Innovation platform FC think! tank – problem solvers and idea finders

Which innovation platforms exist at Daimler, and who’s behind them? On Wednesdays at #venturewednesday we offer a glimpse behind the scenes of Daimler ventures and their exciting mission: the future of mobility. This time: FC think! tank, Daimler’s internal innovation hub.

FC think! tank — it sounds like a soccer club. Is it really related to innovation? That’s how conversations with friends or acquaintances often start when the subject comes up for the first time.

The FC stands for the Daimler executive division Finance & Controlling, and that’s also a very good description of the area in which we feel most comfortable. My team and I are innovation experts for the central Group functions at Daimler. We were launched in 2016 as a strategic initiative in the financial unit and now we also support our colleagues in the HR unit and the Integrity and Legal Affairs division.

Unlike other innovation hubs or venture units, we don’t operate on the open market — we work exclusively within the Group. We do corporate innovation, or, to put it another way: We want to work together with our colleagues to make the Group’s organization innovative, efficient, and fit for the future.

Open thinking is the start of all innovation

We regard innovation as a holistic process. That means our first step is to wake the pioneering spirit in the specialist units and show our colleagues there: This is your chance, here’s where you can do something yourself! After all, many colleagues, from controllers to lawyers, get their first experience of innovation with us. We organize regular events such as motivational presentations and training sessions in order to supply them with inspiring topics and methods and thus open their horizons for their own innovation projects.

Then, together with the colleagues, we implement these projects in our workshop areas outside the Daimler plants. We help anyone who comes across problems or processes in their working day that require simplification, or who has an idea that could be good for a whole new business model, to reach a solution via a structured innovation process.

Effectively implementing innovations

We lead the colleagues from the problem via several stations such as generating the initial idea, developing prototypes, and validating their product or process. And if the management of the specialist unit and our own decision-making body agree, we also accompany the teams during the implementation and the scaling of their project.

During the process, we assume the role of coach and advisor; the teams are responsible for working out their own solutions. For us, it’s important to not only support the colleagues in the specific situation but also to develop them into innovators over the long term and to pass on our methodological expertise to them. Conversely, we receive insights into a wide range of exciting projects currently running within the Group and as a result we can create synergies — also between different specialist units.

A unique focus on corporate functions

The topics on which we work with the project teams are extremely diverse. The best way to show this is with examples. One successful project in the financial area developed an app for calculating project investment in five steps. The tool simplified the creation of business scenarios — away from multiple Excel spreadsheets and process steps and toward a user-friendly application — and was introduced at Daimler Financial Services in 2016. It was one of our first projects, and it’s now in use at a number of places within Daimler.

The HR colleagues from the plant medical service combine efficiency with quality and have digitalized the ordering process for medications, which was previously carried out manually. A new ordering portal is intended to prevent transmission errors, reduce faults, automate the collection of key figures, and adapt the selection of medications to the requirements of each location. The optimization of the process sequences leaves the plant medical service more time for its core tasks.

“IP Policy” — an information platform for the secure handling of our intellectual property — is intended for use by individuals ranging from beginners to experts and is an innovative example from the legal area. On this platform, the employees receive the information that is essential for them personally, along with the rules they must observe, all made available immediately in unambiguous form. The project is an excellent example of rethinking some of the central Group functions. For the first time, both intellectual property experts and selected users have defined the relevant content for the policy.

Innovation platform: Creating the new, improving the existing

Our soft spot for topics from the Group organization is obvious from the fact that we not only are on the hunt for “the next big thing” but also take seriously out colleagues’ everyday ideas and problems. We want to make Daimler a little better, step by step, from the inside out. So we were especially happy to receive the third place in the Corporate Startup Award for our 2017 process innovation program. And a study on behalf of CAPITAL magazine identified us as a top trend in the corporate startup scene. That’s both confirmation and motivation to keep working on our mission.

Because we’re convinced that innovation is never an end in itself, but rather that it is always a contribution to the business, whether in the form of increased income from new business models or efficiency gains thanks to improved processes.

Diverse topics, a self-organizing team

I’ve now been employed at Daimler for 17 years, initially in Procurement, then at AMG, and in 2016 I was able to set up the FC think! tank. Working here is pretty special. Our everyday work on a Monday can be quite different from that on the Friday and is often very difficult to plan in advance, partly because we are always trying to rapidly help our colleagues. That makes for a lot of fun, but it only works in the long term if you have a very strong team. I’m absolutely convinced that empowering our employees is the foundation for an innovative working culture. That’s why I’m also very proud of my team, who embody this spirit every day with unbelievable personal responsibility and self-organization.

Wanting to make a difference as a team

From coaches and business development to communication and events specialists, digital experts, and qualified engineers — we’re a colorful mixture and we complement one another well. Everyone here wants to make a difference, everyone puts their heart and soul into it, and everyone takes on tasks according to their expertise, even when they go beyond their original job descriptions.

What drives us is the shared desire to advance Daimler and put innovations on the road. That means we sometimes have to have juggle several balls at once. Maybe we aren’t quite that different from a successful soccer club after all.

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Christian Nitschke has been the head of the FC think! tank since 2016. Places have been his greatest influences: Born in northern Germany, he spent time in South Africa before making his new home in Swabia.