Charles Darwin already knew that not the strongest of species survives. But the one who is most willing to change. In this respect, companies are no different than life forms: those who do not adapt perish. German medium-sized companies know that.
The German middle class is rich in stories of adjustments and reinventions. Such as that of Arno Arnold GmbH. Starting out as a manufacturer of bandoneons, a harmonica instrument popular in tango, the company had to reinvent itself after the tango hype and World War II. It realized that the instrument’s accordion element could also be used as a protective cover for moving machine parts. Today, Arno Arnold is one of the world market leaders in precisely this niche.
ArnoArnold is also one of the first providers on the newly founded B2B spare parts marketplace SparePartsNow – a platform that has set out to reinvent something, namely the sale of machine spare parts via the Internet. Stripe is a partner of SparePartsNow and handles payment processing. Other partners take care of further downstream services – DHL, for example, takes care of logistics and shipping.
What distinguishes this type of reinvention from those mentioned above is the partnership nature of the project. Nobody has to reinvent themselves here alone, but different companies work together on the provider, customer, platform and infrastructure side to achieve network effects and efficiency gains.
This is made possible by technology. Software interfaces, so-called APIs, today enable reinvention according to the modular principle. Software-as-a-Service service providers help with payment processing and accounting, communication and human resources, marketing and sales and trade profit because they can use technology that previously they would have had to develop themselves for a lot of money.
When it comes to online platforms and marketplaces, the first thing that comes to mind is the really big companies like Google or Amazon, which are aimed more at end consumers. But the advent of APIs and Software as a Service has led to the creation of numerous new platforms in every imaginable niche of the economy. Such platforms are also gaining relevance in the B2B sector and in mechanical engineering.
Today’s medium-sized economy faces enormous challenges caused by rising energy costs, disrupted supply chains and global uncertainty. In order to get through the crisis as damage-free as possible, it is therefore worth repositioning yourself – not least digitally – in order to always be one step ahead. B2B platforms and marketplaces can be at least one component of the digital strategy. And that does not always have to mean participation as a supplier or buyer on a platform; no, thanks to technical innovations, founding your own online platform is no longer out of reach.
The so-called API economy makes starting and scaling an online project much easier than it was just a few years ago. On the one hand, this leads to more diversification. On the other hand – and the effects of this effect should not be underestimated – the interface connection of the companies leads to a more network-like online economy that is less dependent on a handful of large companies and more characterized by partnership.
Does everything sound a bit familiar? This vision reminds me of what makes the German economy so strong, namely small and medium-sized enterprises. The only difference is that the German Mittelstand is still primarily an offline economic complex. We should all change that together. Today, Germany is not necessarily known in the world as a digital pioneer. However, if the strengths of German SMEs can be successfully transferred from the real to the digital world, this could change. And in this way, SMEs can also contribute to diversifying the online economy as a whole and, quite incidentally, make Germany a digital champion.