Dr. Sebastian M. Jackisch, Global Head of RefinemySite
We have long equated groundbreaking innovation with the entrepreneurs and startups of Silicon Valley. Corporations are now staking a claim to be disruptive innovators. Driving this wave of corporate innovation is the Corporate Explorer: leaders who pursue exploratory business ventures beyond a firm’s core.
This is the third in a series of articles featuring Corporate Explorers to Watch in 2021. Corporate Explorers are managers creating businesses outside established corporate rules, using the assets of the firm to beat startups to disruptive growth opportunities. They are willing to stand-out from the crowd, act with independence, and break the firm’s taboos to commercialize disruptive ideas. They are purpose-driven individuals on a mission to transform the status quo.
Corporate Explorer to Watch: Dr. Sebastian M. Jackisch
Role: Global Head of RefinemySite
Organization: Bosch Power Tools
Lewis Carroll once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Sebastian Jackisch is a person who seems to always know where he’s going, and he’s very good at choosing roads to get there. Jackisch is the Global Head of RefinemySite, a cloud-based construction collaboration platform developed within the Bosch Power Tools division. His story shows a traditional hardware firm learning how to build a software services business.
From Manufacturing Lines to Lines of Code
For many, placing Bosch and Internet of Things in the same sentence may look like a stretch. They are known for the manufacture of products that define our “physical” life: from fuel injectors for combustion engines to power drills and kitchen appliances. Founded in Germany in 1886 and establishing a foothold in the U.S. in 1912, Bosch is one of the most successful hardware companies in the world.
Bosch has aimed to embrace the era of connectivity, and the firm’s CEO set an ambition to make the Internet of Things central to the firm’s future. Bosch has power tools everywhere, so they set out to connect them. They saw an opportunity to create a generation of intelligent, connected power tools for the construction industry and put Jackisch in charge.
From Lasers to Cranes
An expert in lasers and optical metrology, Jackisch spent the early years of his career in optical engineering mounting and adjusting sensors for large telescopes and later for surveying instruments. This work brought him closer to understanding the construction business and its needs, and when he was invited to join Bosch Power Tools’ digital construction project, he saw it as a logical continuation of his career.
Jackisch and his team knew that the construction industry was still largely an old-fashioned business with the bulk of the planning work conducted with sticky notes and whiteboards. This manual way of collaborating becomes especially untenable when managing change—and construction is all about change. Changes occur constantly on a construction site, but are often miscommunicated, causing delays, and adding cost.
The original idea was to connect the different players on site so that they could track tasks efficiently. Better information flow, the thinking went, would make it easier to detect, record, and fix defects. However, Jackisch learned that the real pain point was not communication, but collaboration.
Intensive customer research revealed that different stakeholders—project managers, site managers, and trade contractors—did not work well together. Software already existed for general contractors to track changes that needed to be made, but those changes did not happen. Jackisch’s team realized that the sweet spot was to help construction crews work together to plan more collaboratively at the outset and keep the plan transparent so that when changes are necessary, everyone involved can adjust and re-plan with minimal disruption to the schedule.
This is the purpose of RefinemySite, a cloud-based collaboration platform that applies Lean and Agile principles to enable the whole construction site—both power tools and the people running them—to stay connected in real time. This enhanced connectivity provides a level of transparency, predictability, and trust never achieved before in the construction business.
Never Taking No for an Answer
Even though Jackisch and his team conceived and developed a formidable tool, RefinemySite’s road to existence has been bumpy. Bosch’s hardware-centric DNA has at times created challenges when it comes to digital transformation. The project has faced skepticism along the way; a few times even Jackisch felt that it was about to be nixed. But Jackisch wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He and his team considered all input, strength-testing RefinemySite against each objection. The tide turned in 2020 when the project started to generate revenue. The journey of scaling the business began.
To succeed, Jackisch needs more users and, of course, revenue. To do this, he plans to add further functional modules to the platform (BIM, resource management, etc.). He also plans to incorporate new sources of on-the-ground data, such as input from real-time sensors and images from drones. The long-term ambition for RefinemySite is to reinvent the construction site for a digital era—a long way from selling power tools.
An Island with a Bridge
One of the most vexing issues Corporate Explorers face is the relationship between the newly born venture and the parent organization. Keep the venture too close to the mothership, and you lose its autonomy. Push it too far away, and you lose the benefits of being connected to an established company.
This paradigm often invokes the image of “an island with a bridge.” This analogy works well for RefinemySite: while maintaining full operational autonomy, RefinemySite enjoys all the “perks” a giant like Bosch can offer: brand recognition, infrastructure, accounting processes, business development, lead generation and sales, reporting system, and legal services. In his turn, Jackisch makes every effort to update the CEO of Bosch Power Tools and the influencers around the business on what is happening with the platform. Among other things, this helps Jackisch to resist the pressure of expanding too fast.
When asked about advice he could offer to other Corporate Explorers, Jackisch didn’t hesitate:
- First, carefully develop your team. Rely on talents. Growing the team does not mean automatically doubling the number of team members.
- Second, find supporters of your venture. Remember, they don’t necessarily have to be your line managers.
- And of course, never take no for an answer (or, in Jackisch’s own words, “when you have been knocked down, always get up again.”)
One could add one more piece of advice: always know where you are going. This will help you find the shortest road there.