Digital Artisans: reshaping craftmen's work through Digital Do-It-Yourself

A week ago I have been invited to a panel at the inauguration of MakerLand: a retail store in a shopping mall in Monza, Italy. This initiative appears rather peculiar considering its main partners: Talent Garden (a 4 years old company managing co-working spaces in Italy and quickly expanding in Europe), and the Italian subsidiary of Auchan (a French international retail group).

At a first sight this is an impossible marriage: a small firm promoting the Digital Made in Italy, and a French giant of the traditional retail industry. Yet, in an age of promising disruptions turned out to be mere hypes, the main objective of MakerLand, surprisingly, just makes sense: to exploit the visibility of a shopping mall located in an area with a high concentration of micro-small manufacturers, to show them the potential of digital technologies. In few words: to “create a space of aggregation for makers and digital artisans”.


The launch of MakerLand to support the growth of digital artisans

That’s a perfect example of the transformation taking place in the business arena: the diffusion of 3D printers and the IoT leverages the potential of the Do-It-Yourself typical mindset of artisans, thus promising to change the rules of the game in their industry. Transformations of this kind are the object of one of the WorkPackages of the DiDIY project: WP3 “analyzing how DiDIY is reshaping organization and work”.

The workpackage aims at exploring how DiDIY will enable a change in the mindset and activities of individuals working within organizations either as entrepreneurs or employees, or managers. More precisely, we are interested in understanding, and eventually foresee the consequences of the use of  highly innovative digital technologies related to DIY practices, such as 3d printing and IoT systems, at different business levels:
- how organizational roles will evolve (disappear/emerge)?
- how organizational functions will evolve (disappear/emerge)?
- how industrial sectors evolve (disappear/emerge)?

A preliminary literature review led to highlight a very wide cross-discipline interest on this subject, along multiple perspectives, as clearly shown in a tag cloud of the keywords we found, in the more than 70 scientific papers reviewd so far.


The keywords from the preliminary literature review on "DiDIY reshaping work and organizations"

The Digital Artisan is one of the new business figures emerging, as the launch of MakerLand shows: this new breed of craftsmen arises at the crossroads between a business crises and a technological opportunity.

On the business standpoint, globalization and the speed of change bring small organizations to face competitors with far more resources and able to operate on international markets.

Artisans, and their small organizations, are often solely focused on the product sold to a local market, and operate with a do-it-yourself attitude privileging creativity and proactivity. With the global crisis in the demand of consumer goods’, artisans are finding themselves struggling to stay alive. Furthermore, the model of the artisan is based on diversification: to create products closely fitting the unique needs of their clients. Large firms, instead, aim at creating a product with less customization and aim at volumes, using the lever of marketing.

On the other hand, the very nature of the digital technology emerging today is quite differnt from the one of the 90s and 2000s. In those decades, information technology was mainly software technology, aimed at improving the efficiency of processes (eg ERPs in the 90s, and e-commerce in 2000) and requiring significant investments.

The innovative digital technology is far less expensive, and "closer to things": 3D printers and scanners, sensors and drones allow to create objects or to monitor and control them. In other words, digital technology is now closer to the products. This shift appears particularly promising for artisans, who - by definition - deal with “things”: as shown by the prefix "art", they privilege the effectiveness (the quality of the product, measured by the fit to customers’ needs) over efficiency.

In summary, 3 properties make artisans (as “do-it-yourselfers”) primary candidates to exploit digital technology (DT) opportunities:
- they can easily understand the effect of DT on their work;
- they can have access to DT at a low cost, so that they can experiment the application of DT without having to invest huge amounts of capital;
- they can use DT to empower their creativity by improving their product.