Operational Capabilities in Times of Digitalization – Surveys in Traditional Industry Companies

Traditional companies from capital-intensive industries are facing hard challenges in times of digitalization. Far-reaching technological changes have the potential to weaken long-time successful operational capabilities of the companies and make them obsolete. Based on theoretical explanations this paper examines the possibilities for accelerating digitalization and its impacts on the creation and transfer of operational capabilities using the example of traditional companies. Therefore, in the first study, the digital status quo of 160 German industry companies was measured in a digital maturity assessment based on a theoretically derived maturity model. The average level of digital maturity is 3.92 out of 7 and shows a need for improvement. Further results make it clear that many companies (44%) have not yet experienced any increase in profitability as a result of digitalization. A cluster analysis was therefore used to identify six archetypes of companies with varying degrees of digitalization. Possible opportunities for acceleration were identified by comparing the levels within the maturity model dimensions. Another quantitative study was conducted to compare the economic effects of digitalization and the requirements for the creation of operational capabilities in a structural equation model. The quantitative survey of 200 German industrial companies showed that increased adaptation to the environmental dynamics and intensive interaction in value-creation networks and ecosystems have a positive effect on the advantageousness of the capabilities created in times of digitalization. In contrast, the effects of higher imitability and tradeability of the capabilities do not have a significant impact. By drawing on a third study based on qualitative content analysis, the impacts of digitalization on the trade-off between transfer and protection against disclosure of operational capabilities were investigated. Therefore, the single case study methodology was applied to a German manufacturing company. From the literature, the balancing parameters of decentralization of decision-making and information richness of communication mechanisms were identified as optimization parameters for the trade-off. By analyzing the interviews and further data subparameters were generated that are set differently in the case study company depending on the transfer technologies used. This optimization is needed to mitigate the trade-off between the transfer and protection of capabilities. The present thesis thus makes a theoretical and practical contribution to improving digital maturity and maintaining the competence-based competitive advantages of capital-intensive industries in times of digitalization.


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