Lots of companies are talking about the digital transformation. But how do you turn theory into practice? Gas specialist Linde shows how it can be done with its Digital Base Camp which combines the look and feel of a start-up with the know-how of the company's core business. The entrepreneurial spirit brings urgency, while experts from the different business units offer a reality check. PROCESS was offered insight into the work and its first projects.
Linde's digital strategy is slowly taking shape. Almost a year after the Digital Base Camp was opened on the Linde premises in Pullach, the first results are flowing in: A virtual reality application for the training of plant personnel. With VR goggles and handheld controllers, users can beam themselves into the 3D model of a plant, where they can walk around, study valves and compressors in detail from all sides and test their functions. The second project is the Linde Plantserv Portal, an ordering platform for customers of Linde Engineering that shall do nothing less than revolutionize spare parts procurement. And further projects are in the pipeline.
At the Heart of Developments
40 projects have passed through the Digital Base Camp, explains Philipp Karmires, Head of Digitization at Linde. Six of these are in the rollout phase, seven are running as pilot projects. The former Google manager appears young for his years, speaks quickly and thinks just as quickly. Since last August he has been "Mr. Digital" at Linde, where he is tasked with making the company, a gas and plant engineering specialist that is now over 100 years old, fit for the digital future.
The location of the Base Camp in the heart of the developed factory premises in Pullach was chosen quite deliberately: A rather modest-looking building with the feel of a workshop, it was simply spruced up with a bit of paint in the interior rooms, a few partition walls and some seating areas – but nothing more in terms of refurbishment, emphasizes Karmires. He admits that it is not the most elegant or stylish building on the site. But he wants people to understand that he chose the site as a message: The team is an integral part of the greater whole, and not a detached group that potters about well away from the day-to-day business of the company.
And this is also why the members of the digitization team also include people whose daily business would have previously in been the classic core business of Linde. To these, he has added data specialists, software developers and experts who have joined Linde from the digital industry.
Acting on Suggestions from the Business Units
"In a large corporation, it is important to work closely with the business side of things," he explains, before adding that the impact of senior experts is absolutely necessary and a vital prerequisite for acceptance. Suggestions for the projects also come from the different business units. Here, the relevant business unit always acts as the business owner. This is also where the funding comes from, and – importantly – also some of the team members.
Everything that is accepted is followed through by the project team over the course of three months in a typical accelerator process. "Don't talk, just do" is the motto. Every project that is selected is given start-up funding. A prototype has to be on the table within a maximum of three months. This limited time frame generates a certain amount of pressure and thus acts as a boost to creativity, says Karmires, adding that it is important to take advantage of the window of opportunity. "This is something that digital companies do as well."
But how do you go from the prototype to the project? For Julien Brunel, Head of Digitization in the Engineering Division of Linde, the Linde Plantserv Portal is the perfect blueprint. In just seven months, the project team has got the portal off to a flying start. It is important to adhere to the speed of the accelerator process. This is why the Base Camp Team utilizes agile project methods, which in itself already represents a change for an engineer like himself, who is accustomed to structured project plans, admits Brunel.
"We also have to adapt our processes at Linde," he emphasizes. This applies not only to project management, but also to the involvement of external know-how. For example, customers were involved from the start in the development of the service portal. The Base Camp has now also evolved into an export hit, and Karmires has been heading up a team in Singapore since the fall. Here, Linde aims to develop and trial global products and services that are specifically designed to take advantage of the fact that customers in Asian markets have a special affinity to technological innovations.