Hybrid digital product developmentStudying and optimizing innovation processesDoing the Research series
7 April 2022, by Anna Priebe
Photo: Pixabay fancycrave1
To study how, for example, to successfully develop a smart watch, Dr. Theresa Bockelmann and her team are conducting case studies.
When companies develop products with digital and non-digital components, they face special challenges. As part of an international research collective at the Faculty of Business (Hamburg Business School), Dr. Theresa Bockelmann is studying how such hybrid processes can work. Our series Doing the Research introduces research projects at Universität Hamburg.
We often hear about digital innovation. You, however, are focusing on “hybrid digital innovation.” What does this mean exactly?
We focus on new products made of both digital, meaning immaterial, and material, physical components. Examples include self-driving cars, smart home devices such as surveillance systems, or wearables, like smart watches.
What are you looking at in this context?
In our research, we want to decode the process of hybrid digital product innovation. That means we are looking at how they are conceived, developed, implemented, realized, and used. Thus far, research studies have primarily focused on purely digital product innovation.
However, we want to understand above all the tensions that arise in the hybrid digital innovation process—for example with regard to different production requirements and different materials but also the different skills, expertise, and organizational structures and cultures. We are studying how these affect companies that are developing hybrid digital innovations for the market or that want to move in that direction.
The optimal design of digitalized product innovation is thus currently one of the most urgent business issues for companies because traditional companies often find it difficult to navigate the challenges of digitalization. We can derive practical knowledge from our applied field research and educate companies.
How do you do the research?
We work mostly in the field, that is, directly with the companies. Currently, we are conducting several case studies to gain insight into the development, production, management, organization, and factors for success and failure.
We are paying special attention to companies with different profiles, so, for example, striving start-ups and established firms. Among other things, we are looking at a manufacturer of household machines, a start-up for sustainable reusable packaging, a 3D printing company, and an international medical technology manufacturer.
What exactly are you doing?
We are conducting one of our case studies, for example, with Vytal. This start-up wants to reduce waste using a smart reuse system for take-away. The 2 components of the Vytal business model are reusable bowls and cups used by restaurants and cafeterias and an intelligent software-based system that uses QR codes to trace packaging, thus making it possible to reuse and return it.
The different needs related to material and immaterial components make things highly complex. With regard to the containers, the issues range from production through to disposal. With regard to the digital components, there are, among other things, the issues of programming and steering the recycling system.
For us, it is interesting to understand how the company masters these challenges, in which areas specifically there are tensions, and how Vytal handles those. To find out, we will use the participant observation method and interview company staff.
And you will share your findings, in turn, with practitioners?
Yes. In addition to scientific publications that we would like to make available via open access after we finish and review the work, we will organize workshops and round-tables with interested companies to provide them directly with practical advice. We will also use our findings in our teaching, for example in our courses on technology and innovation management.
For the project Building Digital Products: Understanding the Interaction between Hardware and Software Component Development in Digital Innovation, the team headed by Dr. Jan Recker, professor of information systems and digital innovation, is receiving €280,000 from the German Research Foundation for a period of 30 months. In addition to the core team at Universität Hamburg, Universität zu Köln, Ruhr Universität Bochum, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Case Western Reserve University in the United States, and Chalmers Institute in Sweden are involved.
Doing the Research
There are approximately 6,200 academics conducting research at 8 faculties at Universität Hamburg. Many students also often apply their newly acquired knowledge to research practice while still completing their studies. The Doing the Research series outlines the broad and diverse range of the research landscape, and provides a more detailed introduction of individual projects. Feel free to send any questions and suggestions to the Newsroom editorial office(newsroom"AT"uni-hamburg.de).