“If we’re really going to succeed, we need to work more closely with the users; they’re the real experts when it comes to applications. And we need to be better at embracing innovative startups,” says Sara Mazur, Vice President and Head of Ericsson Research.
When IVA’s Smart Industry project invited industrial enterprises from the Stockholm region to a meeting to discuss the challenges of digitalisation, the response was huge. There was space for around 100 people at Ericsson’s offices in Kista where the meeting was held in mid-November, but many more wanted to attend.
As Ericsson was one of the hosts many people were hoping to get practical advice on how to meet the digitalisation challenge. Some may have been a bit disappointed.
“We’re struggling with digitalisation ourselves and it’s really hard,” admitted Sara Mazur, Head of Ericsson Research.
But as the person responsible for overseeing research at a company that lives on communication – which is the foundation for all digitalisation – she was able to talk about what’s been happening in the area and a bit about what to expect in the future.
“5G technology is raising the bar for what we can accomplish– both at home where we’ll have significantly faster internet and in the form of brand new solutions in all areas of society. The technology is also meeting the needs of a connected industry.”
Sara Mazur’s list of future possibilities is a long one. Or more precisely “lists” because she wanted to make two separate ones. One contains examples of sensors. Each individual sensor has limited intelligence, but together they can keep track of the most complicated processes.
“They need to be inexpensive to produce and have batteries that last for at least ten years.”
On the other list are more critical applications, such as intelligent traffic systems and self-driving cars.
“The requirements for these are extreme, but we believe the technology can deliver the high level of safety we demand.”
As an example she presented a mine in Kankberg outside Boliden where it’s already possible to sit in a comfortable room above ground and drive a loader several hundred metres underground.
“We’re constantly getting new ideas for ways to use 5G technology. We now want to go a step further and open a number of testing arenas, possibly together with RISE (Swedish Research Institute), so that more people will have an opportunity to create solutions that we haven’t thought of or that we’re not going to develop ourselves. In doing this we want to work with the people who’re going to be using the technology and with startups that have bold, new ideas.
One question that came up on several occasions during the day was whether Sweden is keeping up with development in digitalisation. There were many arguments on both sides of this – sometimes from one and the same person.
One person who was very enthusiastic about the subject was Karina Uddén, head of growth for Stockholm County Administrative Board.
“It’s exciting to talk about digitalisation, especially in Stockholm because the region is a world leader in the area.”
The downside, according to Karina, is that it’s becoming harder to find employees with the appropriate skills.
“We need an additional 225,000 people in the workforce. One of the areas where the needs are the greatest is in the technical sector. If we’re going to be able to attract the people we need in Stockholm, we must make the region more attractive.”
One solution to the talent supply problem, according to Smart Industry Project Manager Johan Carlstedt, could be to improve the spread of knowledge between different actors.
Anders Johansson, CTO at Husqvarna, agreed.
“We need to start working in brand new types of partnerships if we’re going to succeed. We can usually handle our core business ourselves, but in other areas we need to work together.”
Another participant at the event was Eva Lindström, State Secretary at the Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications. Her point was that many people in Sweden have forgotten how important industry is to this country.
“But something is about to happen. This is clear, not least, in the fact that, in his most recent government policy statement, the Prime Minister talked for a long time about producing steel without using coal. Another positive change is that we now have a record number of girls applying for industrial jobs. This means that our industries are regaining the high status they deserve.”
Eva Lindström pointed out that we have many reasons to be optimistic: the economy is strong and employment in Sweden right now is at the highest level ever recorded by Eurostat.
“But we shouldn’t count on things just rolling along like this forever. We need to think about how to proceed. One of the Government’s tasks will be to help businesses that have fallen behind while also incentivising those at the forefront.”
According to Hålan Schildt, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Scania, companies today are using century-old business models which in many cases are obsolete. Industrial companies need to start looking beyond the products they’re manufacturing and instead emphasise the benefits they’re creating for their customers.
“We’re on the verge of a technology shift that requires new solutions. This can be hard, but change creates opportunities for a more sustainable society. In our case this might mean using the data we gather from vehicles to help companies reduce their fuel consumption while also improving resource usage. If we do this we’ll also change our relationships with our customers – we’ll go from being a vehicle manufacturer to a company that solves problems.”
During a panel debate Ericsson’s Sara Mazur said that many of the companies that are profitable today would prefer to stay on the same course.
“But if they’re afraid to act they risk ending up like Kodak.”
By this she meant that those who are are unable to keep up with developments may – just like the photo giant – see their whole market disappear when digitalisation totally changes the game.
In the same discussion Mikael Rudin, Global Product Manager at ABB, expressed the opinion that Swedish companies don’t have any other choice but to be the best in the world at developing software. And he doesn’t think they are today.
Sara Mazur added that Swedish schools are teaching crafts, home economics, music and art, but nothing about software. This despite the fact that many of today’s schoolchildren will be working in that field in the future.
“The change is clear at Ericsson. In the past we recruited mainly electrical engineers; now we want software developers.”
In another panel discussion between three public sector players, Cecilia Sjöberg from Vinnova, said that the only way forward is to take a lot of baby steps.
“We can’t be under any illusion that we can reach our goal in one big leap. The reality of digitalising an organisation isn’t that sexy.”