DigitalLife@Daimler: How the idea foundry #ideate works

“Do you know what we should do?” When a conversation between two colleagues at Daimler starts this way, there’s often a good idea in the air. And Daimler has about 300,000 employees, so that adds up to a lot of good ideas! Concentrating this creative power and helping the best approaches make a breakthrough is the purpose of #ideate. Under this hashtag, we’re providing this kind of support as part of the DigitalLife@Daimler initiative.

Imagine that you’re in the midst of a discussion with colleagues or friends — and suddenly you’ve got an idea… Does that sound familiar? If your answer is yes, you may have wondered at some time how this great beginning might continue. Since 2015, there’s been a partner you can contact in order to find out: us!

At the #ideate hashtag, our team takes care of everything related to innovations and the discovery and implementation of good ideas. We don’t care whether the idea deals with a specific improvement at your own department or a completely new business model. #ideate is part of the DigitalLife@Daimler initiative, which Markus Hägele has already presented to you here on the Daimler Blog.

We’d especially like to promote what we call “intrapreneurship” — a new kind of entrepreneurship culture within the company. In other words, we encourage people to try things out, even if they’re not yet one hundred percent certain of success. We also help them take responsibility for the implementation of their idea and convince others that their idea will work.

The best way to understand what we do is to follow our explanation of how an innovation comes to be, step by step:

HACK.IAA Frankfurt 2017 DigitalLife@DAIMLER

Step 1: Kindling the flame

What’s the best way to generate ideas? In our experience, most new ideas are still generated “offline.” That’s why we’ve created a number of in-house and external event formats that bring together creative people from all over the world.

  • Open Spaces. The main features of the DigitalLife initiative itself took shape at an event of this kind in 2011. This was the principle behind the event: About one hundred Daimler colleagues from a variety of units spent one day focusing on a single topic — without a fixed agenda and without taking any hierarchies into account. The special thing about this event is that the participants pitch their ideas themselves, drum up support for them, and work with other people to develop them further. It’s always amazing to see the results! We organize several Open Spaces in Germany and abroad every year. We’ve also successfully implemented this format together with our partners in the production plants, for example in Hamburg, Bremen, and Ludwigsfelde.
  • Innovation Camps. Idea teams that already exist and experts tinker with the idea together for a period of two to four days. In the process, they use various innovation techniques such as early feedback and elements of “design thinking” such as customer profiles and user journeys in order to better understand users’ needs. In many cases their work results in prototypes, because their goal is to work out the ideas’ concrete properties.
  • The DigitalLife Campus. We opened up #ideate to external participants early on. The people who register for our Hackathon series are talented students and startups who have coding experience and are interested in the diverse search fields and problems presented at our events. The starting gun for our Hackathon series in 2018/19 will sound at the “Hack.LA” in mid-November. The events in the series take place between three and five times per year on three continents, last for 24 hours and are attended by 50 to 80 participants — and we, the colleagues from #ideate, are always there in person. There’s a fantastic spirit at these events, as you can see here, for example. Capital magazine has just voted the DigitalLife Campus one of the 12 best startup formats in Germany.

DigitalLife@DAIMLER

We organize about ten “offline events” of this kind ourselves every year at various locations in Germany, China, India, and the USA. In addition, we support other units with the implementation of joint events. More than 2,000 ideas have been generated this way so far. And more ideas are being turned out almost every day! That’s partly due to our online platform. And that brings us to the next stage.

Step 2: Filtering ideas through “crowd” power

How can we select the best ideas from the many initial concepts that are presented? For this purpose we introduced our Group-wide DigitalLife Crowd idea platform in the spring of 2017. This is where all of our colleagues can present their ideas within the framework of idea competitions, comment on other people’s ideas, evaluate them, and even invest virtual money. The keywords here are “transparency” and “interaction” — and “range.” Instead of the 100 participants at events such as Open Space, potentially almost 300,000 Daimler users can participate via the platform.

The positive side effect is that on the platform many participants find collaborators for their projects because other people have also had the same idea or a similar one. Members of the top management can take on the “sponsorship” of an idea. They support the advanced development of an idea and provide the developers with a budget.

On the platform there are various kinds of idea competitions or “challenges.”

  • For one thing, we make ideas from the “offline world” accessible online — for example, by presenting top ideas from the Open Space events.
  • For another, we look for ideas by organizing purely online challenges. Some of these challenges, such as the “100 Million Challenge” we organized at the beginning of this year, are open to all of our Daimler colleagues. Others have been conceived for a certain group, such as the employees in a certain division. In these cases we’re looking for solutions for specific challenges within these units. The spectrum of themes is extremely wide, ranging from human resources to development, IT, compliance, and plant security. We organized more than 40 such challenges in the very first year of the platform.
  • The Sneak Peek: At the moment we’re preparing to launch our new external idea platform. Its keyword is “open ideation.” Through this idea platform we want to expand the diversity and the range of the ideas even further. We also want to get a sense of what people outside the Group expect from us as a mobility provider — in other words, what kinds of ideas, wishes, and visions our external target groups have.

DigitalLife@DAIMLER

The question that now remains is: What happens next to the ideas that have received the best response from online users? It’s simple: They go on to the implementation stage.

Step 3: Putting ideas on the road

A team has developed an idea at an Open Space event. Subsequently it has attracted an especially large group of supporters on the Crowd idea platform, been pitched successfully at DigitalLife Day, and so secured an implementation budget from a high-caliber jury. What happens next?

In all cases, we members of the #ideate team continue to support the idea’s initiators with our advice. Through our DigitalLife Hub we support our “intrapreneurs” as they implement their ideas. The idea owners have three options:

  • In the line: They can implement their idea within a suitable work unit at Daimler — in other words, in the “line.”
  • Part-time: They can continue to work within their function but are given free time to work on their project.
  • In the incubator: The teams can work together full-time with entrepreneur centers called “incubators.” Most of the incubators focus on new products or business models. The best-known incubators include the Digital Factory Labs at the plants and the Lab1886 for innovative business models. The Q-Garage focuses on quality issues, and the FC think! tank promotes new ideas for the financial area.

In all of these variants, our colleagues and their supervisors can count on receiving backing and support from the DigitalLife Hub whenever they need help with things like project planning methods, the further development of the idea, or contacts with experts. Starting in November, idea owners can also work at the newly set up DigitalLife Hub coworking space, which is known as the “Red Room.”

DigitalLife@DAIMLER

One thing we’re especially happy about is that Capital magazine has called the DigitalLife Hub one of the best “innovation labs” in Germany.

#ideate highlights: A (much too small) selection

Approximately 50 #ideate projects are currently being implemented at the DigitalLife Hub. Some of them are being strongly supported by DigitalLife, while others have been prioritized via Crowd challenges and are now being developed independently in the respective units. Some are now in the prototype phase, while others are already preparing for their market launch. Here are a few examples:

evungo is a platform for charging station suppliers. The platform focuses on e-mobility in rural areas. Restaurant and hotel owners and farmers can simply share their charging stations with other drivers of electric vehicles via evungo. This idea was developed to the point of practical maturity in cooperation with Lab1886. The pilot phase is currently running in the Black Forest region, and suppliers can already register to participate.

DigitalLife@DAIMLER

Another idea, Mercedes-Benz / developers, has successfully traveled the road from an Open Space event in 2017 via the Crowd idea platform to “in line” implementation. The tool was launched as an “open API” and acts as an interface between Mercedes-Benz and independent developers. By means of this tool, innovators, startups, and now also established companies all over the world can gain access to MB data. This will benefit everyone involved, especially the customers. The offer has already gone live.

In a third example, colleagues at the TECFABRIK, the production planning unit, and IT have worked together part-time to develop a practical daily helper especially for the Daimler employees at the Sindelfingen plant. The NAVIgation@work app that they have developed helps employees to always find the shortest route from A to B on the plant grounds, which encompass almost two and a half square kilometers. Two teams initially started to work on this idea independently of each other, but eventually they joined forces. The possibility of also adapting the app for use at other locations, including some outside Germany, is currently being looked at. All Daimler colleagues are cordially invited to participate and integrate their building and/or plant into the app.

DigitalLife@DAIMLER

These successful projects confirm that our work is worthwhile. Together with the many in-house talented entrepreneurs, we and the entire team at DigitalLife@Daimler have many more ideas in the pipeline. We’ll soon have more stories for you here at the Daimler Blog!

Frieder Munk is the Head of the Culture and Innovation team at DigitalLife@Daimler, where he is responsible for Ideation and Intrapreneurship.