Digital Learning Journey


At the end of November, executives and digitisation experts from the Haniel Group travelled to Berlin to meet representatives from start-ups, incubators and the digital subsidiaries of big corporations.

24 November, 9:30 a.m., Berlin-Mitte
Around 20 executives and digitisation experts came to Berlin to learn from the digital pioneers. And where better to do this than in “Silicon Valley Germany”? For in the last few years, the capital has become the focal point of the German digital and start-up scene. The trip is the reward for the group that did particularly well at the Leadership Lab in September: in the run-up, five teams had to work on one thesis and then present their solution on site. The winning team was then selected by all participants and now has a full programme for two days in Berlin. Let’s go!

10:00 a.m., Axel Springer Plug & Play Accelerator
After a short walk, the group reaches its first destination: start-ups working on their business models with the support of Axel Springer SE in this industrial loft. Lars Zimmermann, CEO of hy!, a network that brings innovative start-ups and established corporations together and also belongs to Springer, explains the group’s digital transformation. In recent years, it has changed from being a media company to a “content company”, and generates a large share of its sales with digital business models. To do this the company monitors start-ups around the world and invests before they become competitors. “That doesn’t work with corporate structures. Agility is important, you have to be fast,” emphasises Zimmermann. Otherwise someone else will invest – or the price gets too high. That’s why Springer adapted: investment decisions can now be made within seven days. And after being taken over, the start-ups first continue to work alone, but they have the option of opening a dialogue with Springer at any time. They do not have to report to the board until after two years.  
Lesson learned: Digital transformation does not centre around technology – it is actually about leadership, corporate culture and organisation.

1:00 p.m., 365FarmNet
Pictures of pigs, tractors and corn adorn the offices of the old building in the middle of Berlin: No wonder, because this is the workplace of people behind 365FarmNet, an ERP platform for farmers who use it to manage complex processes in their operations. The company works with a large number of other companies on all aspects of agriculture, and is financed by the agricultural machinery group CLAAS, a family-owned company. What is a start-up whose target group is farmers doing in the middle of a big city? “The programmers are in Berlin and this is where agricultural policy is made,” explains Maximilian von Löbbecke, Managing Director.  And even though Haniel’s departments have little to do with agriculture, there are parallels: our classically offline sectors are being digitised as well. And this creates great opportunities for traditional companies – opportunities that have to be seized before else does.
Lesson learned: Don’t ask what it costs when we start to work with digital solutions? Ask what it costs if we don’t?

2:45 p.m., Rocket Internet
After a short walk, everyone is standing in front of a construction site: How do we get into “Rocket Tower”? This is where we hope to find one of Germany’s best-known start-up incubators with a focus on e-commerce, which includes companies such as Westwing and Delivery Hero. After a short, successful search we go on in and straight to the top. On the top floors, mainly young people are working hard on their business models with a view of the capital. Rocket Internet helps them to get their ideas ready for market in just 100 days. The visualisation of the “launch process” decorates the wall of the open-plan office. “For every area of life there is at least one business model to digitise it,” says Dörte Hirschberg, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development.
Lesson learned: Speed is what counts when it comes to digital business models.

5:00 p.m., Kloeckner.i
After the trip into the start-up world, the bus takes us to the first digital unit of a traditional corporation: in a courtyard in Berlin-Mitte we find kloeckner.i, a branch of the steel and metal trader Klöckner & Co..  Unlike Haniel, the group does employ only a few people who come from the company here, but rather “digital natives”. Like a start-up, the 30-person team is working on an industrial platform to connect steelmakers and processors and thereby to bring together supply and demand. Dr Franziska Leonardt, COO, explains how this can radically change the group: from a trader to the manager of the entire supply chain. There is also the venture capital company kloeckner.v, through which the group directly or indirectly invests in start-ups compatible with the platform.  
Lesson learned: Do not just digitise the processes, use digitisation as a back door to re-examine them.

6:15 p.m., Uber
The group only has to go a few doors down for the day’s last stop. The Factory, a start-up campus right on the former East-West border on Bernauer Strasse, is home to the German office of Uber. The app arranges passenger transport and is considered the most valuable start-up in the world – even though it has no vehicles of its own. While the business model has been a success in the US and many other countries, in Germany it is struggling with legal regulations for taxis from the 1960s. But Uber is not giving up, and has many more ideas for the mobility of the future, as explained by Ali Azimi, CEO of DACH.
Lesson learned: If something seems impossible, make it possible.

25 November, 9:00 a.m., Viessmann
Three more stops to make on day two of the programme. The first is in Friedrichsstrasse, to pay a visit to the Berlin digital unit of the heating engineering firm Viessmann. For a long time heating systems were a classic B2B business: Viessmann communicated with the heating manufacturer, who in turn recommended a solution for the consumer. But in a digitised world customers are increasingly finding things out for themselves, digital start-ups are organising the entire process of buying heating systems for homeowners, and the consulting authority of local plumbing and heating installers is waning, says Dr Florian Resatsch. As a result, the marketing has to be completely rethought. This is what the Viessmann Digital team is working on. Next door is the second Viessmann offshoot, WATTx. The “Innovation Lab” acts as an idea generator and company builder. The team develops new ideas and from these creates its own start-ups, in which the founders hold one half and WATTx the other. Like at Klöckner, Viessmann Digital and WATTx also have a few employees from the corporation – personal networks play an important role in recruitment.
Lesson learned: Digital innovation does not happen in day-to-day business – it happens in start-ups that occupy individual components of the value chain and thus turn entire processes upside down.

11:30 a.m., Vimcar
The team has to take the bus to get to the next stop – as befits a fleet management provider. Having got to Vimcar, Haniel’s executives have to squeeze in so that everyone can fit around the conference table in the Prenzlauer Berg pre-War office building. Vimcar is the modern version of a driver’s logbook: instead of the traditional method of writing things down with pen and paper, the solution captures the data digitally so that they can be easily evaluated and sent to the finance office. Moreover, the team offers a solution for fleet managements since the begin of 2016, which is used by many companies already. Andreas Schneider and Christian Siewek founded the start-up straight after university, and they now have 35 employees.
Lesson learned: Start by thinking about the technical possibilities and how they could benefit customers, not about the existing processes.

2:00 p.m., LH Innovation Hub

After walking roughly two kilometres, the group arrives at the last stop on the Learning Journey: Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub is based in an outwardly unassuming building. For two years, the team – half of which consists of Lufthansa employees and the other half “digital natives” – has been rethinking travel. There are two starting points for this: Firstly, they are working to eliminate customers’ “pain points” in existing business. Secondly, the team is also developing its own solutions independently of Lufthansa, such as an app that takes care of online check-in for travellers and works for all airlines with online check-in. “We develop the solutions quickly and then test them directly with customers. These results are more important than our own internal opinion of the product,” explains Solveig Schulse, Co-Creator of Lufthansa Innovation Hub.  
Lesson learned: If a company wants to develop digital solutions, the employees need physical separation and the necessary freedom.

4:30 p.m., Berlin-Mitte
After two days and eight appointments the journey comes to its end. What have the participants’ learned? “It was exciting to see how important personal networks are and how quickly decisions are made: just seven days for a complete acquisition process!” says Peter Bruhn, Senior Digital Advisor at TAKKT. “I learned a lot of practical things, especially that we have to occupy areas before someone else does. This was a great addition to the Leadership Lab,” praised Clement Higgins, Managing Director of CWS-boco Ireland. And Jos Deslee, Executive Vice-President at BekaertDeslee, is also satisfied with the trip: “Changing a traditional organisation is a big challenge. Given that everyone has spoken to us openly and that we have had our own constructive talks within the group, I feel that I have learned a lot. Above all, I’ve learned that success is very much dependent on the people involved and that the company’s management has to be behind the topic.”