Part 5: Accelerate transformation

All of the individual digital technologies discussed in this paper (and more) offer exciting possibilities for driving sustainable growth models. But true transformation requires those solutions to be brought together to create a multiplier effect.

Integration of every process across information and operational technologies–and even the full supply chain–will hugely accelerate the shift to sustainability. However, no organization or technology provider can put in place such a comprehensive response entirely by itself. Sustainable innovation is most likely to come from partnerships in which businesses combine technology and share expertise. That enables them to pursue growth and develop new business models while decarbonizing their operations, minimizing their waste, and maximizing their resources – all of which are pressing challenges for business leaders.


Such partnerships can be immensely powerful, driving benefits for multiple stakeholders. At Aspern Smart City Research, for example, collaboration of this type is delivering multiple benefits for towns and cities (see box below). At another collaboration between Siemens and Mercedes, multiple partners are working together on digital manufacturing and efficient automation in the car production process, and simultaneously harnessing more sustainable and energy-efficient production methods in the automaker’s plants.


These expansive networks draw together expertise from across the ecosystem. “If I’m the one that says, ‘I have the data in a building,’ and if I now make it available to others who are smarter about the shopping experience in a mall or, say, operating the elevators, I become part of the ecosystem,” says Johannes Thul, Senior Director Strategy at Siemens Smart Infrastructure. “Siemens brings data together to optimize the building, and if customers allow, partners can profit from the data to optimize their core areas within the building.”


The number of these more extensive ecosystems is growing. In northern Germany, for example, Siemens is involved in a project to develop energy-distribution grids optimized for renewable-energy sources and connections. It spans 21 different ecosystem participants, offering expertise in areas such as grid management, rural and urban planning, and components manufacturing, and also involves two non-governmental organizations. Some partnerships will be more about socially conscious collaboration than commercial endeavor. Groups such as Corporate Eco Forum and The Climate Pledge bring together like-minded public and private organizations to forge new business strategies for sustainability. Organizations such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the World Economic Forum provide further support.

Data exchange is another area where ecosystems can create value. In automotive, for example, the Catena-X network is building a continuous data exchange for contributors from across the industry’s value chain. The aim is to develop an operating system with standardized protocols that govern end-to-end data chains and create collective intelligence banks to serve several use cases, including securing data sovereignty and interoperability. 


The best ecosystems will promote and support growth, efficiency, resiliency, flexibility, user experience, and sustainability. This will reduce time to market and time to scale. By sharing best practice, every member of the ecosystem can nourish their digital transformation with a wider range of expertise than is available to any of them individually.


Each participant brings with them clients to connect with other members of the ecosystem, giving those clients access to a wider range of expertise and a one-stop-shop for solutions, and creating new value for all. A healthy ecosystem is a mutually supportive community of experts focused on delivering superior solutions for clients.

To offer the greatest benefit, ecosystems will also require organizations to work with new partners – including close competitors. That could become uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to data sharing in industries that are highly protective of their intellectual property. Solutions such as Estainium, which use a low-energy blockchain to enable data sharing while protecting security and confidentiality, will be crucial to easing these new relationships.


Above all, says SWW Wunsiedel’s Marco Krasser, every organization in the ecosystem must focus on shared long-term goals, regardless of setbacks. “Set your destination and keep going until you have reached it, rather than giving up at the first issue,” he says. “This is new territory, and with that comes the possibility of failure. The important thing is to get back up.” 

The best ecosystems will promote and support growth, efficiency, resiliency, flexibility, user experience, and sustainability. 

How do organizations gain entry to these ecosystems of partners – particularly small and medium-sized businesses that may struggle to build them for themselves? Industrial business platforms such as Siemens Xcelerator make them accessible through a single platform. The aim is to provide a central point of discoverability for organizations looking for tailored and comprehensive digital solutions to the challenges they face. Crucially, Siemens Xcelerator features Siemens’ own solutions, and those from third parties such as developers and software providers, available through an open and flexible ecosystem that brings users and technology partners together.

The solution and service offering on such platforms must be structured in the right way in order to be simple and easy to navigate – around the business challenges they address, such as decarbonization, asset management, and energy efficiency. They must be interoperable, ensuring that solutions work seamlessly together. They must be flexible, with modular offerings so that organizations can pick what they need and scale as they grow. And they must be open – based on standardized application programming interfaces (APIs).

Case Study: How Aspern Smart City Research is driving value through multidisciplinary collaboration

The Aspern Smart City Research (ASCR) project provides an on-the-ground example of value creation and mutual benefit when partners collaborate to fulfill shared sustainability ambitions – in this case, to develop solutions for more efficient and climate-friendly urban energy systems. The project was launched in 2013 by Siemens Austria, Wien Energie, Wiener Netze, and the City of Vienna, and now involves more than 100 researchers from various disciplines.

“We call it sector coupling,” says Robert Grüneis, ASCR’s General Manager. To illustrate what is possible, he uses the analogy of a modern smartphone, which delivers previously segregated services, including communications, entertainment, photography, and e-shopping, through a single device. We should think of buildings and cities as having the same potential, Grüneis argues.


“Energy efficiency is not just the use of a renewable energy resource,” he says. “We have to coordinate different demands and find the appropriate resource. Often, the best solution lies in an energy system where a building is used for commercial purposes and for residential. The use of data, modern technologies, and AI helps us to bring users, renewable resources, and the technology itself together – to ‘talk’ with each other. Then energy efficiency comes to life.


” By building these networks and collaborations, Grüneis says, you receive a greater aggregate return, with each partner’s expertise contributing toward efficiency, resiliency, flexibility, and user experience. “The challenge here is to achieve alignment of interests, but that’s a good thing, and it’s been very successful,” he adds. “Challenge enriches every single system.”

Energy efficiency is not just the use of a renewable energy resource. We have to coordinate different demands and find the appropriate resource. 
Robert Grüneis General Manager, Aspern Smart City Research