Between France and Germany, studying the metamorphosis of industry beyond borders

Industry without borders : l'industrie du futur au-delà des frontières

The “Industry Without Borders” project, launched on November 15, 2017 as part of the German-French Academy for the Industry of the Future, brings together French and German scientists. The project involves sociologists, economists, management and strategy researchers, and aims to study the transformation of contemporary industries. Madeleine Besson, the project leader at IMT, provides a more detailed look at the advantages of this collaboration with the Technical University of Munich (Technische Universität München, TUM).


This project is part of the German-French Academy for the Industry of the Future. Could you remind us what this academy hopes to achieve?

Madeleine Besson: On October 27, 2015, under the partnership between the French Alliance for Industry of the Future and the German platform Industrie 4.0, IMT and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) created the German-French Academy for the Industry of the Future. This academy involves new content for training in digital transformation, summer schools, and for a large part of joint research projects. This content is centered on both very technical subjects, such as hybrid blockchain architectures for the industry of the future, and on human and organizational aspects of digitalization.

In this context, what is the goal of the “Industry without borders” project?

MB: The industry of the future is defined by networks and links between a variety of heterogeneous elements. Production technology, organizations, innovative activities and products, to name just a few, will be closely linked with one other. As a result, data, information and knowledge will be exchanged among all these elements. Some of these exchanges will occur between people, or will at least be controlled by them. But in other cases, they will occur between cyber-physical systems without any human intervention or direct control. Organizational borders will no longer limit the exchange and flow of the resulting information. This is precisely why the “Industry Without Borders” project is trying to understand how digital transformation in industry is changing organizational borders.

What areas of expertise do IMT and TUM provide in the study of organizational transformation?

MB: I coordinate the French team composed of IMT researchers over three sites: Télécom École de Management (TEM) in the Paris region, Mines Saint-Étienne and IMT Atlantique in Brittany. We have brought together experts in management and marketing at TEM, as well as strategy at Mines Saint-Étienne and economy at IMT Atlantique. The researchers are all highly dedicated to understanding the impact of digitalization in their respective fields.

As for TUM, and in particular the MCTS (technology and society research center at the Technological University of Munich), Uli Meyer’s team is specialized in the field of sociology. This covers sociology of work, sociology of innovation, and sociology of sciences and techniques.

What do you gain from collaborating with a technical university in Germany?

MB: Whether for the teams at TEM or the researchers at Mines Saint-Étienne and IMT Atlantique, we have a tradition of applying management research to technology. This is also true of the researchers at MCTS. This collaboration allows us to study an important subject with a strong team of people dedicated to the subject. We can combine complementary methods and explore the issue form both sides of the Rhine.

From a methodological point of view, the MCTS is specialized in company ethnography methods, and will provide us with training in this area. In exchange, we have expertise in econometrics which we can share with them. In order to create a true Franco-German research unit, we are currently looking for established companies on both sides of the Rhine to participate in the research. Again, collaboration between the teams is precious here.

What scientific production is anticipated from the project?

MB: There are different sorts of outcomes anticipated from this project. Of course, we expect to produce initial results on redefining the borders of organizations undergoing digitalization. We hope to share the results in conferences and scientific journals. A complementary objective is to use the elements we collect to create teaching materials. Finally, our objective with the TUM in this first research phase, is for an ambitious Franco-German project, for which we will seek funding from French and German research agencies. To increase the credibility of our future plan, one result in itself will be the team’s ability to develop a joint methodology and coordinate data collection in the industrial organizations based in the two countries.

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A word from Judith Igelsböck,
researcher at the Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Here at the MCTS, we are privileged to be able to discover different epistemic cultures and create new areas of knowledge with the researchers at IMT. They have vast experience in the study of industry and innovation. With their expertise, we will be able to enrich our exploration into the way industrial boundaries are changing, disappearing and being rebuilt to adapt to the requirements of open innovation, new digital technologies, and new ways of organizing and distributing work. This will provide a unique working environment for interdisciplinary and trans-national study of today’s industries.




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