Digital Innovation Unit and Corporations – An interview about the background of the “Digital Lab Award” and the idea of innovation with Dr. Kerim Galal (CEO DEKRA DIGITAL)  

Under the motto “Corporations on the trail of startups,” the business magazine Capital – together with Infront Consulting GmbH – this year again honored the best innovation units of German corporations. Around 300 labs across Germany were included in the study. We are proud to be ranked as one of the best Digital Innovation Units in the industry! With our vision of “Innovating Safety and Security” we develop new, innovative solutions in the field of digital safety – for international customers and together with partners and start-ups. In the interview with our CEO Kerim, we talk about his vision of innovation, the transformation of established corporations, and a little bit of green pastures.  


Let’s start by looking at the symbiosis between a modern digital innovation unit and a corporation. How do you manage the balancing act between the corporation and the innovation unit, and what role does innovation play in this for you?  

Innovation is part of the DNA of every innovation unit. For me, innovation is not a one-dimensional state, but a way of behaving that is characterized by proactive action, “out-of-the-box” thinking and a willingness to change. The environment created plays the most important role here.
This is possibly the secret of DEKRA DIGITAL’s success. In my dual role as CEO DEKRA DIGITAL and Executive Vice President Corporate Strategy & Innovation at DEKRA, it was important for me to create an innovation unit that fosters a start-up mentality, yet does not lose touch with corporate. It’s about using innovative approaches to create added value in symbiosis with the Group’s core business and for customers who already rely on our established services. DEKRA DIGITAL has already demonstrated this many times in the past by developing various products in the areas of Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Functional Safety, Future Mobility and Big Data. This was confirmed for us by the award as “Best Innovation Lab”.

Almost every large corporation has an innovation unit. Why is it easier to drive innovation in the labs than in the company itself?

I like to compare the establishment of an innovation unit with a green field that has been marked out. Thematically, you move in a certain field, but you still have every opportunity to plant this meadow the way you want. This means that corporate culture, structures, and processes can be established in an agile and flexible manner, which promotes innovative thinking immensely. Nevertheless, we always have the possibility to fall back on DEKRA’s existing processes, which are enormously important, especially at the beginning of establishing an innovation area.

To come back to why innovation is easier to drive in dedicated areas, speed plays a big role. Labs and corporations move at two speeds. Corporations move more consistently but steadily, whereas innovation units move faster but have a higher margin of error. As a result, it can be harder for corporations to find innovative approaches to tried-and-true problems. With units, you consciously separate yourself from these structures to enable more agile working. You create a place for talent for whom new work and modern working conditions are indispensable elements of the corporate culture. A diverse, inclusive, and sustainable work environment are no longer just nice-to-haves for many employees but are becoming a requirements. At the same time, digital entities are focused on working as efficiently as possible with their limited resources, which is an absolute advantage in the current economic climate.

Digital innovation units like DEKRA DIGITAL find themselves in a fast-moving environment in which a trial-and-error approach is completely normal and failure is part of the game. How do you deal with this?

The key to this is the corporate culture. The question to ask here is: How do we act when someone makes a mistake? Do we let the “fear of making a mistake” hover over us or do we create a corporate culture in which mistakes are part of the discovery process. The secret recipe is to create a culture where the team feels empowered and confident to try new approaches. History has shown that great things can come from mistakes, whether it’s the Post-It or the microwave, even vaccination is based on a mistake. Without such a mindset, innovation cannot work.

What happens when innovation units come of age? Where do the corporate and innovation unit meet again?

Of course, innovation units also continue to develop. There are also significant differences in our case when you compare today’s state with that of four years ago. We have gone from being a baby to a toddler that can now talk and walk. It is important that the digital innovation units always stick to the idea of innovation during development and drive it forward. In addition, the corporate and innovation units should not only meet again at a fixed point in time. I am therefore particularly concerned about collaboration and cooperation between the unit and the corporate group. This results in a variety of benefits for both parties. One example would be young talent attracted to the innovation unit developing new approaches to solutions together with the in-depth expertise of industry experts. The points of contact and opportunities are endless.

Finally, we take a look into the future: Status quo of digitization in 2023 – where do we stand?

If you look at the world of 10 years ago, you can see how much has already happened in the area of digitization. Even more of the same can be expected in the next 10 years. I see the challenge more in security. In an increasingly digital world, people’s lives increasingly take place in the virtual world or are strongly influenced by digital technologies. Because at the end of the day, everything digital has a direct impact on people’s physical well-being. When I think of a world 15 years from now in which my daughters are learning to drive, I want to be sure that the artificial intelligence in the car ensures that nothing happens to my girls. This means that completely new demands are being placed on safety, and there is a corresponding need for solutions. What sets us apart is our ability to combine areas such as AI, Internet of Things, Big Data, Cyber Security, Functional Safety and Future Mobility to develop innovative security and safety solutions. We are therefore well equipped for the coming years.

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