Principles of digitalization at ZEIS: @speed, @scale

ZEISS AG is a new member of CBA Lab e. V., but the company’s experience has already shown that the sharing of best practices makes an important contribution to the rapid establishment of digitalization knowledge and expertise. Dr. Jürgen Klein, Chief Digital Portfolio Manager at ZEISS, explains how his company is addressing digitalization, and the role architecture plays here. He also talks about what he expects to achieve through his company’s membership in the Cross-Business-Architecture Lab.


What are ZEISS’ goals with regard to digitalization?

The entire Executive Board has put together a corporate strategy for digitalization and the approaches to be taken in this area. This strategy is known as Agenda 2020. One of the goals formulated in the strategy involves the establishment of digital platforms that relate to our business and the markets in which we operate. Each business segment needs to create platforms for its own needs here. For example, our Ophthalmic Devices, Medical Technology, Microscopy, and Industrial Metrology segments define and implement specific digital strategies for their products. In this sense, each segment is a driver of digitalization. At the same time, the segments work closely with one another, coordinate digitalization initiatives, and ensure that these are always transparent. The fact is that there are only a limited number of central regulations governing digitalization initiatives at ZEISS.


Many companies try to learn from startups when they pursue their own digitalization projects. Does ZEISS do this as well?

ZEISS established a new unit in Munich around two years ago. The unit is called Digital Innovation Partners, and we gave it a lot of decision-making freedom. Digital Innovation Partners is now a key driver of the digital transformation at ZEISS. Among other things, the unit is involved in the advance development of digital systems and prototypes that speed up the company’s digital go-to-market activities. These advance digital development operations have intentionally been separated from the traditional line organizations. Nevertheless, the unit does cooperate closely with business and specialist departments. This partly has to do with the fact that all new business and customer-focused solutions always need to have a product owner from the business organization.


What contribution do enterprise architects make here?

Digital Innovation Partners and Corporate IT report to the ZEISS CIO. The more extensively digital products need to be integrated into enterprise backend systems, the more involved Corporate IT will be in the project in question, and the more responsibility it will have in this regard. In accordance with our principles of @speed and @scale, Corporate IT supports the internal partnership by contributing its experience with system scaling and 24/7 operation. Enterprise architects play a particularly important role in a project’s initial design phase. Of course, a significant amount of architecture design is also carried out in the “active phases” of agile projects. That’s why enterprise architects maintain regular contact with the solution architects in each project. This requires a collaborative approach and extensive transparency in terms of daily project work. Our experience has shown that a shared definition of design principles can be of help here.


What distinguishes EAM from other management disciplines today?

There are two types of EAM: One that optimizes efficiency and one that enables and accelerates change. We are focusing on managing change at the moment, and to this end we are implementing a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Traditional EAM methods are no longer optimal in the era of agile digital transformation. They need to be expanded and further developed. With SAFe, on the other hand, you have short-term sprint components, but you also still have an outline of the complete structure.  The architecture objectives here are to establish and strengthen short-term measures, agility, and speed, while at the same time maintaining a long-term view of the issue at hand. If you were to compare this with the operation of an airplane, you would say that you need to have enough visibility to safely take off and land – but you don’t need to have optimal visibility throughout the entire flight.


What are you hoping to achieve through cooperation in CBA Lab?

We are looking for such an exchange because we know that other companies are facing challenges similar to those that we face as we move forward with digitalization. ZEISS, for example, can contribute its experience with issues relating to the cloud environment and the principles, structures, and processes we use to address them. We rely heavily on Microsoft Azure and have a lot of experience with the implementation of digital solutions on that platform. Other companies are more advanced in terms of blockchains, however. We’re also interested in exchanging information on various solution approaches and topics such as hybrid architectures, multi-cloud landscapes, and digital twins. It’s all about give and take and cooperation here.


You’re the Digital Technology Portfolio Manager for Corporate IT. What exactly does that mean?

My job is related to the role played by an enterprise architect. However, the concept behind my title consists of several elements.  For one thing, the term digital technology implies a greater focus on the technical aspects of an architect’s work. More specifically, the focus here is on new technologies that are becoming more relevant to companies, including ZEISS, as digitalization continues to progress. Examples include IoT, blockchains, the cloud, analytics, and RPA.  The term portfolio manager refers to the concept of monitoring an entire technical portfolio. Here, questions need to be answered, such as “is the current degree of coverage sufficient to ensure the successful management of a digital transformation?” or “do we have the right technology setting in place?” Portfolio managers also need to perform a type of technology radar function, by which I mean that a portfolio manager has to be aware of new technologies at an early stage of their development and then address them – not just reactively but also proactively. One example here is offered by blockchains, which I launched as an enabling technology at the company in my role as Digital Technology Portfolio Manager. In this manner, I also initiated a process that evaluates use cases that might offer benefits to ZEISS.


What role does governance play here?

Governance is important, of course, but it’s not as important here as it is with regard to a traditional software landscape. We have to be more accommodating with new technologies and give developers more responsibility and freedom when it comes to choosing the tools they believe will produce optimal results. That’s one of the attributes of the agile approach. In such a situation, the role of a portfolio manager is to offer support and advice.

Still, governance does play an important role in terms of compliance and security, especially as these relate to the cloud, with all of its providers, solutions, and hosts. Governance is also important with data lakes, whereby the key governance aspects to be considered here include data management, data handling, data security, data availability, data integrity, and data privacy.


What functions does Corporate IT perform as a service provider for ZEISS?

Corporate IT offers services and solutions for the ZEISS Group and assumes responsibility for their proper functioning. One example is our central Data Lake service. I specifically use the word central here because the value that can be obtained from data increases as more and more data is integrated into such a central service.

Our integration functions are also central services that manage communication between digital applications and communication between these applications and the ZEISS backend, by which I mean the ERP system. This basically amounts to a modern type of enterprise service bus that also makes the API landscape more manageable.

A third example is offered by our central entitlement/authentication service, which is based on our understanding of our company as a branded house in which all business units operate under the name ZEISS. Customers therefore know only ZEISS, which is why it’s important that they are provided with a consistent form of access to the company.

Corporate IT also provides support and advice to our various technical and specialist departments. Services are provided in either a centralized or decentralized manner depending on how closely they relate to a particular business unit: The more closely related a service is to a business unit, the more likely it is that it will be offered to that unit as a decentralized service. We offer services centrally in those cases where we believe centralization will lead to significant benefits for the company. I can give you an example of this as well: Corporate IT will never actually develop a blockchain solution itself, but it does develop individual business solutions that are based on blockchains.



ZEISS is a global technology group that operates in the optics and optoelectronics industry. The ZEISS Group develops, manufactures, and distributes products and solutions in the fields of metrology, microscopy, and medical technology, and also produces eyeglass lenses, camera lenses (for still images and motion pictures), binoculars, and equipment used to manufacture semiconductors. Through its solutions, the ZEISS Group shapes the development of all of these sectors – and the technologies used in them. ZEISS is organized into four segments for Industrial Quality & Research, Medical Technology, Consumer Markets, and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology. The ZEISS Group is active in over 40 countries and operates more than 50 sales and service outlets, over 30 production facilities, and around 25 research and development sites. The ZEISS Group, with its approximately 27,000 employees, recorded revenue of around €5.3 billion in financial year 2016/17. Founded in Jena in 1846, the company is headquartered in Oberkochen. Carl ZEISS AG manages the ZEISS Group as a strategic management holding. The Carl Zeiss Foundation is the sole owner of Carl ZEISS AG.

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Dr. Jürgen Klein
Chief Digital Portfolio Manager, Carl ZEISS AG

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