Best Practice KNF Digital Accelerator: The key to success in digital transformation for family-owned enterprises

Digital transformation is a must for any organization. This is true for global actors as well as for medium-sized companies and family enterprises rich in tradition. And especially for these, the development of strategies and their pragmatic implementation require an individual approach. Which strategy would be most promising in tackling this challenge? What is the best way to operationalize the strategy in the organization? These are questions we have dealt with at doubleYUU over the past 10 years.

For KNF, the technology leader in high-quality diaphragm pumps and systems for gases, vapors and liquids, founded in Freiburg in 1946, we have found and implemented an approach which demonstrates that there is actually no single standard strategy of reacting to digitally induced change.

An erroneous belief of consultants

It is a wide-spread misconception in consultancy that a certain procedure should be developed once and for all, to then serve as a strategic blueprint for any given company. So the concept is all set, while practical implementation is up to the top management of the company. This could work, but it doesn’t uniformly do so. And it rarely fits with medium-sized companies striving for sustainability.

Therefore, we work differently. We always develop our strategies with a decent individual adjustment to the history, culture, market, experience, competences etc. of your company. What does that mean in the case of KNF?

As a first step, we took a very close look and saw a market leader in their segement with a high affinity for technology – and with a unique decentralized structure. KNF is represented by 16 autonomous individual companies around the world.

An effective and smart concept for family enterprises

For the family enterprise, and matching these premises, we looked for an effective and smart concept to guide this successful business into the new digital and networked world. Everybody was well aware, right from the beginning, that this change must be accompanied by a cultural change which should gradually enthuse and involve everyone.

We found a unique way for KNF to successfully implement the digital transformation by approaching it holistically and sustainably with all participants. Digitalization in medium-sized enterprises is not just IT and Marketing, but a profound cultural change which concerns all processes, all departments, all employees, the management and of course the products as well as their business development and sales, and which is radically customer-oriented.

After all, it was by no means accidental that KNF, in using the proven, traditional processes and strategies that widely allow autonomous work by the Group’s companies, has established itself over decades as the technology leader whose pumps are built into espresso machines as well as into the ISS space station.

DAC is set to become the driving force of KNF digitalization

So what exactly did we do? To focus on rapid implementation, a new company was founded by the name of KNF Digital Acceleration Center GmbH, or DAC for short, based in the Hamburg co-working space “WeWork” and, as a service unit, to become the driving force for digitalization of KNF.

Under the guidance of Reto Furrer, managing director of DAC and CMO of the KNF Group, the family company purposely decided to put its chips on Hamburg and the WeWork as a location, because there, a young and modern start-up culture is being lived, based upon networking, exchange, cooperation and mutual inspiration. Apart from the ideal infrastructure, the choice of location was also determined by the proverbial openness of Hamburg to the world.

“The DAC provides us with the new resources needed to implement our digital projects. Strongly oriented towards implementation, the new company operates like a service center for the KNF Group”, Mr. Furrer stated about the opening.

DAC should provide substantial help in implementing the customer-oriented digital strategy

In conceiving and building the DAC, we prioritized the idea that the colleagues in the coworking space wouldn’t just sit around with fancy, funky, hardly practical lighthouse projects, but that they would substantially help KNF in implementing its customer-oriented digital strategy.

Those in Hamburg are networking closely with the other KNF sites. In this way, the digitalization concept fits perfectly with the current organizational structure of the KNF Group. That is the point ‒ success is not found in just doing everything differently.

In all the change and transformation processes that I experienced with doubleYUU so far, my primary concerns have been a transformation in company culture and a new orientation that is directed towards real, hands-on results and is adapted to the company and its employees. One of the practical goals in the case of the DAC is to match the customer experience and the expectations of a young generation of engineers towards KNF.

As a first step, we keep working with KNF to implement our philosophy of Networking, Openness, Participation and Agility (NOPA, in short) inwardly and outwardly to ensure that the global organization becomes fit for the digital age.

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About the Author: Willms Buhse

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Dr. Willms Buhse, CEO und Gründer von doubleYUU, bringt mit Digital Leadership die Innovationen des Silicon Valley in die Büros der deutschen Führungsetagen. Die Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel und viele Top-Manager zählen zu seinen Kunden. Er hält Vorträge in Harvard, am Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) und an deutschen Elite-Universitäten in Berlin, München oder Hamburg. Dr. Willms Buhse gilt über deutsche Grenzen hinaus als Vordenker der digitalen Elite. Wie kein Zweiter versteht er es, Ideen und Impulse aus der digitalen Welt auf die Realität deutscher Unternehmen zu übertragen.