Innovation in craftsmanship family Smes in times of digitalization


  • Ruth Überbacher Free University of Bozen-Bolzano
  • Riccardo Brozzi Fraunhofer Italia Research
  • Dominik Tobias Matt Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and Fraunhofer Italia Research



Family Business, Small and Medium sized Enterprises, Digitalization, Industry 4.0, Craftsmanship


Digital Transformation is radically changing the concept of production and the dynamics among producers, suppliers and end-users in companies across several sectors. Besides large companies, also Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) operating in the craftsmanship industry currently witnesses a fundamental transition toward the digital paradigm. Particularly in Italy such craftsmanship SMEs are mostly family-managed and family-owned. Due to their peculiar characteristics, family SMEs find themselves under severe innovation pressure in times of digitalization. This study set out to investigate the digital present and future expected level of craftsmanship family SMEs in the Italian northernmost Region of South-Tyrol. Through an online self-assessment tool (DigiCheck), data from 100 South Tyrolean craftsmanship family SMEs were collected. The study offered insights into the attitude of companies towards digitalization, the opportunities but also the challenges they face currently and in the future. Furthermore, based on the digitalization level of companies, four taxonomies of digital family SMEs were derived: Digital Leader, Digital Motivator, Digital Follower, Digital Steady-State. The results indicate a relatively high willingness to innovate towards Industry 4.0, however major challenges hampering family SMEs of the craftsmanship sector adopting new technologies and introducing digital solutions need to be tackled


Andulkar, M., Le, D.T., & Berger, U. (2018). “A multi-case study on Industry 4.0 for SME's in Brandenburg, Germany.” Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Hawaii: HICSS, 2018. 4544-4553.

Archibugi, D. (2017). Blade Runner economics: Will innovation lead the economic recovery? Research Policy, 46(3), 535-543.
Austrian Federal Ministry of Science Research and Economy. (2017, August 29). Study on traditional craftsmanship.

Barthel, A., & Weiss, P. (2014). Digitalisierung der Geschäftsprozesse im Handwerk. Ergebnisse einer Umfrage unter Handwerksbetrieben im ersten

Quartal 2014. Berlin; Buchner, M. (2014). Web 2.0 und Social Media. Zum
Einsatz aktueller Instrumente in Handwerksunternehmen.

Bounfour, A. (2016). Digital futures, digital transformation: From lean production to acceluction. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Brozzi, R., D’Amico, R.D., Pasetti Monizza, G., Marcher, C., Riedl, M., Matt, D. (2018) Design of Self-assessment Tools to Measure Industry 4.0 Readiness. A Methodological Approach for Craftsmanship SMEs. In: Chiabert P., Bouras A., Noël F., Ríos J. (eds) Product Lifecycle Management to Support Industry 4.0. PLM 2018. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 540. Springer, Cham.

Bruque, S., & Moyano, J. (2007). Organisational determinants of information technology adoption and implementation in SMEs: The case of family and cooperative firms. Technovation, 27(5): 241–253.

Calabrò A., Vecchiarini M., Gast J., Campopiano G., De Massis A., & Kraus S. (2018). Innovation in family firms: A systematic literature review and guidance for future research. International Journal of Management Reviews. In press.

Camera di Commercio di Piacenza. (2016). Imprese Artigiane. Dinamica anagrafica della Provincia di Piacenza.

Centro Studi CNA. (2018). Le Imprese Artigiane in Italia - Province e Settori. CNA Website. Retrieved May 10: 2019, from Confederazione Nazionale dell'Artigianato e della Piccola e Media Impresa (CNA) website:

Cerchione, R., & Esposito, E. (2017). Using knowledge management systems: A toxonomy of SMEs strategies. International Journal of Information Management, 2017: 1551-1562.

Craftsman Project. (2011). Report on the situation of craftsmanship in Europe.

Chrisman, J. J., Chua, J. H., Pearson, A. W., & Barnett, T. (2012). Family involvement, family influence, and family–centered non–economic goals in small firms. Entrepreneurship theory and practice, 36(2), 267-293.

Chrisman J.J., Chua J.H., De Massis A., Frattini F., & Wright M. (2015). The ability and willingness paradox in family firm innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32(3), 310

Chua, J. H., Chrisman, J. J., & Pramodita, S. (1999). Defining the family business by behavior. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 4: 19–39.

Chua, J. H., Chrisman, J. J., Steier, L. P., & Rau, S. B. (2012). Sources of heterogeneity in family firms: An introduction. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 6, 1103–1113.

Classen, N., Carree, M., Van Gils, A., & Peters, B. (2014). Innovation in family and non-family SMEs: an exploratory analysis. Small Business Economics, 42(3), 595-609.

Dassisti, M., Panetto, H., Lezoche, M., Merla, P., Semeraro, C., Giovannini, A., & Chimienti, M. (2017, March). Industry 4.0 paradigm: The viewpoint of the small and medium enterprises. In 7th International Conference on Information Society and Technology, ICIST 2017 (Vol. 1, pp. 50-54).

De Massis, A., Audretsch, D., Uhlaner, L., & Kammerlander, N. (2018). Innovation with limited resources: Management lessons from the german mittelstand. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 35(1): 125–146.

De Massis, A., Di Minin, A., & Frattini, F. (2015). Family-driven innovation: Resolving the paradox in family firms. California Management Review, 58(1), 5-19.

De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Kotlar, J., Petruzzelli, A. M., & Wright, M. (2016). Innovation through tradition: Lessons from innovative family businesses and directions for future research. Academy of Management Perspectives, 30(1): 93–116.

De Massis, A., Frattini, F., & Lichtenthaler, U. (2013). Research on technological innovation in family firms: Present debates and future directions. Family Business Review, 26(1), 10–31.

De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Majocchi, A., & Piscitello (2018). Fmily firms in the global economy: Toward a deeper understanding of internationalization determinants, processes, and outcomes. Global StrategyJournal, 8, 3–21.

De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Pizzurno, E., & Cassia, L. (2015). Product innovation in family versus nonfamily firms: An exploratory analysis. Journal of Small Business Management, 53(1): 1–36.

Deutsche Bank Research. (2014). Business demographics and dynamics in Europe.

Deutsche Telekom. (2016). Der digitale Status Quo im Handwerk.
Duran, P., Kammerlander, N., Van Essen, M., & Zellweger, T. (2016). Doing more with less: Innovation input and output in family firms. Academy of Management Journal, 59(4), 1224-1264.

EUROSTAT. (2011). Key Figures on European Business with a special feature on SMEs.

Freeman, J., Carroll, G. R., & Hannan, M. T. (1983). The liability of newness: Age dependence in organizational death rates. American Sociological Review, 48, 692-710.

Gabriel, M., & Pessl, E. (2016). Industry 4.0 and suitability impacts. critical discussion of suitability aspects with a special focus on future of work and ecological consequences. Annals of the Faculty of Engineering Hunedoara - International Journal of Engineering, pp. 131-136, 2016.

Kammerlander, N., & Ganter, M. (2015). An Attention-Based View of Family Firm Adaptation to Discontinuous Technological Change: Exploring the Role of Family CEOs' Noneconomic Goals. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32(3), 361–383.

Karre, H., Hammer, M., Kleindienst, M., & Ramsauer, C. (2017). Transition toward an Industry 4.0 state of the LeanLab at Graz University of Technology. Procedia Manufacturing, 2017: 206-213.

König, A., Kammerlander, N., & Enders, A. (2013). The family innovator's dilemma: How family influence affects the adoption of discontinuous technologies by incumbent firms. Academy of Management Review, 38(3), 418-441.

Kotlar, J., & De Massis, A. (2013). Goal setting in family firms: Goal diversity, social interactions, and collective commitment to family–centered goals. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 37(6), 1263-1288.

Kotlar, J., Fang, H., De Massis, A., & Frattini, F. (2014). Profitability goals, control goals, and the R&D investment decisions of family and non-family firms. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 6, 1128–1145.

Kotlar, J., Signori, A., De Massis, A., & Vismara, S. (2018). Financial wealth, socioemotional wealth, and IPO underpricing in family firms: A two-stage gamble model. Academy of Management Journal, 61(3), 1073-1099.

Koska, A., Gösku, N., Erdem, M.B., & Fettahalioglu H. (2017). Measuring the maturity of a factory for industry 4.0. International Journal of Academic

Research in Business and Social Sciences 7, no. 7 (2017): 52-60
Loebbecke, C., & Picot, A. (2015). Reflections on societal and business model transformation arising from digitization and big data analytics: A research agenda. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 24(3), 149-157.

Lumpkin, G. T., Brigham, K. H., & Moss, T. W. (2010). Long-term orientation: Implications for the entrepreneurial orientation and performance of family businesses. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 22(3–4), 241–264.

Matt, D.T., Orzes, G., Rauch, E., Dallasega, P. (2018). Urban production – A socially sustainable factory concept to overcome shortcomings of qualified workers in smart SMEs. Computers and Industrial Engineering, Article in Press. DOI: 10.1016/j.cie.2018.08.035

Matt, D.T., Rauch, E., Fraccaroli, D. (2016). Smart Factory for SMEs - Designing a Holistic Production System by Industry 4.0 Vision in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) [Smart Factory für den Mittelstand: Gestaltung eines ganzheitlichen Produktionssystems nach der Industrie 4.0 Vision in Kleinen und Mittelständischen Unternehmen (KMU)] ZWF Zeitschrift fuer Wirtschaftlichen Fabrikbetrieb, 111 (1-2), pp. 52-55. DOI: 10.3139/104.111471

Matt, D., & Rauch, E. (2014). Chancen zur Bewältigung des Fachkräftemangels in KMU durch Urbane Produktion von morgen. In Industrie 4.0 Wie intelligente Vernetzung und kognitive Systeme unsere Arbeit verändern., by W Kersten, H Koller, & H. Lödding, 155-176. Berlin, 2014.

McKinsey (2016). Industry 4.0 How to navigate digitization of the manufacturing sector, 1–62, Retrieved June 10, 2019: from

Nambisan, S., Lyytinen, K., Majchrzak, A., & Song, M. (2017). Digital innovation management: Reinventing innovation management research in a digital world. MIS Quarterly, 41(1): 223–238.

Pessl, E., Sorko, S.R., & Mayer, B. (2017). Roadmap Industry 4.0 - Implementation Guideline for Enterprises. International Journal of Science, Technology and Society, vol. 5, no. 6, pp. 193-202, 2017.

Porter, M. E., & Heppelmann, J. E. (2014). How smart, connected products are transforming competition. Harvard Business Review (November).

Porter, M. E., & Heppelmann, J. E. (2015). How smart, connected products are transforming companies. Harvard Business Review (October).
PwC (2017). 2017 Digital IQ: A decade of digital Keeping pace with transformation. PwC. (10th annivesary edition), 1–30. Retrieved May 9, 2019: from

Rauch, E., Stecher, T., Unterhofer, M., Dallasega, P., Matt, D.T. (2019). Suitability of Industry 4.0 concepts for small and medium sized enterprises: Comparison between an expert survey and a user survey. Proceedings of the International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations
Management, 2019 (MAR), pp. 1174-1185.

Rindfleisch, A., O'Hern, M., & Sachdev, V. (2017). The digital revolution, 3D printing, and innovation as data. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 34(5), 681-690.

Rondi, E., De Massis, A., & Kotlar, J. (2018). Unlocking innovation potential: A typology of family business innovation postures and the critical role of the family system. Journal of Family Business Strategy. In press.

Rudtsch, V, Gausemeier, J., Gesing, J., Mittag, T., & Peter, S. (2014). Pattern-based business model development for cyber-physical production systems. 8th International Conference on Digital Enterprise Technology - DET 2014 - "Disruptive Innovation in Manifacturing Engineering towards the 4th Industrial Revolution". Elsevier, 2014. 313-319.

Salatino, A. (2015). “Early Detection and Forecasting of Research Trends” 14th International Semantic Web Conference . Bethlehem (PA), USA, 2015.

Schröder, C. (2017). The challenges of Industry 4.0 for small and medium-sized enterprises. Bonn: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2017.

Sciascia, S., Clinton, E., Nason, R., James, A. and Rivera-Algarin, J. (2013). Family Communication and Innovativeness in Family Firms. Family Relations, 62 (3), 429-442.

Sciascia, S., Nordqvist, M., Mazzola, P., & De Massis, A. (2015). Family ownership and R&D intensity in small and medium sized firms. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32(3), 349-360.

Sommer, L. (2015). Industrial revolution - industry 4.0: Are German manufacturing SMEs the first victims of this revolution? Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management, 8(5).

Souder, D., Zaheer, A., Sapienza, H., & Ranucci, R. (2017). How family influence, socioemotional wealth, and competitive conditions shape new technology adoption. Strategic Management Journal, 38(9), 1774–1790.

Schwab, K. (2017). The fourth industrial revolution. New York: Crown Business.

Teece, D. J., & Linden, G. (2017). Business models, value capture, and the digital enterprise. Journal of Organization Design, 6(1), 8.

Unterhofer, M., Rauch, E., Matt, D.T., Santiteerakul, S. (2019). Investigation of Assessment and Maturity Stage Models for Assessing the Implementation of Industry 4.0. IEEE International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, 2019-December, art. no. 8607445, pp. 720-725. DOI: 10.1109/IEEM.2018.8607445.

Urbinati, A., Franzò, S., De Massis, A., & Frattini, F. (2017). Innovation in family firms: a review of prior studies and a framework for future research. In A. Brem, & E. Viardot, Revolution of Innovation Management (pp. 213-246). UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

WIFO (2016; September). Economy in figures. Die Südtiroler Wirtschaft unter der Lupe. Retrieved June 19: 2019, from (

Wright, M., Chrisman, J. J., Chua, J. H., & Steier, L. P. (2014). Family enterprise and context. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 6, 1247–1260.

Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks. (2018). Digitale Chancen. Die Zukunft gehört denen, die sie in die Hand nehmen. Retrieved from Kompetenzzentrum Digitales Handwerk. Retrieved December 19: 2018, from






Research Articles