Socio-technical systems design (STSD) and digitization processes in the industrial sector

Experiences in German companies

Alexander Bendel, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen
Erich Latniak, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen

Presently, digitalization of German industry is gaining a lot of attention in German public debate: Based on the notion of “Industry 4.0” (BMWi, 2018) (BMBF 2018), there is a strong emphasis on technical solutions and the use of IT-based technologies and communication tools for the companies. But as recent research indicates (e.g. Baethge-Kinsky et al., 2018; Guhlemann et al., 2018; Klippert et al., 2018), many companies still tend to be cautious in applying the new remedy.

The joint research project “Arbeits- und prozessorientierte Digitalisierung in Industrieunternehmen – Weiterentwicklung kompetenter Arbeitssysteme (APRODI) (= Work and process oriented digitalization in industrial enterprises – further development of competency oriented work systems)” is aiming to improve digitalization processes in production environments in five companies by implementing digital technologies in a way that employees can broaden their skills and competencies and, at the same time, improve the ability to solve production related challenges. The project‘s objective is to contribute to a use of digital technologies that will foster productivity and competition related aspects on the one hand, while adapted, culture sensitive, and competence oriented approaches will be applied on the other.

Based on socio-technical principles and concepts (e.g. Ulich, 2011, 2013; Baxter & Sommerville, 2011; Winter et al., 2014), change projects in the joining companies are about to develop adapted approaches of a participative and integrated design. Solutions will be developed based on specifications jointly discussed by stakeholders and participants. Joining companies stem from different industries and they all have extended experience in using and developing team structures.

The companies’ learning processes are supported by joint efforts, i.e. by external and scientific input, and by joint feedback. The aim is to identify success factors and obstacles in the digitization processes (c.f. Zink et al., 2015), and to adapt these company experiences for transfer purposes. Based on interviews, participatory observation, formative evaluation, and action research methods, intervention oriented case studies will be analyzed.

We will present preliminary findings of selected cases and discuss conclusions for chances and limits of a participatory work design and for concepts of change processes in digitized environments.


  • Baethge-Kinsky, V., Marquardsen, K. and Tullius, K. (2018), “Perspektiven industrieller Instandhaltungsarbeit”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 174–181.
  • Baxter, G. and Sommerville, I. (2011), “Socio-technical systems. From design methods to systems engineering”, Interacting with Computers, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 4–17.
  • Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (2018), “Was ist Industrie 4.0?”, available at:
  • Guhlemann, K., Georg, A. and Katenkamp, O. (2018), “Der Mensch im Mittelpunkt oder im Weg? Grenzen und Potenziale menschengerechter Arbeitsgestaltung in der digitalen Transformation”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 211–218.
  • Klippert, J., Niehaus, M. and Gerst, D. (2018), “Mit digitaler Technologie zu Guter Arbeit? Erfahrungen mit dem Einsatz digitaler Werker-Assistenzsysteme”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 235–240.
  • Ulich, E. (2011), Arbeitspsychologie, 7. Aufl., vdf Hochschulverl. an der ETH, Zürich.
  • Ulich, E. (2013), “Arbeitssysteme als Soziotechnische Systeme – eine Erinnerung”, Journal Psychologie des Alltagshandelns, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 4–12.
  • Winter, S., Berente, N., Howison, J. and Butler, B. (2014), “Beyond the organizational ‘container’. Conceptualizing 21st century sociotechnical work”, Information and Organization, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 250–269.
  • Zink, K.J., Kötter, W., Longmuß, J. and Thul, M. (Eds.) (2015), Veränderungsprozesse erfolgreich gestalten, VDI-Buch, 2. Aufl., Springer Vieweg, Berlin.


The joint research project „Arbeits- und prozessorientierte Digitalisierung in Industrieunternehmen – Weiterentwicklung kompetenter Arbeitssysteme (APRODI)“ is financed by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF = German Federal Ministry for Education and Research) and the European Social Fund (ESF) from 01.05.2017 to 31.01.2020, Research Grant No. 02L15A 040 – 046.