The Impact of Manufacturing Firms’ Strategies to Incorporate Key Digital Capabilities

Thesis (MA)

Advisor(s): Anna Keilbach (


More and more manufacturing firms incorporate sensors, processors, software, and connectivity into their physical products to sustain their competitive position (Porter & Heppelmann, 2015). In this way, a vehicle, for example, can be digitized to make it drive autonomously. Thus said, manufacturing firms are undergoing digital transformation (DT) including a fundamental shift that requires them to reinvent their vision and strategy, organisational structure, processes, capabilities and culture (Gurbaxani & Dunkle, 2019). However, to build those new skills, firms follow different strategies. For example, the automotive firm GM bought an autonomous driving software start-up. In addition, GM invested in an existing ridesharing company to understand new models of use. Moreover, software development competencies were in-sourced. Volkswagen Group (VW) bundled its software competencies together and established a decoupled firm to further expand automotive software skills (e.g., unified technology, software platform, vehicle OS). Each of these strategies also mean a change in the organizational structure to use the new required capabilities. For example, the integration of a new IT division into an existing organizational structure or, in the case of VW, the establishment of a structural interface from the decoupled software firm to the automotive firm. So far, it has not been investigated which strategy (to gain key digital capabilities) triggers which structural challenges and thus also impacts information & knowledge management processes.

To address this trend, we engage in a single case study approach of VW: How do traditional manufacturing firms handle the integration of capabilities required for developing digitized products? The goal of this thesis is to collect interview data and analyze secondary data. Difficulties and success factors of this novel business concept should be highlighted with a focus on the organizational structure and information & knowledge management change.


  • Review relevant literature and existing research methods in the respective field
  • Conduct interviews and collect secondary data
  • Cluster identified themes within in the data
  • Identify challenges and success factors in regard to this new concept
  • Derive guidelines / recommendations / concepts to provide guidance for industry stakeholders and formulate further research
  • Discuss implications for the management of new required competencies


  • High degree of autonomy and individual responsibility
  • Interest in research on digital transformation in manufacturing firms
  • Good communication skills e.g., to conduct interviews
  • Experience in qualitative research is beneficial
  • Industry experience would be helpful

Further Information

The thesis can be written in English or German. The topic can also be adapted to your interests. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. Please send your application including our application form, a current transcript of records, and your CV to Please note that we can only consider applications with complete documents. 


Gurbaxani, V., & Dunkle, D. (2019). Gearing up for successful digital transformation. MIS Quarterly Executive, 18(3).

Porter, M. E., & Heppelmann, J. E. (2015). How smart, connected products are transforming companies. Harvard Business Review, 93(10), 96–114.