Keeping the industrial goods sector on track for success – actively shaping the future in six areas

In recent years, industrial companies have used their strengths and proven their international competitiveness in the face of growing global challenges. This success story can be continued, despite current challenges. However, processes, structures and products are being scrutinized. To keep up with digital champions, competitive advantages must be generated in new areas. In a total of six areas, from the metaverse and smarter networks, to digital brands and identifying the right talents, the future must be shaped to remain successful and attractive in the industry.

Germany’s industry is facing major challenges. That’s not only because every company is working on individual responses to the changes that have been triggered by global warming, war or COVID-19. Alongside all of this, it remains paramount to continue to drive the digital transformation with high ambitions, instead of simply letting today’s digital champions take over the business of tomorrow. Industrial companies have the potential to actively shape the transformation of industries and markets. They have enormous opportunities for growth if they build on their traditional strengths and bring them to bear in an adapted form in new fields while at the same time complementing them with new capabilities. This however, requires a fundamental rethinking both in the C-suite as well as in the broader workforce – especially in middle management.
The focus on innovation, productivity, quality, a highly skilled workforce, a deliberate approach to internationalization and high-quality products for which people are happy to pay a premium remain a competitive advantage. This can be the basis for becoming a global pacemaker in sustainable production and renewable energy, by setting standards in the scaling of new technology in terms of breadth and quality. For this to happen, companies need to better understand future customer needs and the direction in which products, services, and business models as well as associated processes and structures should develop.
Independent of their own market position, industry players need to keep an eye on six developments that will shape the future. Companies need to approach everything from a customer perspective, they will have to attractively present themselves in the metaverse, co-innovate with customers and external experts, create an ecosystem of customers or other partners to deepen cooperation, invest in talent in a targeted manner and finally, in order to be attractive for job seekers and clients: become a vibrant digital brand.

The customer at the core – experiences win over product features

What many industrial players define as customer orientation is not enough to understand target groups and inspire them with tailored offers. Instead of letting experts tinker with features they find exciting, customer needs must be consistently placed at the center, both in the way we think and act. Structures, processes, products, and solutions must be viewed through the customer’s lens. This allows for a convincing customer- or user experience across all contact points and an irresistible portfolio. Only by expanding past the pure product by means of meaningful, highly individualized services, using all available communication channels and data, can a powerful end-to-end experience emerge. Best practice examples for this are successful digital end-consumer businesses that have put a comprehensive understanding of customer needs at the core of their actions to offer outstanding user experiences. End-consumer experience is increasingly shaping expectations in industrial circles as well. Data-driven digital giants may even transfer their successful concepts from the consumer world to the industrial sphere and thus become competitors, for example by acting as a platform between industrial companies and their customers.

Moving into the Industrial Metaverse – rethinking value chains and vertical integration

Entering into the emerging Metaverse Continuum offers great opportunities for customer-centric thinking and agile entrepreneurial action. This is where, among other things, the so-called Industrial Metaverse is currently evolving. It enables companies to get closer to the customer and rethink collaboration as well as value chains and vertical integration. On an ongoing basis, new technology – far beyond virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) – is opening new opportunities through its integration into end-to-end processes, of which industrial companies should take advantage of in four areas. First, it is important to intensify virtual collaboration within the organization and beyond. Secondly, there are opportunities for better simulations, from plant optimization to business planning. Thirdly, the Industrial Metaverse is the ideal platform for product upgrades and a first step towards hybrid offerings which complement physical products with virtual elements and thus expand them into end-to-end solutions. Fourth, customer touchpoints are increasingly shifting to the metaverse, for example in the form of the hybrid industrial trade fair, to which one can check-in remotely and cost-effectively – as well as round-the-clock individual support services, offered by regional teams via the metaverse.

Team-based Innovation – using swarm intelligence to find new solutions

Customer centricity and metaverse also form the basis of a new innovation philosophy that is likely to become an important success factor for many industrial companies: The development of products and services in close cooperation with customers. In other words:  swarm intelligence and open innovation. The aim is to overcome the widespread „not-invented-here“ syndrome and to expand innovation beyond single company boundaries. Only through co-creation with customers, suppliers and other partners can innovations be specifically geared to the manifold wishes of potential customers. The goal should always be the end-to-end solution – which in future will often be a hybrid one, i.e. consisting of a physical product and digital services – and not the standalone device. In close coordination with a company’s own departments and partners, it should be clarified whether a feature requires its own app or fits into an existing solution. The same goes for the question whether one’s own capacities and capabilities are sufficient for development or if partners should be brought on board for important tasks.

Weaving fine networks – the next generation ecosystem

This is the nucleus of new dynamic ecosystems, in which companies along the supply- and value chain – even beyond their own core industry – should cooperate with other companies or (research) institutions in agile constellations to find the best solutions. These ecosystems are about more than joint research and development. The goal is growth through new partners, offers and business models. Digitalization opens opportunities not only for more effective innovation management, but also for the establishment of resilient supply chains, simplified scaling, vertical integration or on-site consulting of customers in the network. It allows companies to focus on their own core competencies thanks to strong partners. However, this requires a change in the mindset of employees. They will have to understand that their company will at times be in an active leading position and at other times in a supporting role. Also: It is sometimes better to strive for the rapid market launch of an 80 per cent solution with the help of partners instead of waiting for a fully developed product, only to watch that faster competitors already capture the market. The ecosystem of the future therefore primarily serves to take advantage of growth opportunities as well as to quickly scale and close competency gaps.

People as a success factor – finding and developing talents

Without a qualified workforce, broad transformations will not have the desired impact. Considering the shortage of skilled workers, the industry must view the workforce from a new angle – always with the ecosystem in mind. Determining which core tasks for technologies such as software or design are to be covered in-house and what will need to be contributed from external partners is important. Essential specialists must be identified and inspired to work in the company. This is all about “creating talent”, the first priority, as hidden talents from within the company or from outside must be discovered and developed. This means the willingness to qualify employees for upcoming tasks instead of looking for ready-made experts. The second priority is “follow the talent”. Instead of waiting for potential employees, companies must actively approach them and follow them without restrictions to where they feel comfortable. To do this, it is advisable to restructure the organization in such a way that digital hubs can be established away from the company headquarters in regions that are popular with specialists. A new culture of trust that allows collaboration over long distances, for example via mobile or home office, is also essential. Thirdly, the company must turn itself into an attractive employer by offering new ways of working. Here, the industry should also take its cue from global digital corporations, as it is them with whom they compete for skilled staff – both at home and abroad.

A digital brand – a shiny virtual reputation leads to attractiveness in real life

Item six on the to-do list: Industrial companies must consciously and purposefully become a digitally visible and attractive brand. Most legacy players have solid reputations and their strong brand stand for traditional values – however mostly in connection with the past. The trick is to inject a new spirit into the traditional “physical world brand” in today’s and tomorrow’s virtual world. These traditional brands must become innovative digital players that occupy key positions in the network economy of the future. If an industrial brand shines brightly in this sense, it can inspire customers and skilled workers, thus generating more growth and making it easier to fill vacancies. Here too, companies such as Apple and Google are prime role models.
Those who convincingly present themselves, both in the real world and in the metaverse, as an innovative company that wants to shape the future, takes social challenges and people’s needs seriously, while offering an inspiring working environment to achieve these goals, are a decisive step ahead of the competition in the race for skilled workers, enthusiastic customers, and loyal ecosystem partners. Because industries and markets are currently being disrupted, the moment is now to set the course. With the right changes, businesses that take advantage of their opportunities and become active in these six fields of action in addition to other areas that are important to them, are heading for a successful future.

Further reading: The six areas to focus on

Would you like to learn more about the six areas that industrial companies need to focus on to shape their future? We have asked six guest authors to share their views for the “Industrial Companies of the Future” special in Harvard Business Manager. Follow this link to access all articles in German.

Here is a quick overview in English:

Customer Centricity by Christian Tauer, Director Consumer Experience at BSH Hausgeräte GmbH
Customers will form the center of tomorrow’s entrepreneurial solar system, constantly orbited by suppliers that try to identify new demands or problems to develop tailor-made products and services. In his article, Christian Tauer reveals how BSH Hausgeräte is putting customers at the center.

Industrial metaverse by Peter Körte, Chief Technology & Strategy Officer at Siemens
The metaverse is the sales cosmos in which companies must be present. In this digital space, they can get closer to potential customers and present offers to potential buyers in a more regional, flexible and individualized way. Peter Körte describes how Siemens is making optimal use of the metaverse.

Co-creation by Maciej Kranz, Chief Technology Officer at Kone
Co-creation will become an innovation booster. Those who eliminate the „not-invented-here“ syndrome and give free rein to creativity in close cooperation with customers and external experts find better solutions than by going it alone. Maciej Kranz explains why the company has reorganized its innovation management to focus on co-creation in his article.

Ecosystems by Charles Vaillant, Chief Technology & Digital Officer at MANN+HUMMEL
The ecosystem of customers, suppliers and partners in science or institutions is increasingly becoming a success factor. Beyond co-creation, many entrepreneurial tasks can be better solved in a network in which everyone plays to their specific strengths. Charles Vaillant explains how this ecosystem works at MANN+HUMMEL.

Workforce by Tristan Horx, keynote speaker at Zukunftsinstitut
The workforce can either be a revenue and profit driver or a bottleneck that hurts the company’s balance sheet. Those who cannot identify the right talent and deploy it on a permanent basis or via an ecosystem will fall behind the competition in the face of the skills shortage. In his article, Tristan Horx outlines the path to the right workforce.

Digital brand by Frank Notz, Sales Director at Festo
The digital brand must shine brightly, especially when it comes to marketing and sales as well as recruitment. Those who fail to make the company shine in both the real and digital world will lose the race for customers and skilled workers. Frank Notz describes Festo’s path to becoming a digital brand in his article.

The Authors:

Sarat Maitin, editor of this special, leads Accenture’s consulting business with industrial companies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. He has many years of experience in transformation programs and is increasingly focused on digital sales. With his team, he supports clients in the design and implementation of digitalization projects.





Sebastian Honold is part of Accenture’s Strategy practice and leads his team in shaping the digital transformation of the (mid-sized) industrial goods sector. He specializes in digital business strategies/transformations (digital enterprise, digital customer and digital business models).