NEXT16: How do companies become platforms?

Can companies embrace digital and become true platforms? A panel discussion between speakers from Audi, Deutsche Bank ann Allianz sought to find out…

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and horrible abuses of grammar and syntax. Post will be improved over the next 24 hours


  • Barbara Karuth-Zelle, Allianz
  • Mirjam Pütz, Deutsche Bank
  • Nils Wollny, Audi

Where are the companies now?

Barbara: It’s a very traditional company, working in 70 countries around the world, with a lot of paper. Getting away from the paper means introducing new insurance products, and we want to get on with that.

Mirjam: The branch of the future is in Berlin. We started that project 10 years ago! After a decade, it’s no longer the future. So we’re rebuilding it. In mid-November we re-open. Then people wills ee our vision of the future. It’s a customer experience store.

Nils: If you look at our cars, they’re very well connected. There’s lots of digital stuff happening with the product. We’re looking at new areas of business – we’re not as active in car sharing as some of our competitors, for example. But we’re also looking at extending into new areas of digital business.

How do you make sure you digital efforts are what customers want?

Barbara: Customers don’t necessarily know what they want. We’re doing a lot of testing, and involving customers in the process, but the fantasy is to come up with something new they will really want. Right now, the way we communicate is not the way people like. Incoming communication is 50% digital – but outgoing is 75% paper. We want to change that. And something like pay as you drive is a good idea that might change insurance.

Nils: We’re heavily pushing our platform MyAudi. We’re building on it with connected car services, and we’ll expand it got be our major customer interaction tool. We may bring in third parties to add offers, like insurance. WE’re a very emotional brand and people like to get engaged, so we invite lead users into beta space to get feedback. Hopefully we’ll have thing in place they don’t expect from us. We’re looking at functional you can add AFTER you buy the car. People are used to buying things on demand in the digital world – we want to bring that to the physical.

Mirjam: We’re doing a lot of research and interviews and also co-creation with our customers. The big disruption will come from a bank customer, as they don’t really think about what’s possible. I have two customer labs right now. And we also have our DB Labs in London, Berlin and Silicon Valley, and they’re more tech labs. They look at the tech in banking and beyond, and develop form there. We are in a platform revolution. Everyone is looking for this new business model and ecosystem, like Uber or AirBnB. We have a core, which is the digital house bank. You can do that online and offline. We still believe in this fusion, because the customer relationship is still important. There are still things people want to talk to an advisor about.

Barbara: We need to be closer to the customer, because there’s more transparency in the market now. We need a platform where we have all the data about the customer. We might not know we’re serving the customer in three different ways. There’s a danger we are only in contact with customers every six years.

Building the platform

Nils: I love this platform question, because we laugh about it internally. What does it mean? It’s our set of services, and maybe our main point of contact with the customer. Maybe the platform could be useful to people whom haven’t bought an Audi yet. For the first time we have a platform in the corporate strategy, but it looks months of discussion. We’re very lucky that our board members put digitalisation into our corporate strategy. Some activities we might have done next year, we’ll skip to put money into digitalisation and electicalisation.

Mirjam: Disrupt yourself or you’ll be disrupted. We have a huge budget for digitalisation projects, and it’s led from the top. It’s included in our strategy as well, and we have a ring-fenced budget. That’s always useful.

Barbara Karuth-Zelle

Barbara: The board is agreed, but we don’t have additional budgets. That makes you be more creative and live within what you have. We try to get the countries together, so we only invest once and it can be shared. The more we do, the more money we free up to reinvest. And we look for partners, too. But we don’t have a digital budget.

Mirjam: It’s crucial to bring everyone on a digital change program. But you can’t. Not everyone has the same affinity for digital services. It’s the problem of the last mile – bringing them to the customer. We need to train the employees to do a lot of communication. We do a lot of digital enabling for our employees, but also for out leaders. We have people who have been with the bank for 30 years or more. THey’ve been through a lot of change, but there’s more to come. There’s big changes of the ways of working, including blogs and thinking out loud.

Nils: The digitalisation department is a few hundred people already. WE go out to the other departments, and we go out and communicate with them. We help them see, experience and understand. 50% of my time is just talking to people internally. It’s not just marketing – it’s every area of the company. The pressure of the market is there, and the disruption is starting to happen. Other industries have felt it more than we have.

Mirjam: Yes, the pressure’s on. There are new competitors coming in. I don’t fear startups – the fuel innovation in the company, or we partner with them. But if giants like Google or Facebook join the industry, that’s bad for us. One of the advantages we have is a huge client base, and the security that goes with that. Smaller companies can’t offer that. Banks are changing into different forms of banking. But it’s a really positive mood within the organisation to prove that there’s more.

*Barbara: You’re completely right. In tow to three years, we’ll see the results and if we made the the transition. A year ago I wasn’t worried by startups, as they wanted to partner and sue our name. Now? There are more and more players coming in. We still have really good products, but it’s about how we package them and reach the customers.

Should you start a new brand for innovation?

Nils: I don’t think so – Audi is a pretty cool brand. But we do have a small innovation team in Munich working on business innovation: Audi Business Innovation Gbh. That allows us to go faster.

Barbara: It would be hard to start from scratch with a new brand – we’ve tired it and it doesn’t work. So we founded a company like Audi to experiment. We see a transformation internally which I thought we wouldn’t get without an external shock – but it wasn’t needed.

Mirjam: We wouldn’t give up the brand. We are trying lots of things, and try to ring fence that. The Digital factory is where people go and devise new products. Currently, we think about internal change. We have 100,00 worldwide, and 15,000 in Germany.

Are you opening up to partners to help transform?

Barbara: Opening up is essential. You can’t bring everything to the table yourselves.

Mirjam: We are opening up, especially for new products. We are working with external parties to get new ideas which we develop internally, or with others through the API.

NIls: We’re not shutting down, either. But MyAudi will be an open platform, integrated with other ecosystems.

How do you digitalise trust?

A panel about corporates as platforms

Barbara: We digitalised the claim process first. Our motto is “a promise is a promise” – and the claims is where you test that. For cars and for the home, you need to prove that you’re there, in the moment, available when they need you, 24/7.

Mirjam: Availability is the same for us – but so is the security. People need to know their money and data are safe. We’re introducing an eSafe, for example.

Nils: We follow a principle called “privacy by design”, so our customers can choose which data is shared. I use it as a currency, personally. If people give me a good service, I will pay with my data. MyAudi started as a CRM platform, and it’s only recently we’ve realised that it’s potentially a valuable asset. Our aim is to make sure you sue it at least once a day. Don’t look at it today – come back in a few months.