Paradoxes of implementing digital manufacturing systems: A longitudinal study of digital innovation projects for disruptive change
Lukas Moschko, Vera Blazevic, Frank T. Piller
kHUB post date: August 2, 2023
Originally published: March 13, 2023 (PDMA JPIM • Vol. 40, Issue 4 • July 2023)
Read time: 70 minutes
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Digital manufacturing technologies offer many opportunities for established companies to innovate. They promote data-driven gains in operational efficiency and enable the transformation of current business models or the creation of entirely new differentiation opportunities. However, many digital innovation projects in manufacturing fall short of their initial ambitions and result in incremental improvements to an existing manufacturing system, if at all. To understand the reasons for the discrepancy between initial ambitions and achieved outcomes, we conduct a longitudinal qualitative study based on a collaborative research project with eight companies and additional expert interviews. Applying a paradox lens, we identify three tensional knots that reveal interrelated, multiple tensions of digital innovation management projects in established manufacturing firms: (1) amalgamating physical and digital assets, (2) innovating in an existing modus operandi, and (3) integrating internal and external stakeholders. These tensions result in the simultaneous occurrence of dynamic and conflicting forces that turn digital innovation projects in manufacturing away from their high initial ambitions. Our findings explain why digitizing the manufacturing system is a non-trivial endeavor for established firms, which need to balance the complexities inherent in digitization efforts and manage conflicting goals. For managers, the findings provide ways to manage the interrelated tensions in their digital innovation efforts, enabling them to better capitalize on disruptive innovation ambitions.
- While the application of digital technologies in manufacturing systems offers promising innovation opportunities, such as disruptive business model innovations, they often cannot be realized by established industrial companies.
- These implementation challenges may lie in paradoxical tensions that are interwoven in so-called tensional knots, which show the intricate complexities for the involved stakeholders.
- These tensional knots appear especially when physical and digital assets are combined, when digital innovation projects are executed in a conventional modus operandi, and when internal and external stakeholders are integrated.
- Untangling these knots—if possible—is by no means trivial, but an awareness of their presence and paradoxical nature can help managers deal with them better than just through simple pragmatic downsizing of project objectives.