The 3+1 Rule

Why digitalization attempts fail

Why do some attempts at digitalization fail when others do not? What factors are required to make attempts at digitalization successful? Answers to these questions are provided by the 3+1 Rule which was formulated by Dr. Michael Herbst, partner at UNITY, based on many years of project experience in the areas of automation, digitalization and IT.
First of all, a successful use case in digitalization requires three necessary conditions:

  • Mastery of the necessary technology,
  • clarity about the application/ service within the business context,
  • the technology in combination with the application must have a clear benefit.

In order for the use case to be successful, a customer is needed to benefit from the digital service.

Figure: The 3+1 Rule (Source: Dr. Michael Herbst, Partner at UNITY)

Therefore, the 3+1 Rule consists of three components for the use case and the additional component of the customer. A use case consists of using a technology in an application that provides a benefit.
The “+1” shows that a use case can have several customers. Without having a customer that has an interest in the benefit, the use case could be developed however the benefit would not be taken advantage of.

These include the technical possibilities that certain functions within the process, business model or the product. For example, one technology is near field communications (NFC) which functions by enabling the transfer of data.      

This means the specific, focused use of a technology, for example predictive maintenance. An application - whether in a process, a business model or a product - can consist of several functions of the technology. The use of technology is not an end in itself.      

Benefits describe the advantages that originate from the use of the technology. An example of this is faster order processing.      

This refers to the group of people that would benefit from a service and are willing to pay for it.      

An Example of the 3+1 Rule: Monitoring Inventory

Monitoring inventory fulfills the purpose of securing the availability of inventory items. As a classical example, this can take place by using a scanner and barcodes. Upon receipt in the warehouse, inventory items are logged in partially automatically and then logged out again. Another possibility would be to use NFC chips with an appropriate reader so that warehouse items can be logged in and out fully automatically. Yet a third possibility would be to use a drone that is equipped with an optical sensor to fly throughout the warehouse. This example shows that there are often various technologies that make the necessary functions for the applications possible. The moment that an application is directly connected to a technology, the possibility to use other technologies is obstructed.

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