Next step in digitization for SMEs: added value through networks
Project timeline: Nov. 2022 - Oct. 2025
Funding: 5,4 million euros from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK)
Projekt coordinator: GS1 Germany
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the German economy. Thus, it is crucially important that they equip themselves to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. In the predecessor project Mittelstand-4.0 Kompetenzzentrum eStandards, SMEs took the first necessary step to remain competitive in the long term by switching to digitalization. In the Mittelstand-Digital Center WertNetzWerke project, the second step is to exploit the full potential of digitization. Digitized SMEs are informed about the possibilities of inter-company networking and secure data exchange between companies and get support in realizing them. Value networks give SMEs more freedom and opportunities to create added value from their data.
Opening up future technologies with value networks
Climate, war, pandemic - many SMEs are severely threatened in their competitiveness by the ongoing crises and their consequences. The pressure is increasing to establish sustainable processes and business models, optimize processes, and not lose touch with key technologies. Most medium-sized companies are not in a position on their own to participate in the current scientific and practical discourses on digital transformation. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) require expertise, resources, and financing that few SMEs can demonstrate.
Requirements-driven AI for SMEs and new business models
Value networks enable SMEs to integrate technologies like AI as applications into the enterprise. Thus, SMEs can share large amounts of data via digital alliances with other companies and train AI for individual purposes. For example, by sharing machine data, SMEs can train an AI to calculate the degree of wear and tear and prevent machine breakdowns. In short, SMEs are overcoming previously insurmountable hurdles with value networks.
Data exchange through digital alliances of SMEs also opens up new business models. SMEs can keep pace with large companies and assert themselves in the international market. Companies within a value network are more flexible, can tap new technologies for themselves, and thus become more resilient to future challenges.
However, most companies are neither aware of the opportunities nor possess the necessary knowledge and contacts to form a value network. At this point, the Mittelstand-Digital Center WertNetzWerke comes into play.
Role and Tasks of the Mittelstand Digital Center WertNetzWerke
The center enables small and medium-sized enterprises to operate optimally in digitally supported value networks, leverage the added value and position themselves digitally for the future. To achieve this, SMEs must overcome technical and legal obstacles and impart new skills to managers and employees. They are supported in the process by various qualification, networking and dialog services and innovative formats from the center.
- Provides SMEs with the necessary expertise to exploit the potential of their data via innovative formats (for example, through value creation labs, a metaverse, or roadshows)
- Identifies application areas and usage scenarios of relevant key technologies for SMEs (for example, for International DataSpaces, platform economy, Internet-of-Things, or blockchain)
- Investigates solution-related topics on current developments and challenges in the context of digitization and classifies them for SMEs (e.g., the role of network partners, resource efficiency, new work, skills development, or change management)
- Supports a total of around 150 SMEs in 15 digitization projects with expertise, digital tools, and networking
- Communicates findings and project results to SMEs through the media (for example, through podcasts, field reports, or presentations).
Fraunhofer FIT in the Mittelstand-Digital Center WertNetzWerke
In the project, FIT coordinates the practice-oriented support services for small and medium-sized enterprises on artificial intelligence in the value network. FIT supports SMEs with its expertise in field projects, complements the center's services with design thinking-based learning opportunities and demonstrators, and prepares the lessons learned from the project in the format of best practices for other SMEs.
In addition, FIT supports knowledge transfer on key technologies in digitization, especially AI, circular economy, resource efficiency, process mining, digital platforms, and data economy.
The Mittelstand-Digital Center WertNetzWerke is part of the Mittelstand-Digital network of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK). Mittelstand-Digital is a funding initiative that provides SMEs with guidance on digital transformation, informs them about opportunities and challenges, and provides financial support through various digitization projects.
Official project page: Mittelstand Digital Zentrum WertNetzWerke (mittelstand-digital-wertnetzwerke.de)