According to Bosch Software Innovations’ former CEO Rainer Kallenbach, role models of traditional hierarchies still exist – even in the digitalized world of work. In an interview with haufe.de’s Ruth Lemmer, he explains how leadership works at Bosch Software Innovations in times of digital transformation.
RUTH LEMMER Bosch Software Innovations employs more than 800 IoT experts in Germany, Bulgaria, Singapore, China, Japan and the United States. Are you and your team the elite members of the Bosch Group’s worldwide workforce of 390,000 people?
RAINER KALLENBACH I wouldn’t put it that way. As a subsidiary firmly rooted in the Bosch Group, we naturally partner with Bosch divisions to set up IoT technology and build up IoT expertise. Equally important is the development of IoT solutions for customers such as Osram, Zumtobel, Renault, and Stromnetz Berlin, which is responsible for Berlin’s electricity distribution grid. With our software, we have already connected more than five million sensors, devices, and machines with their users and enterprise systems.
Rainer Kallenbach was Chairman of the Executive Board of Bosch Software Innovations GmbH from January 2014 until December 2017, with direct management responsibility for business planning, strategic portfolio management, technology, and product development.
You’re already working in the future, it seems. What types of projects do you and your associates tackle?
The IoT builds bridges between things and their users. Private individuals benefit from connected homes. Manufacturers rely on connected welding robots. And in agriculture, sensors help farmers cultivate their asparagus fields. Data generated via connectivity and cloud technologies are already allowing companies to develop entirely new business models. Physical things can now be supplemented by digital services. A gas boiler will benefit from automated heat management, for instance. And thanks to connected charge points, drivers of electric vehicles can quickly locate a vacant point using an app.
As a software company, we look for people who excel at software development above all. But a lot of our associates also work directly on customer projects as IoT consultants, project managers, UX designers, innovators of business models, or trainers. Subject-specific qualifications are very important, to be sure. But a person’s soft skills are playing an increasingly large role. In my eyes, people with good soft skills are open-minded, courageous, and creative. They’re also eager to experiment and willing to tackle new things. Such people are generally not traditional job applicants. Instead, working in a promising field that is sometimes altogether unconventional makes them motivated and happy.
There is a catchy slogan on your website: “No one can do I(o)T alone.” But how do you persuade business partners and staff to tear down the walls around their gardens of knowledge?
Ideally, people realize for themselves that their own little garden is pretty, but also inflexible. The more perspectives you can combine, the more successful your project will be. You can design a trendy software on your own – but if it misses the mark or is incomprehensible, that will only frustrate users. I also want to mention that we hire open-minded people who, in addition to providing expert input, also enjoy communicating. After all, our teams work at nine locations worldwide. We therefore rely heavily on digital means of communication such as online chats, social intranet, and video telephony.
In a survey you conducted, 27 percent of respondents at business partners and Bosch companies stated that a lack of qualified people constitutes a high hurdle for Industry 4.0. Engineers and computer scientists must find a common language. Is there a solution to this problem?
Yes, there is. Applications for connected manufacturing demand a completely new type of job description. There is a need for specialists who have expertise not only in IT but also processes and industrial production. We need to get all these experts on the same team to carry out these projects full of promise. If you grasp that interdisciplinary teamwork is essential to success, then you will change voluntarily – nobody will need to force you to do so.
Your roots are in the traditionally hierarchical world of Bosch. But you sound like an agile start-up founder.
Approaches in the workplace and leadership culture cannot stay the same if you want to drive forward projects that make use of temperature sensors in strawberry fields or leverage connectivity to help drivers find parking spaces. If you study the DNA of IoT, you will find self-organizing systems, small teams, and quicker decision-making. This is one great thing about working at Bosch, where your career can provide you with insights into large enterprises and small, agile units alike.
Which factors can promote change?
We must trust our teams and learn from mistakes. In addition, we have to demonstrate courage and grant teams the power to make project-related decisions. Open and transparent communication is essential to responsible collaboration that spans the globe. Last but not least, executives must personify the will to change. They also need to eliminate obstacles and intervene only when necessary.
That sounds good. But HR managers have surely heard these requirements before.
Be that as it may, we must make change happen soon. People have always been the key to success, of course, but that goes double for the connected world.