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Prof. Schallmo on Digitalization “My recommendation is to focus on the employees’ needs and concern. To understand what they worry about and to enable them to bring digital transformation from their hearts into their heads and hands”

Prof. Dr. Daniel Schallmo
Professor on Business Model Innovation, Design Thinking, Process Innovation and Digital Transformation at Ulm Hochschule
Member of Institute for Digital Transformation
Founder and Director at Institute for Business Model Innovation
Founder & Owner at Dr. Schallmo & Team GmbH
Founder & Owner at W&S Portfolio Management GmbH, and investment fund for innovative companies

What is digitalization for you?
Digitalization is, on the one hand, a fundamental change to business operations and business models based on newly acquired knowledge gained via value-added digitization initiatives.
For example, if we think about platforms that have been developed and scaled in the last years or about the application of sensors and big data for the maintenance of machines. Digitalization has enabled numerous new business areas, but there is even more potential for future applications. On the other hand, digitalization is much more. It starts in the mind meaning it is a mindset: the digital mindset. Digitization is digitally enabling analog or physical artifacts for the purpose of implementing into said artifacts into business processes with the aim of acquiring newly formed knowledge and creating new value for the stakeholders.

What is the area of research you are working in now regarding digitalization?
It all started with my research in business model innovation in business to business markets (B2B) in 2012. After that, I recognized that in academia and practice the topic of digitalization is very relevant, especially the digital transformation of business models. I, myself, also find it very interesting so we started to work on this topic with other colleagues in complementary academic and business fields. Mainly the digital transformation of business models. Currently, we are working on the investigation of digital strategy with regards to a more general and long-term perspective. After defining the digital strategy and the digitally transformed business model, the next topic we will be working on will be the digital implementation which involves several change management topics.

What are the current challenges for a company to practice digital transformation?
Many of the companies have understood that it is relevant, and it will help them to deliver faster and in some cases for a lower cost.

The main challenges from my point of view is to know exactly what to do, how to do it and to transfer the passion and know-how into the heads and hearts of everybody within the company. It is relevant for every department and every person in each company. To sum it up: it needs to start in the head and it is a way of thinking.

And why should companies practice digital transformation?
Digital transformation has many advantages. It is possible to reach customers in a better and faster way. Furthermore, it is possible to derive relevant, previously unexplored information from products and services (e.g. by applying sensors and big data analytics) and to initiate processes (e.g. delivery of spare parts, maintenance). Basically, digital transformation enables companies to save time and money and to deliver a higher quality of products and services.

You come from Ulm, Albert Einstein’s birthplace in Germany! What is your vision of the future regarding the collaboration between science and technology, professors and businesses?
Einstein once said. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

From my point of view, we need to find smart ways in order to connect academia and practice. In many cases, companies seek new solutions and innovative people. On the other hand, universities can provide new ways of thinking and new methods for the solution of problems.
My vision is the application of the dual system in all areas; meaning to combine science and academia with practices on every level: projects, students, professors, etc.

You have worked for more than 20 years with companies, in universities and have applied your research in innovation and digitalization. What are your best practises when working with businesses?
I think there is no one and only best practice. Every company projects all people as individuals. In the end, one insight into the successful Digital Transformation is that people matter the most. It is about the digital mindset and culture.

And as Peter Drucker said once: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. My recommendation is to focus on the employees’ needs and concern. To understand what they worry about and to enable them to bring digital transformation from their hearts into their heads and hands.

Which project would you like to do with an existing business or with a start-up?
One project I would like to work on is the digital transformation of asset management. I think there is a lot of potential in big data analysis of stocks and in the digitized management of stocks within a fund.

Together with partners, we have created a company (W&S Portfoliomanagement GmbH) that applies big data analytics in order to create and manage a stock fund with innovative companies. A very challenging and interesting topic.

You have a very busy life, you are a professor, you have written more than ten books and several articles, you do research at the Institute for Digital Transformation and you are founder and owner of several companies. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance – keeping the balance between all your different roles and your personal life?
First: Passion is the key. Do what you love and believe in what you do.

Another important insight is partnerships. I concentrate on what I like to do the most, what I know best, and finally, I include several partners who are experts in their respective field. We share knowledge and have fun working together. Another personal insight is to know yourself very well. When to take a break and to “reset”. Therefore, I love sailing, hiking or going on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. The best way to find the energy for new projects 🙂

Why did you become a professor?
I like doing research on new topics, e.g. Business Model Innovation, Design Thinking, Process Innovation, the digital transformation of business models and leading and collaborating in the digital era. I also like working with young people and sharing knowledge with them.

What is your main achievement you are proud of?
In summer 2017, I hiked the E5 finishing 130 km in six days over the Alps from Oberstdorf (Germany) to Merano (Italy). This was an exhausting hike but inspiring and nice. To reach the peak of a mountain (e.g. Similiaun > 3000 m) after such a long hike: priceless.

Books recommended by Prof. Daniel Schallmo, besides his Greek cookbook with his family’s secret recipes 🙂

You can read his Golden Rules for Living, here.