suits us. Instead, we constantly and categorically drive forward the digitalization process.

Transparency is a key term here. What’s happening regarding digitalization within the Group? Which tools are the passenger car experts in Stuttgart working on at the moment, and which innovations does the Trucks unit have in the pipeline?

#transform

The strategy team #transform ensures that people learn from each other. In practice, it means that representatives of every division meet together every six weeks and bring one another up to date. This helps us to recognize synergies early on.

The team from #transform is based in the Group’s strategic center and defines its mission as setting the pace and providing momentum. Naturally, this requires us to continually scan the digital world “out there” for relevant trends and topics. Be it blockchain, drones or artificial intelligence (AI), multiple pilot projects on all of these topics are already running.

Why are we steering these topics? Because they are interesting and important for many area of the company. They are always subsequently implemented together with the divisions and other partners.

The ideas foundry: #ideate

Not everyone can write code. But anyone can have an idea that helps Daimler. Exploiting this pool of creativity within the Group is the aim of #ideate.

One of the first formats from DigitalLife was the Open Spaces. One of these Open Spaces can even be seen as the kick-off event for DigitalLife at Daimler. The initiative didn’t actually start directly from there, but that’s where we defined the topics for it together. Even then, it was extremely important to us to involve the employees from the very beginning.

The concept: Freed from agendas, structure or hierarchies, a group of employees would take a day to work on a focus topic. We put the best ten ideas to come out of this group on the DigitalLife Crowd Ideation Platform — if their originators approve. And this shows the great power of a large company: Around 100,000 users, including many HR experts and IT professionals, evaluate, comment, and introduce their own suggestions.

#ideate

The first results of this process are tools such as the “pactris” app. This helps customers to plan the best way to load their packages into their car while they are still in the shop. The app has been continuously refined since its presentation at the IFA 2016. And that’s precisely what it’s all about here at Ideation. Our employees’ ideas are not only developed and heard but also rigorously implemented with our support. For these processes we received the award for Germany’s best innovation hub.

The momentum from outside is at least as important as employees’ ideas. That’s why the team from #ideate also organizes the DigitalLife Campus global hackathon series, among other things. In the last two years, we put ten such 24-hour events on their feet on three continents. More than 500 students participated. They found out at first hand why Daimler has long since become a Digital Leader. And, just as important for us as a group, we‘ve gotten to know many future employees at the hacks and later hired them, taken ideas further, and significantly increased our attractiveness as an employer.

The networkers: #collaborate

A company with 289.000 employees is at the same time always a “social network”: to empower communication and collaboration with digital tools is the primary goal of the team #collaborate.

This is why we invest in technology, develop and launch a worldwide social intranet with our IT-colleagues. Our focus is a smart handling of the platform, the consultation of the divisions and the instruction of multiplicators and community managers. Because “change” isn’t something you can command. We want to empower people to explore new ways to improve their work-experience.

#collaborate

On the other hand we invest in mindset and in networking-competence, independent from tools. For more than two years we support the idea of Working Out Loud (WOL) at Daimler and we enable our co-workers to network. Every 12 weeks about 4-5 Experts meet in WOL-circles (often virtualy) to work in a structured way on self-determined goals. Visualizing work, to learn and grow with each other – for this process we’ve even won the HR-Excellence Award.

The bridge-builders: #change

All of the innovations sketched out here change the way we work together — our corporate culture. So it’s especially important that we bring all of our employees with us on the way to the digital transformation.

To accomplish this, the team from #change goes into the plants, organizes workshops, and holds presentations. There’s even a converted DigitalLife Bus — packed full with digital gadgets. At “Fail’n’Learn Nights” managers report on projects that didn’t run too well at some point — and what they’ve learned from the experience. That’s how we strengthen our — completely non-digital — culture of learning from mistakes.

#change

But the most important internal event is the DigitalLife Day. Here there are stages with speakers and talks, as well as market stands presenting innovations at Daimler — such as the digital welding from the Bremen plant. In Idea Pitches, ten teams can present their projects to top management. The format has been such a success that we also organized a DigitalLife Day in India for the first time in May 2018. Some 4,000 employees, almost 80 percent of the plant, were there.

We at DigitalLife also regard ourselves as pioneers when it’s a matter of trying out new international tech events and platforms. That’s why we’ve been participating in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for the past five years. And in 2018 we’ll also be at the Tech Open Air in Berlin for the first time.

DigitalLife: Focus on people

What have we learned in the last few years? Above all, that digitalization has so many facets that we can only make intelligent use of them together. Our DigitalLife team reflects this diversity of tasks. We have management specialists from Stuttgart along with mechanical engineers from China and UX designers from the USA.

In the future, we intend to promote our topics even more effectively in the divisions — and to become even more international. The DigitalLife Day in India in May was just the beginning.

But in all of this, people will continue to be at the center of our initiative. That’s why we aren’t called DigitalFuture or DigitalTransformation, but DigitalLife.


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Markus Hägele is Head of Digital Life@Daimler. His passion is to push the digital transformation within Daimler with the great DigitalLife team & together with the partners in the divisions and functions all around the world. To him, digitalization is all about the people, not only technologies.

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  1. Grow the Network – How Leadership 2020 drives cultural change

    sandeep meti: Very nice article. :-)