Per Kristian Egseth and Pernilla Thessén have a demanding mission that requires them to bravely set foot into the future, as they develop new AFRY business models and products together with their team at AFRY X. We met with them to find out more.
Q: Looking at the innovation hubs and accelerators within large corporations, one might get the impression that they are on a mission to save the world or produce a deus ex machina. What exactly is our job at AFRY X, Per Kristian?
Per Kristian: Our mission is much more tangible and straight forward. We are working towards accelerated digitalisation in transforming industry sectors, achieved through addressing our clients' key challenges. We at AFRY are stepping up to be a leading provider of digital solutions and data-driven applications across our core industries of expertise – in bioindustry, clean energy, future cities and food and life science.
As a part of this process, AFRY X sets out to instil a new culture of digitalisation across the company, one that harnesses all the digital competences already in existence at AFRY at the same time as driving innovation. If we are going to talk in terms of a mission, one of AFRY X's core missions is to fill the innovation funnel. We are here to build the new products that our clients and our own organisation will need to remain competitive in a future business landscape. To this end, we are combining what would normally be considered an in-house accelerator with methods that would be more commonly found in an industrialised software development company.
And we are not stopping there. We will go further. The point is not only to be an accelerator, it's also to build a sustainable business that will be able to significantly shift AFRY into the digital business space and secure strong source and recurring revenue streams. Developing a new business model seems easier at first glance than making old ones compatible for the future through digitalisation.
Q: What do you see as the challenges and how is AFRY X positioned within the Group?
Per Kristian: All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes. Essentially our task is two-fold, to fortify existing products and to develop new software offerings based on client needs.
As you know, there is no shortage of digital capability or digital innovation across the AFRY group. The team at AFRY X will leverage precisely those capabilities and develop them into commercial software solutions, which correspond to the needs that are emerging in the transforming industries. We will be able to articulate value propositions that are much more customer-centric than they might be currently. This is another important aspect that we will leverage in order to add new capabilities and skills that better respond to the needs of the market.
We're setting up both an innovation team and a strategy team that will be tasked with understanding the dynamics of the market, where we see transformative trends, and where we think we can step in and create transformative digital products. That is the task that Pernilla will be taking on.
To answer the second part of your question, our big challenge right now is simply navigating this new venture and the cultural change process that comes along with it. This is where communication and leadership come into play. The position of AFRY X within the group is particularly compelling, because we at AFRY X have a view across all AFRY's transforming sectors and the business divisions within the group. This, along with having had many team members join AFRY X from various AFRY divisions, provides the necessary perspective to identify larger trends and 6pportunities that span industries as well as to drive collaboration in a broader way, which of course has a big potential to make a positive impact. After all, it's all about making future at AFRY, so we at AFRY X feel very well positioned to support that vision.
Q: Pernilla, how do you develop a strategy for something that does not exist yet?
Pernilla: It is a question of understanding and extrapolating clients needs. You need to be very close to the clients to understand where they are today and where they are headed, so you can create offerings and solutions that match with where they are going, where there business is going. Another point is understanding the legacy, heritage and knowledge of AFRY, so where AFRY is coming from. This is important as a foundation to understand where we can differentiate ourselves.
And then, of course, it comes down to a more general understanding of the markets in which we operate and the technology trends. When you put these elements together, you can get a pretty clear picture within each industry of where the client needs are, how we can differentiate ourselves in developing solutions, where the technology trends are going, and how we can further improve our offering. Those elements will be our starting point.
Q: So, you will be quite a collaborator between the different divisions and markets that AFRY works in, considering how vast the sector expertise is in our company.
Pernilla: Yes, I agree and that is the key, or one of the key things, being very close to the divisions because a lot of the answers, not all, that we seek within X will be found within AFRY, with experts that know our clients and markets. I think where we add a new perspective, which Per Kristian already touched upon, is the client centric approach. I think when you develop these kinds of business applications and digital services the starting point always has to be client need and AFRY X can ensure that we take that into account right from the beginning, each time.
Per Kristian: I see it the same way. Our view across the divisions will be an anchor point for achieving our goals. I think regardless of what we build in X, what already exists in the engineering parts will always be much bigger, this is where our legacy lies. Being able to connect closely to that legacy is the most important source of energy for our market presence. So, if we are able to develop customised business applications, which is our goal, then we also need to be able to really understand the needs of the clients, which certainly come from our divisions.
Q: When talking about the digitalisation of businesses, there is always a risk of getting caught up in technology debates. Yet applications and solutions are what the customer wants. How do you identify these use cases?
Pernilla: To be quite clear, we do not want to be technology-driven, but rather oriented towards the needs of our customers. It’s been said many times before, but technology is not the problem. Instead, it’s about finding the offerings and business models that solve real customer problems and enable implementation.
That is why AFRY X relies on the consulting and engineering competence that AFRY has, this very deep insight and competence. Because without the competence, it is quite easy to start to make ideas that are just too shallow. Really understanding the engineering view of the problem and then emphasising a lot with the customer and discovering where the underlying needs lie is key. Therefore, we aim to work very closely with customers and partners from day one and use design thinking techniques to gather customer insights as the foundation for our offerings. The starting question for us is what customers need, rather than what AFRY can offer.
Q: AFRY is active in very different industries. Will you address all of them or focus on a few?
Per Kristian: We will not be active everywhere. We will have a focused strategy which will take us deeper into certain topics and avoid the dilution that we'd face if we attempted to cover everything. In other words, we won’t address all segments with the same force at the same time. We will focus on AFRY's footprint. We will guide our work along the different engineering and consulting business areas, for example pulp and paper is such a big part of AFRY's story, given that we have a world leading position in that industry, that it will of course be a critical focus for us. Energy is also an area where we have a lot of capability at AFRY. And in the industrial setting, AFRY is driving industry 4.0 topics.
We want to be at the leading edge but also create a perspective on the maturity level across different industries and make sure that we push for transformation at the right time. Another very important dimension we look at when evaluating which industries to enter is the sustainability position and what change is required in that industry to allow a clear positive impact on sustainability.
Q: The sectors you are referring to are digitalised to different degrees. How do you address these individual differences at AFRY X?
We meet our clients at whatever phase of the digitalisation journey that they find themselves in, however it's particularly exciting to look at the sectors where we think there is quite a bit of a white space. In pulp and paper and to some extent forestry there is still quite a lot of potential for new novel, data-driven solutions and in these industries, there's an interesting interplay between very traditional processes and a huge potential for improvement through artificial intelligence, automation, drones, IoT, machine learning and many more technologies that can be interlinked, also with existing solutions, for example in manufacturing, which has relied on digitalisation for years. Although digitalisation has been around for a while in manufacturing, seeing tangible business benefits from industrial AI and industrial IoT it is almost a novelty. Very few companies have been able to meet major benefits from advancements in AI. In a nutshell, though, I do believe that no matter which industry, there are segments which can almost be considered as white space.
Q: Thank you for the interview, Pernilla and Per Kristian! A few more 'This or That' questions for our followers on social media?
Per Kristian: Let's go!
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