Digital Leader Award: How Daimler combines tradition & transformation

Digitalization? It’s certainly happening in Silicon Valley, but our traditional German companies are as far from truly understanding it as the automobile is from the airplane.

This is a common preconception regarding large German companies and their long journey toward the digital transformation. However, in 2018 there are many companies that no longer fit this stereotype. Take Daimler, for example. Since 2011, Daimler has been implementing a comprehensive strategy called “DigitalLife@Daimler” in order to advance the digital transformation throughout the Group and make itself fit for the new digital era of mobility.

And the Digital Leader Award goes to… Daimler!

DigitalLifeDay 2018

DigitalLifeDay 2018

As an independent jury of experts, we believe that in a comparison of the digital strategies of German companies, Daimler’s strategy is in fact one of the best examples in terms of its strategic direction, extent, and implementation. That’s why we have honored Daimler as a digital leader and presented it with an award in the category “Envision Strategy” for its “DigitalLife@Daimler” strategy at an award ceremony in Berlin.

Why? Because we believe that “DigitalLife@Daimler” focuses on four areas of digitalization that are especially important for success:

  • Defining goals and strategy (Where do we want to go?)
  • Customer requirements in the new world (What digital products and mobility solutions do we offer?)
  • Enabling employees
  • Corporate culture (Who is implementing digitalization?)

As you can see, this is a classic collection of buzzwords. They sound good, but what’s actually behind them? As a member of the jury, I was convinced by three aspects in particular.

1) A high level of ambition and commitment

The Daimler Group has recognized the strategic necessity of transforming itself from an automaker into a digital mobility group, and it is determined to implement this change. This became clear to us because there is an awareness of the laws of the digital economy (such as the effects of networks and platforms, “code is law,” agility as an organizational principle, etc.) throughout the Group, right up to the top management level, and in many areas this awareness has already led to implementation.

For example, CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche has set an example in the automotive sector with his casual style of dressing and his modern leadership style — and his leadership is now making it possible for people at Daimler to really take advantage of the new digital freedoms and opportunities.

TechTalk - Tech Open Air Berlin

TechTalk – Tech Open Air Berlin

2) The close connection between corporate and digital strategy

Another factor that convinced me, as well as the entire jury of the Digital Leader Award, is the close connection between Daimler’s corporate strategy and its digital strategy. In many other companies both of these areas are still dealt with separately, but Daimler has successfully designed a corporate strategy and vision for the age of digital mobility that provides orientation for its employees, partners, and customers. Daimler has developed a digital corporate strategy that clearly reveals that in the future the company aims to shape digitalization rather than simply going along with the trend.

Through this strategy, Daimler is strengthening its position as a market leader — in the digital world too — and creating a crucial success factor for the years ahead: room for the personal development of talented and ambitious employees who want to prove themselves through their new ideas and excellence in the area of digital mobility (whether it’s autonomous driving, carsharing, robotics or a related field). After all, this is the only way to get customers excited and stay one step ahead of (new) competitors.

DigitalLife Day 2018

TOA 2018

3) Power to the People – modern corporate culture and individual responsibility

Success ultimately depends on the implementation of strategy in leadership — from PowerPoint presentations to daily work at the company. Only if the digitalization strategy is implemented in daily operations and exemplified by the leadership can the transformation be successful. In this regard as well, “DigitalLife@Daimler” impressed our jury.

We believe that Daimler’s multitude of measures and programs shows the seriousness of its commitment to giving its employees room, budgets, and freedom of action to help shape the digital transformation. Instead of planning all the activities down to the tiniest detail, the company is actively calling for, and promoting, individual responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking. That’s a good precondition for success in the new digital world, which no longer functions according to the “command and conquer” approach but rather through “creativity and collaboration.”

DigitalLife Day 2018

DigitalLife Day 2018

The challenges of the years ahead — continuity and leadership

At the moment there’s a sense of new digital beginnings, but this feeling (probably) won’t last forever. In economically difficult times, investment budgets for the digital transformation will no longer be quite so easy to defend. That’s why it makes sense to ensure that all of Daimler’s employees are involved in the company’s move toward digitalization. That way it can stay on course even in difficult times. And that’s important — because by 2025 carsharing and (semi-)autonomously driving cars will be a matter of course.

So Daimler would be well advised to continue its “DigitalLife@Daimler” initiative in the years ahead. After all, the transformation from an engineer-driven to a software engineer-driven company requires at least ten years. It’s a good thing that the colleagues at Daimler already launched “DigitalLife@Daimler” in 2011.

We wish Daimler continued success in the future on the “digital journey”!


Dr. Carlo Velten is the CEO of the research and consulting company Crisp Research AG. As a technology expert, he has been advising renowned companies about the digital transformation of their IT and business processes for many years. Dr. Carlo Velten is a member of the jury for the Digital Leader Awards and is actively involved in the sector association BITKOM. As a “business angel,” he supports young startups and is politically active as a Member of the Board of the Managerkreis of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.