Interview with Prof. Axel Müller-Groeling

Prof. Axel Müller-Groeling


Executive Vice President for Research Infrastructures and Digital Transformation


“We want to achieve the best together.”

Axel Müller-Groeling is a professor at Kiel University. The physicist and manager has conducted research at several renowned institutes and research organizations in Germany, France and Canada. He worked as a management consultant and was also a co-founder and executive vice president of an international, publicly listed photovoltaic group before becoming head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology ISIT in Itzehoe in 2016. He then also became head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg.

He has been on the executive board of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft since August 2022.



Professor Müller-Groeling, what inspired you to put yourself forward for this executive board position?

In my opinion, there are still areas where the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has huge potential to become even more effective — not only for ourselves, but for our customers, too. I realized that the intersection points between the institutes and the headquarters in particular are a place where we can strive to make further improvements in the interest of creating consistent processes. However, I also saw that the ever-deepening collaboration between science and industry is something that can only be a positive thing for Fraunhofer. So when I was given the chance to take up a position where I could help to shape our initiatives in precisely these fields, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.


You are heading up the newly established Research Infrastructures and Digital Transformation executive unit. What are your tasks and objectives?

I am responsible for corporate procurement at the headquarters, research facilities and office buildings and the entire area of IT — not only in-house operations, but also SAP — as well as the areas of sustainability and climate neutrality. Within these broad areas, I have goals relating to strategy, operations and culture. At the strategic level, my objective is for Fraunhofer to be a pioneer in its use of digital techniques and tools; at the same time, we want to be an expert partner and point of contact for government and industry in terms of operating large research infrastructures. We can also serve as an example for large organizations when it comes to climate neutrality. For operations, I’m focusing on improving processes and communications so we can prioritize efficiency and our focus on the end product. In relation to cultural aspects, it’s important to me to promote a discursive team culture and modes of collaboration whereby people are encouraged to express any objections and are allowed to make mistakes. I have to put considerable demands on myself and my employees to achieve that.


You obtained your doctorate in physics, and then worked for the business consultancy firm McKinsey. So, you’re at home in two different worlds — the scientific world and the business world.

Applied research requires management. Fraunhofer can be the place where creative research and insights from industry converge in a very special way — a place where this process of encounter is taught and fostered. That can and should give us a really significant competitive advantage.


What experience have you brought to the headquarters from the institutes that you headed up?

The institutes are where value creation happens, and they need the best possible conditions to ensure their success. I see the Fraunhofer headquarters, in the best possible sense, as a service provider and an ally that supports the institutes while treating them as equals: Together, we try to achieve the optimum outcome for both the specific institute and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft as a whole.


The ongoing implementation of SAP also falls under your responsibility. How would you sum it up so far?

Since January 2022, a total of 46 new SAP and 7 partner solutions, as well as 40 SAP-cloud applications have been implemented. This is not only the biggest project for change in the largely decentralized Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, but also the biggest IT solutions package that SAP has ever rolled out. This transformation is not simply a data and technical transition, it is primarily about reorganizing our key, value-adding business processes. Of course, this takes lots of time and considerable resources, and it demands an enormous amount of dedication and effort from every employee.

The introduction of this highly complex, SAP whole-system landscape has to happen in one fell swoop. In hindsight, perhaps a modular process would have simplified matters — it’s a learning curve. In the end, and despite all the difficulties and stresses, the SAP implementation is progressing very promisingly. Albeit we’re still a little way away from the desired efficiency and user-friendliness. But we’re living in the age of digital transformation, and of course, as Fraunhofer — a pioneer in the research landscape — we will successfully implement this ERP system.