Many traditional manufacturing and engineering companies are challenged to integrate and augment their products with digital capabilities. The challenges in such changes - now called digital transformations - are not just a short supply of talent to develop software and data-based capabilities and acquisition of related software skills.
To understand in more detail such challenges Kalle Lyytinen, professor of design and innovation, and coauthors of study from Umea University in Sweden, examined the history of the digitization of a global leading process automation product manufactured and sold by ABB – a leading Swiss-Swedish global engineering company – over a 40-year period (1970-2010). The study traces the evolution of ABB’s process automation products from chiefly analogous manufactured products to a complex software-based automation platform. This is one of the first full blown analyses of digitalization histories in main manufacturing companies.
The analysis shows that as important for transformation beyond acquiring software competencies was exponentially increased interactions with new and different varieties of design expertise, opening the product designs for outside groups, and making sure that richer information exchanges took place within the new product ecology. The coauthors delineate three mechanisms that resulted in ABB’s expansive transitioning to digital product platforms: introduction of alternative design rules of how components and product features are integrated, distribution of control by whom and how designs are decided, and aggressive expansion of the product to new clientele, features and associated needs (stimulus-response variety).
The analysis also shows that product digitalization generally appears to follow multilevel evolutionary patterns which start on past designs and solutions but expand them gradually with new architectural layers and features.
Download the full research paper.
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