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Digital Transformation of engineering companies – a question of identity

This research project investigates the interplay between digital transformation and organisational identity.

Project description

Digital technologies hold potential for fundamentally transforming both single companies and entire industries. Established engineering-centred companies, for example in the automotive sector or in the area of measurement and process technologies, generally have a strong technology focus. However, their expertise to date has not primarily been on digital solutions. Rather software and digital technologies have played subsidiary and supportive roles in their daily business. New digital technology developments offer them a whole variety of avenues for digital innovations, such as novel digital product features, services, processes, or entirely new business models. In order to facilitate digital innovations and stay future-proof, engineering companies face far-reaching changes. Digital transformation does not simply mean implementing digital technologies, rather it comprises a holistic organisational change on various levels. Since digital transformation concerns value creation issues, its impact can be deep-rooted and far-reaching for companies, thus prompting questions of organisational identity.

We regard the relation between digital transformation and organisational identity as mutual. On the one hand, a company’s current organisational identity provides the frame for what is deemed to be conceivable per se and serves as the point of reference for the perception and evaluation of the potentials that digital technologies may provide. In this respect, an established organisational identity will either foster or impede digital transformation processes. On the other hand, digital transformation counters the traditional established self-understanding, provoking questions, such as: “Who are we? Who do we want to be in the future?”. It triggers a (re)negotiation process about the (future) organisational identity.

Dealing with the identity question is highly relevant in the course of digital transformation since it not only affects the public image, but also influences the organisational members’ actions and identification. This issue cannot be resolved merely by taking in a top management perspective. Rather, organisational identity has to be understood as a collective endeavour. It is strongly intertwined with a company’s culture and strategy, which as such play a crucial role in digital transformation processes.

Our research project follows an interdisciplinary research approach, integrating perspectives from sociology as well as information systems and management studies. In this way, our overarching aim is to gain deeper understanding of the mutual interplay between digital transformation and organisational identity. With our findings, we intend to derive approaches which will help engineering companies deal with these challenges. For instance, one focus lies on potential sources of inertia and opposition as well as opportunities for positively guiding digital transformation dynamics. Therefore, the project’s goal is not only to contribute to a deeper academic understanding of organisations’ digital transformation, but also to provide orientational knowledge for practitioners, facilitating their proactive shaping of digital transformation processes.

Project team

Prof. Dr. Thomas Hess

Member of bidt's Board of Directors | Director of the Institute for Digital Management and New Media, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität

PD Dr. Angela Graf

Research Coordinator and Research Project Leader, bidt

Lea Müller

Researcher, bidt

Anna Kiemer

Researcher, bidt