Designing Industry 4.0 Virtual Networks

of Partners Value Chains



by Dr. Pieter Steyn

Cranefield College, South Africa


Dr. Brane Semolic

Lens Living Lab, Slovenia



Industry 4.0 organisations are increasingly becoming integral parts of regional and global value chains. It is imperative for modern organisations to have competitive products, services and processes supported by effective and efficient value chain business models. An organisation can act as integrator, organiser, or partner of a value chain engaged in new technology development and improvement. All value chain partners are required to harmonise their contributions to the chosen initiative.

A virtual value chain consists of an array of organisations, each contributing unique strategically relevant collaborative value driven activities with respect to technological, behavioural and structural elements.  Partnering organisations gain a competitive advantage through collective orchestration of strategically essential activities and standards. Moreover, joint collaboration and governance of related partnering projects and programmes are of paramount importance.


In an earlier topic virtual networks of partners were discussed as a relatively new concept in organisational design and development. In the Industry 4.0 economy an increasing number of organisations realise that networking with partners can lead to innovation and turn out to be profoundly beneficial. Smart organisations utilise the capability of resources from partner organisations and knowledge workers to optimise their own potential. Teams from different locations create opportunities for participating in the design and development of products, services, manufacturing processes and supply chain operational activities. Figure 1 illustrates how the value chains of the initiating organisation and partner organisations combine to create virtual networks of partners (Semolic, 2012).

Figure 1: Combining Initiating and Partner Organisations’ Virtual Value Chains (Semolic, 2012)

Outsourcing has been practiced by organisations in the private and public sectors for many decades. The mode was mainly sub-contracting. At the start of the new millennium organisations began to realise that outsourcing has to be seen as a strategy in their relentless search for competitive advantage. Hence, organisations recognised the limits of their own distinctive competencies and started looking at outsourcing and partnering for boosting the needed skills, products and services. According to Steyn ed. (2012), quoting Knod and Schonberger, the strategic significance of partnering and outsourcing is demonstrated by the large number of possibilities as shown in Figure 2 (as adapted).

Figure 2: Partnering Possibilities (adapted from Steyn ed., 2012)

The possibilities extend along the transformation processes from the initial design all the way to serving and delivering to the customer and include, inter alia, design services, parts procurement, sourcing sub-assembly and component partner capacities, and logistics. Moreover, all the above transformation process elements need to be effectively and efficiently integrate and coordinated in a sound flow-control system to ensure timely, accurate, value-adding movement of products and services through various stages of processing. The appropriate vehicle is the cross-functional Manufacturing Flow Management supply chain process.


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How to cite this article:

Steyn, P., Semolic, B. (2018), Designing Industry 4.0 Virtual Networks of Partners Value Chains, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue 5, May 2018. https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/pmwj70-May2018-Steyn-Semolic-industry-4.0-virtual-networks-partners-value-chains.pdf

About the Authors

Prof Dr Pieter Steyn

Founder, Director, Principal
Cranefield College of Project and Programme Management
Pretoria & Western Cape, South Africa


Pieter Steyn is Founder and Principal of Cranefield College of Project and Programme Management, a South African Council on Higher Education / Department of Education accredited and registered Private Higher Education Institution. The Institution offers an Advanced Certificate, Advanced Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma, Master’s degree, and PhD in project and programme-based leadership and management. Professor Steyn holds the degrees BSc (Eng), MBA, and PhD in management, and is a registered Professional Engineer.

He was formerly professor in the Department of Management, University of South Africa and Pretoria University Business School. He founded the Production Management Institute of South Africa, and in 1979 pioneered Project Management as a university subject at the post-graduate level at the University of South Africa.

Dr Steyn founded consulting engineering firm Steyn & Van Rensburg (SVR). Projects by SVR include First National Bank Head Office (Bank City), Standard Bank Head Office, Mandela Square Shopping Centre (in Johannesburg) as also, Game City- and The Wheel Shopping Centres (in Durban). He, inter alia, chaired the Commission of Enquiry into the Swaziland Civil Service; and acted as Programme Manager for the Strategic Transformation of the Gauteng Government’s Welfare Department and Corporate Core.

Pieter co-authored the “International Handbook of Production and Operations Management,” (Cassell, London, 1989, ed. Ray Wild) and is the author of many articles and papers on leadership and management. He is a member of the Association of Business Leadership, Industrial Engineering Institute, Engineering Association of South Africa, and Project Management South Africa (PMSA); and a former member of the Research Management Board of IPMA. He serves on the Editorial Board of the PM World Journal. Pieter is also Director of the De Doornkraal Wine Estate in Riversdale, Western Cape.

Professor Steyn can be contacted at [email protected]. For information about Cranefield College, visit www.cranefield.ac.za.

To view other works by Prof Steyn, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-pieter-steyn/


Prof Dr Brane Semolic

Founder and Head of LENS Living Lab –
International living laboratory
Celje, Slovenia



Dr. Brane Semolic studied mechanical engineering, engineering economics, and informatics; he holds a scientific master degree and doctorate in business informatics. His focus of professional interest is industrial and system engineering, innovation and technology management, virtual organizations and systems, project and knowledge management. He has 40 years of working experiences in different industries (industrial engineering, IT, chemicals, household appliances, government, and education), as an expert, researcher, manager, entrepreneur, counselor to the Slovenian government and professor.  He operates as head of the open research and innovation organization LENS Living Lab. LENS Living Lab is an international industry-driven virtual living laboratory. He is acting as initiator and coordinator of various research and innovation collaboration platforms, programs and projects for the needs of different industries (ICT, robotics, laser additive manufacturing, logistics, education). He was co-founder and the first director of the TCS – Toolmakers Cluster of Slovenia (EU automotive industry suppliers). Since 2004 he is serving as the president of the TCS council of experts. Besides this, he is operating as a part-time professor at the Cranefield College.

He was head of project and information systems laboratory at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Head of the Project & Technology Management Institute at the Faculty of Logistics, University of Maribor and professor of project and technology management at the graduate and postgraduate level. He acted as a trainer at the International »European Project Manager« post-graduated program, organized jointly by the University of Bremen.

He was the co-founder and president of the Project Management Association of Slovenia (ZPM), vice president of IPMA (International Project Management Association), chairman of the IPMA Research Management Board (2005-2012), and technical vice-chairman of ICEC (International Cost Engineering Council).  Now he is serving as a director of the IPMA & ICEC strategic alliance. He actively participated in the development of the IPMA 4-level project managers’ certification program. He introduced and was the first director of the IPMA certification program in Slovenia. He has been serving as the assessor in this certification program since 1997. He performed as assessor in the IPMA International PM Excellence Award Program in China, India, and Slovenia.

He is a registered assessor for the accreditation of education programs and education organizations by the EU-Slovenian Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

He was a Member of Strategic Advisory Board of European Competitiveness and Innovation, as well as the president of the Slovenian Chamber of Business Services.

He got the award as ICEC Distinguished International Fellow in 2008. He received the »Silver Sign« for his achievements in research, education, and collaboration with the industry from the University of Maribor in 2015.

Professor Semolic is also an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at brane.semolic@3-lab.eu.   Additional information about the LENS Living Lab can be found at http://www.3-lab.eu/ .

To view other works by Prof Semolic, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/brane-semolic/