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Making or breaking the business case of digital transformation initiatives: the key role of learnings

Michele Colli (Materials and Production, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)
Verena Stingl (Materials and Production, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)
Brian V. Waehrens (Materials and Production, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)

Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

ISSN: 1741-038X

Article publication date: 23 June 2021

Issue publication date: 3 January 2022




The research aims to investigate how firms can develop their sensing capabilities for Industry 4.0 (I4.0) technology adoption through reframing their opportunity perceptions related to learnings from I4.0 initiatives.


The research follows a design science research approach. Following the case of I4.0 technology introduction at a large food manufacturer, the paper develops a theoretical framework (artefact) and validates the applicability and efficacy of the framework within the case study.


The theoretical framework highlights the different temporal (short-term/long-term) and locational (direct/indirect) value dimensions of I4.0 opportunities. The findings show that the use of the framework can shift managers’ perception regarding the business value of an I4.0 technology implementation. Specifically, the framework reversed initially negative perceptions around a narrowly scoped business case towards an opportunity-oriented attitude exploring further potentials of the technology.

Research limitations/implications

The research adds to the debate when and why firms engage in, and sustain their I4.0 initiatives by providing a novel perspective on firms’ sensing capabilities. As a single-case study, the framework requires further validation in practice.

Practical implications

The proposed framework provides practitioners with an extended view concerning the potential value of digital transformation projects and serves as a conversational tool.


The presented wider frame for evaluating digital transformation projects, taking into account the more “intangible” value of their learnings, tackles the fundamental issue of translating explorative innovation efforts into exploitative value – a key challenge when dealing with innovation and one of the main barriers for the digital transformation.



This research has been funded by the Manufacturing Academy of Denmark and has been part of its MADE Digital program.


Colli, M., Stingl, V. and Waehrens, B.V. (2022), "Making or breaking the business case of digital transformation initiatives: the key role of learnings", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 41-60.



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