economy, saxony, production, products, industry

How can companies be persuaded to embrace the benefits of digitization and Industry 4.0? Is it possible to make the spirit of innovation tangible? Dresden offers some very concrete answers to these and other questions.

Wettiner Platz 7

Frank Neuber of DREWAG, Dresden’s public utility company, removes the heavy lock on the door to Hall 9 of ‘Kraftwerk Mitte’. He pushes it open, and we enter a world where past and future meet. The hall – 3,000 square meters in size – is four stories high, with old brick walls. The air is cool in this abandoned control center, once full of humming transformers. In recent years, DREWAG has breathed new life into the old industrial site, which occupies 40,000 square meters of the city center. Until 1994, it was a smoking, coal-fired power station. Now, it’s home to cultural institutions like the Staatsoperette Dresden and theater junge generation. The Heinrich-Schütz-Konservatorium holds lessons here, and there’s also an energy museum, a nightclub, and cafés. It’s a creative interdisciplinary space, and Ronald Scholz just loves it. Scholz is the co-founder of software guidance firm Sherpa.Dresden. He and Nico Herzberg, head of vocational training at SAP Dresden, follow Frank Neuber through a still-vacant building. The paint is peeling off the walls in the stairwell, but that doesn’t stand in the way of Scholz’s vision.

Digital transformation is a constant process to maintain a top notch industry.

Pit Stop: The Lernfabrik is constantly changing and converting. Not only visitors learn that digital transformation is an ongoing process.

He sees 3D printers installed in here along with rapid-prototyping workshops where companies can develop new products. He imagines a testing ground for virtual reality and design sprints where developers push the limits of what is possible. “I was riding by on the train and saw a poster advertising available space,” Scholz recalls. Scholz, who has founded several of his own businesses and floated a software firm on the stock market, now helps start-ups grow. He sees Hall 9 as a place where companies can really get to grips with digital transformation. “In this space, artisans from the Ore Mountains who make traditional wooden Christmas ornaments will meet IT specialists from SAP,” says Scholz. He wants to pass on the knowledge of the start-up industry to those who need it most.

Industry and economy need their own space. Nico Herzberg and Ronald Scholz on a round tour.

‘It looks good’: Nico Herzberg and Ronald Scholz on a round tour.

“We need low-threshold offerings. Here, entrepreneurs should be able to see what digitization
can do for them. It should be a tangible experience.” But digitization, according to Scholz, has an Achilles heel: Everyone is hearing about this radical transformation, but the message often isn’t coming all  the way across. “A lot of people need to experience something first-hand before they’re motivated to tackle the topic for themselves.” Nico Herzberg nods in agreement. He was one of the first people to share Scholz’s vision. SAP plans to set up an innovation and training center in Hall 9 once it’s been renovated. “We want to think about what the future of work looks like and to share those thoughts with others,” says Nico Herzberg.

“Entrepreneurs need places where they can experience digitization in a tangible way”

The large software corporation wants to be open to the public. Hall 9 will become a kind of shop window, and a meeting place for Saxon businesses. Herzberg and Scholz follow Neuber up to the fourth floor, which is illuminated by a long skylight.
In three years, this will be a conference room, a place where ideas come to life. Herzberg and Scholz put their heads together and start discussing the upcoming renovations. They are not alone in their undertaking: Other partners have joined the project, including a bank and a health insurance company. There’s an urgent need for projects like this one: “There are so many companies in this state with over 100 employees. They have to start addressing the topic of digitization,” Scholz declares. It’s a topic he’s passionate about. “Those companies need a place where they can present themselves to potential employees with the right skill sets. They need a place where they can develop further.” It’s another sentence we can take to heart.

Alcatraz oder future of Saxon industry. Hall 9 is a history laden place.

This is where one transformator used to stand next to the others. In its current state, visitors often refer to this place as a prison look-alike. As a joke Hall 9 is also called Alcatraz.

For more information on the Smart Systems Hub in Dresden and the visitor “trails,” check  out www.smart-systems-hub.de

Text: Peter Wagner

Fotos: Lệmrich