Industry 4.0 – organizing routines or innovations?

Maximiliane Wilkesmann (Faculty of Business and Economics, TU Dortmund University, Dortmund, Germany)
Uwe Wilkesmann (Center for Higher Education, TU Dortmund University, Dortmund, Germany)

VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems

ISSN: 2059-5891

Publication date: 14 May 2018



The rise of new information and communication technologies forms the cornerstone for the future development of work. The term Industry 4.0 refers to the vision of a fourth industrial revolution that is based on a network of autonomous, self-controlling, self-configuring, knowledge-based, sensor-based and spatially distributed production resources. All in all, different forms of the application of the Industry 4.0 concept can be observed, ranging from autonomous logistic transport systems drawn upon the idea of swarm intelligence to smart knowledge management systems. This paper aims to develop a theoretical framework to analyze different applications of Industry 4.0 on an organizing continuum. The general research questions are: What forms of organizing digitalized work lead to the reproduction of routines, and what forms foster innovation within Industry 4.0? The authors thus analyze the consequences of different forms of organizing work on workers’ perceptions and the results of the working process.


This paper provides case studies for different stages of the organizing continuum in the context of Industry 4.0. The cases and a further analysis of all 295 funded projects are based on the Platform Industry 4.0 Map, which is part of the Industry 4.0 initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The consequences for people acting in such organizational and digitally supported structures are discussed.


A variety of applications of Industry 4.0 can be found. These applications mainly vary in the dimensions of the degree of formalization, the location of control authority, the location of knowledge and the degree of professionalization. At the right side of the organizing continuum, the digitalization organizes a work environment that supports highly qualified humans. They have broad leeway and a high degree of autonomy to design and create innovative forms of digitalization for tomorrow. At the left side of the organizing continuum, Industry 4.0 structures a work environment with narrow leeway, a low degree of autonomy and a top-down structure of control authority predetermined by digital applications. In this case, employees fill the gaps the machines cannot handle.

Research limitations/implications

As the paper focuses on Industry 4.0 developments in Germany, the comparability with regard to other countries is limited. Moreover, the methodological approach is explorative, and broader quantitative verification is required. Specifically, future research could include quantitative methods to investigate the employees’ perspective on Industry 4.0. A comparison of Industry 4.0 applications in different countries would be another interesting option for further research.

Practical implications

This paper shows that applications of Industry 4.0 are currently at a very early stage of development and momentarily organize more routines than innovations. From a practical point of view, professional vocational and academic training will be a key factor for the successful implementation of digitalization in future. A joint venture of industry and educational institutions could be a suitable way to meet the growing demand for qualified employees from the middle to the right-hand of the organizing continuum in the context of Industry 4.0.

Social implications

Industry 4.0 is designed by men, and therefore, humans are responsible for whether the future work situation will be perceived as supportive or as an alienated routine. Therefore, designers of Industry 4.0, as well as politicians and scientists, absolutely must take the underlying outcomes of digitalized work into account and must jointly find socially acceptable solutions.


This paper provides a promising avenue for future research on Industry 4.0 by analyzing the underlying organizational structures of digital systems and their consequences for employees. Moreover, the paper shows how Industry 4.0 should be organized to simply reproduce routines or to support innovation.



Wilkesmann, M. and Wilkesmann, U. (2018), "Industry 4.0 – organizing routines or innovations?", VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 238-254.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.