DigitalLife@Daimler: #transform – the strategic heart of the group

New ideas and making people mobile have always been part of Daimler’s DNA. Some time ago, the Group embarked on an exciting journey of its own. Its objective is to make Daimler the digital leader of the automotive sector. As a member of the #transform team from DigitalLife@Daimler, I’ve been fortunate to be in a position where I can help shape the various stages of this journey.

Some people have a strange conception of what the “strategists” of a corporation are like: Are they all theoretically-minded “eggheads” whom nobody understands? I can assure you that this isn’t the case.

We may not be as visible as some of the other teams gathered under the umbrella of DigitalLife: #ideate, #collaborate, and #change. This is because most of our work takes place in the background. It’s therefore high time that I also use this Blog to tell you something about our work in the company’s “strategy center.”

The position of #transform at Daimler

The #transform team plays a special role, because we think about the company’s future with regard to the digital transformation and identify topics that are important for this process to be successful. In doing so, we are of course in close touch with the digital experts from the various functions and divisions. We regularly meet up with them in order to find out who is currently working on which topics and to determine what themes are becoming more important overall. Because we are connected to Daimler’s strategy department, we can discuss our topics directly with the top managers and the Board of Management. In addition, we cooperate closely with the other DigitalLife teams.

I admit that the fact that I began this text with a description of structural issues is pretty typical for a strategy manager. However, I’m convinced that our networks are the secret to our success. They are the reason why DigitalLife@Daimler has developed so exceedingly well since it kicked off about eight years ago. With that, I want to quickly pass on to what we actually do.

Our topic: The digital transformation at Daimler

As the name says, the big topic that #transform addresses is the digital transformation of Daimler. As early as 2011, the Group intentionally separated this topic from the “classic” strategy process. It was clear that digitalization isn’t just hype, but a game changer that will greatly transform our products, processes, and jobs. Our team has been responsible for fundamentally promoting this process since 2015.

Our main tasks can be roughly summarized in five points: We define digital objectives, scout trends, ensure transparency, create synergies, and ultimately promote cultural change. Some of the stages follow in succession, while others run in parallel. But no matter what, we always work together with partners from other parts of the company.

Stage #1: Tracking the digital trends

The first question we ask for every fundamental strategic decision is: What will be important in the future? In order to find an answer, we use the entire trend scouting toolkit: We go to trade shows, read specialist media, organize in-house innovation & strategy workshops, and work together with external “trend professionals” such as scientists and special agencies.

We are mainly interested in the “big” digital trends that will be relevant for many years for the optimization of our products and processes and the way we address customers. Examples include artificial intelligence, blockchain, data management, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).

In order to disseminate our knowledge, we also tour the company and organize DigitalLife TechTalks. These have also led to spinoffs on Youtube and at trade shows such as the Mobile World Congress. Moreover, we use this knowledge as input for formats of the #ideate team, e.g. open spaces and hackathons.

Stage #2: Creating transparency in technological trends

Many departments at Daimler pick up on technological trends early on. That’s why we systematically check to see who is doing what. Let’s look at artificial intelligence (AI) as an example. When it became apparent how much potential this trend had, we took a close look at the situation within the Group. How do sales and marketing use smart assistants or chatbots? How is machine learning employed in production? What is happening in this regard at the Trucks division and what at Research & Development? We brought the various groups together in order to promote transparency. At the same time, we discussed this topic with the Board of Management. We always take this approach so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing and we can detect possible synergies for Daimler early on.

Stage #3: The search for synergies in the Group

If a digital trend is of overarching significance for the Group, it makes sense to pool resources and take a joint approach. This was very clearly the case with artificial intelligence. We knew from the start that AI will not only be used in our products, but also optimize many of our processes.

In such cases, we adopt the topic and develop a strategy on how it can be optimally integrated so that every unit benefits. We jointly conduct pilot projects and discuss the results and recommendations for action with the top management. In this way, we establish networks between the in-house experts and create the basis for synergies. For some time now, we have also been helping the many innovation labs within the “Daimler universe” to network more strongly with one another. Through a newly created Innohub network, we are promoting the global, cross-functional sharing of ideas between Seattle, Berlin, and Beijing.

Stage #4: Focusing on digital objectives at Daimler

If the top management is convinced of the importance of a technology, it’s time to set a digital objective for the Group so that everyone can take it as a guidepost. These targets show how products and processes can be improved with the help of digital technology. We don’t do all this on our own, of course. We define the Group’s digital objectives in cooperation with the divisions, which, in turn, break down these targets for themselves.

Our overarching goal is the Strategy House. In the same way that we develop targets for individual technologies and trends, we also have an overarching principle that serves as a guideline for every new measure: our “Strategy House.” That’s because all of our activities are geared toward the goal of making us the digital leader in our sector.

In this “House,” we have defined what we can specifically do for our customers, how our employees can network more effectively, and how our products and processes can become even better. But because technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, we have to think in short timespans and regularly update the House. Last but not least, the House shows us that a huge topic such as digitalization cannot be addressed with small measures. A solid foundation is needed — and this foundation is now and will remain the people at Daimler.

Stage #5: Make people aware of the benefits of a new technology

Every technological transformation is largely a form of culture change. From this, we derive our fifth task: To make people aware of the benefits of a new technology.

This primarily requires us to engage in a continuous dialog. We are constantly holding discussions with everyone from the top management on down to the production workers. We do this in small groups of experts, where the topics are initially conceived, and at big events such as the DigitalLife Day, where we make people aware of new technologies on a broad basis.

Take for example “data culture.” Data is becoming increasingly important, and that applies to us as well. As a result, it’s crucial that everyone realizes how valuable data is within the company. The management and sharing of data has to become second nature to us, as does the smart linking of this data in order to gain new insights. DigitalLife@Daimler and its partners are currently working hard to promote this transformation.

If you still have any questions concerning our work, don’t hesitate to contact us. We welcome your feedback.

On the following platforms you can also rate, subscribe and listen to our blog articles: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Deezer | TuneIn Radio | RSS

Markus Oehmann leads the #transform team at DigitalLife@Daimler, which is responsible for the Group-wide digitization strategy and Daimler's focus on digital topics.