Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Jiří Kůs: Nanotechnology represents a promising industry

Jiří Kůs, Chairman of the Czech Association of Nanotechnology Industry, Photo: Archive

 

You are the Chairman of the Czech Association of Nanotechnology Industry and also an evangelist of the 3rd Industrial Revolution concept.  After completing university studies in industrial technology, you also studied sociology and psychology.  Having the background in all the above mentioned disciplines, how do you perceive the today’s world and society?

It is clear that we are on the verge of many great changes.  As these are linked to technologies, we can label them as the 3rd Industrial Revolution.   At the same time, such a change will influence the social system, politics and eventually each and every aspect of a human life on the planet.  On one side of the imaginary chessboard we will find technological miracles in the form of the nano-thin invisible layer bringing about energies at no cost.  The price of solar panels has been declining exponentially.  In Australia, there is already technology that enables industrial printing of solar panels on a pliant sheet/ bendable foil.  Each device and each object, including our clothing, will be possible to manufacture own energy.  Energy will be derived from the sun, from the movement and from the interaction of advanced biomaterials.

The other side of the chessboard is the global digital network.  The number of internet users has been skyrocketing.  Each object will have not only its physical shape, but also a digital shape.  At the same time, life will become more local, given the possibilities of 3D or 4D printing, as we will be able to print objects needed for our daily life; food production will also become more local, as well as energy production.   Political discussions will not revolve around the right vs. left but rather centralization vs. decentralization, control and censorship of data vs. freedom.

 

Nanotechnologies represent a fast growing industry that covers areas from energy, textiles, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and many others…What else will be nano?

In 1949, the prestigious magazine Popular Mechanics forecast that in the future computers might weight less than 1,5 tons.  Well, they were wrong and nowadays we might consider it a good joke.  However, we need to realize that some key technologies which will significantly impact people’s lives in the next 20 years, so rather near future, have not yet been discovered.  Nowadays, there already exist certain outcomes of research with all possible consequence so hard to imagine when put in practice.  Just to name one example.  What about discovering that the substance bringing energy to cells of a human body can be also used to supply energy to the next generation of supercomputers. Will we have living biological supercomputers with no need of an external energy supply like batteries or electrical network?  Recently, there was a certain technology developed that can detect a DNA molecule with the help of a mobile and a small module with a nanochip.  Does it sound like an episode from Startrek series?

 

How successful is the Czech Republic in the sphere of nanotechnologies compared to the world?

Let me go back in history, to 1963, and ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King.  I believe there is synchronicity, since I was born in 1963.  I have my dream just now, in 2017. A dream about a small country in the heart of Europe where I have lived for 50 years.  I am not a politician; I doubt that Czech politicians have ever dreamt or that they even know how to dream.  My dream is to see the small Czech Republic perceived in the world of technologies like a pearl.  Czech is nano is a slogan that each journalist, politician and businessman is familiar with.  Czech nanofibers from Liberec are spread all over the world.  The air on the planet is being cleaned by the Czech discovery of fotocatalyctic nanocoating.  Some developing countries no more suffer from water shortage, since it is provided thanks to unique Czech mobile hydroplants based on solar energy and nano-membrane filtration.  Moreover, it is able to provide clean water free from E.coli bacteria, which is considered close to a miracle.

The Czech Republic has also become a symbol for post-modern eco-urbanism and local energetics of the 21st century.  There is much more to explore than the Prague Castle panorama or the medieval Castle of Karlštejn.  Tourists are looking for a lifestyle inspiration in the Czech Republic, the so-called localization principle.  Each house is capable of generating all energy needed for its own consumption, storage in 3D nanobateries, being the Czech patent are obviously helping.  Each village and each town has community gardens and the principle of localization has been applied with regards to the food.  Try to supply yourself with everything you consume.  We have fewer roads in desperate need to repair and healthier population.  Mobility in cities is provided by autonomous electrocars.  There is a perfect lifestyle.  The world just envies us.

Concerning nanotechnology, in nanofibre technology we are much further than Israel or the US.  We have many patents. And as I travelled all over the world, I was also pleased that most advanced laboratories use the microscopes from Brno!  In addition to several expert laboratories dedicated to the research in nanotechnologies, we have several dozen companies producing nanotechnology-based products.  We have nanofibre filters and membranes, antiallergic beddings, nanocoating cleaning the air, protection of goods and documents thanks to the nanodots, nano water filters, nano structures used in medicine etc.  The Czech Republic proudly holds several patents in the whole industry.  However, these companies lack means for stronger marketing.  Therefore, we have established The Association of Czech Nanotechnology Industry.

 

But you have already started to fulfil your nano dream…

One should fulfil one’s own dreams.  Some years ago I managed to persuade one of my friends to jointly establish a nano company.  At the beginning there was a vague idea to set up a trading company but at the end by coincidence we became the manufacturer of anti dust-mite beddings with the Czech nanofiber membrane.  After researching the market, we realized that we are the first and only company having such goods in the  market worldwide.  We were happy about our innovative idea and we started developing products, which we finalized in 2015. At the same time we launched sales and marketing campaigns.  The Czech Republic is going to be nano!

 

Well, having done several interviews with representatives of SMEs, I know the continuation is unlikely to be a bed of roses…

The reality is that there is little awareness on various levels – public, state and investor levels – about nanotechnology.  The same is true about assistance with marketing abroad.  It is important to change that.  I also regard crucial to start with education of pupils and students so we have a new upcoming generation of nanoscientists.  Let us visit schools and show teachers how the latest technologies are working. Let us hold conferences for both experts and the public and launch nanodays in big cities.  Let us live up to the slogan that appeared in the New York Times a couple years ago:  The Czech Republic is NANO!

There is often a mention of projects which should apply to receive either state or EU funding, however, these are not designed for start-ups.  They require at least three years of proven existence.  Therefore, I support the view that such projects rather tend to help bigger, already established companies.  When it comes to banks, the conditions are similar.  By the way, such situation is the same all over Europe.  In the US, there is a much higher availability of joint venture capital or business angels funds which are not afraid to invest in projects that might appear a bit risky in the beginning.  In the Czech Republic, the main interest is to invest into real estate or IT.  Nevertheless, nanotechnology represents a promising industry and it yields high return on investment, but one needs 5-7 years’ horizon.

 

What are your final words to Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

Technology revolution is a big chance for small countries that have a bunch of creative people and we should use this opportunity.  My appeal also goes to potential investors – do not be afraid to invest into technological companies.  Material technologies are the key drivers for other industries and you will certainly get your money back, and multiplied.

Last but not least, let us be proud of what we have and what we have achieved in the Czech Republic.  I was a bit sadden to see Czech newspapers speculate immediately with great enthusiasm about a possible Tesla investment in our country but a Czech invention, a unique 3D nanotech battery, has not been interesting enough for them for a very long time.

Let us not only admire things from abroad, and let us not underestimate ourselves.  In the Czech Republic we have so much to be proud of! The Czech Republic is NANO!

Stefan Höchbauer: In order to win in the new economy, you must digitize or become irrelevant

Having the opportunity to interview Mr. Stefan Höchbauer gave me not only a positive insight into the situation on digital transformation in the Czech Republic and its neighboring markets in Austria and Germany, but also an impulse to look at the technology from another perspective. More than ever, new technologies are becoming drivers of the business model change. The revolutionary examples of Airbnb and Uber show us how small players can grow into global ones and on the other hand, how the global ones might become smaller ones or disappear completely. In order to succeed, the IT needs to become integral part of the business to profit from the successful and long-term sustainable development.

 

INSPIRATION FROM SAP – DESIGN THINKING

A Design Methodology

Basically, Design Thinking is a design methodology, which differs from traditional design approaches in specific ways. For example, it is characterised as more creative and user-centered than many traditional design approaches.

 

A Problem-Solving Approach or Process

Design Thinking can be regarded as a problem-solving method or a process for the resolution of problems. As a solution-based approach to solving problems, Design Thinking is particularly useful for addressing the so-called “wicked” problems. Wicked means that they are ill-defined or tricky. For ill-defined problems, both the problem and the solution are unknown at the outset of the problem-solving process. Even when the general direction of the problem may be clear, considerable time and effort is spent on clarifying the requirements. Thus, in Design Thinking, a large part of the problem-solving activity is comprised of defining and shaping the problem. Much like any other problem solving process, Design Thinking consists of a number of stages or phases, which differ slightly between various Design Thinking proponents.

 

An Approach to Encourage Creativity

Unlike analytical thinking, which is associated with the “breaking down” of ideas, Design Thinking is a creative process based on the “building up” of ideas. While analytical approaches focus on narrowing the design choices, Design Thinking focuses on going broad, at least during the early stages of the process. In Design Thinking, designers do not make any early judgments about the quality of ideas. As a result, this minimises the fear of failure and maximises input and participation in the ideation (brainstorming) and prototype phases. “Outside the box thinking”, also called “wild ideas”, is encouraged in the earlier process stages, since this style of thinking is believed to lead to creative solutions that would not have emerged otherwise.

 

A User-Centered Approach That Brings Design into the Business World

Design Thinking is seen as a way to apply design methodologies to any of life situations. It is often used to explore and define business problems and to define products and services. In other words, Design Thinking brings the design approach into the business world. As a style of thinking, it combines empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality and feedback to analyze and fit solutions to the context – All this helps derive a solution that meets user needs and at the same time generates revenue, that is, drives business success.

 

Mr. Höchbauer, what are the main business model changes and disruption trends that SAP helps its customers to address?

The topic of digital transformation or business transformation as discussed nowadays is driven by three factors. The first one is represented by surprising competitors that have emerged and now are challenging many established players in traditional industries. Several years ago, it would seem odd to consider that BMW or VW would face competition from Google and its autonomous driving, as Google now has all the data relevant and needed. Similar disruptions are happening elsewhere: one of the biggest taxi providers Uber does not own cars, likewise Airbnb achieved its success without owning one single hotel bed. More and more, the traditional companies in traditional industries need to start thinking about new ways how to engage with customers.

 

The second factor is linked to the Internet of Things – taking into consideration all devices that are connected to the internet and that will be connected to the internet. According to studies, by 2020 there will be about 50 billion devices connected to the internet. We tend to think mainly about mobile phones, but there are many other devices and sensors connected, and generating enormous overall volume of data. Just imagine immense opportunity for businesses arising from combining data from devices together with corporate data, which create the backbone of the enterprise, and then enriched with the data from the social media. Now the next step comes and that is what to do with the data and how to combine them with analytics. We present to our customers the example of Digital Boardroom as the place where all information about different parts of the enterprise is available and so it enables not only access to data in real time but also decision making according to complex evaluation of the current status of an organisation as well as enhancing communication across various departments. Besides effective decision making, this approach also enables many new opportunities how to interact with customers.

 

The third dimension of disruption trends comes with next generation, the so-called millennials or also internet generation. They have totally different ideas about how to consume goods and services. I always present the example of my 14 year old son. He likes cars, but he has already made up his mind that he does not want to own a car in the future. He wants to have a flexibility and use it according to his needs, so he thinks about sharing cars with friends and changing models as he likes. And now this new approach to consumption is starting to be reflected in the whole automotive industry.

 

Having heard all this, now I understand that your statement: “In order to win in the new economy, you must digitize or become irrelevant”, should not be considered an overstatement.

To illustrate all of the changes mentioned above on one specific example, I can give you an insight from my recent discussion with a car rental company, an industry that few would consider particularly innovative. Generally, we would think the business is about maximum possible utilisation of the cars, being at the right place at the right time. However, facing the challenges, there is a need to come up with new types of shared and mobile services for their customers. Potentially, SAP as a corporate customer, will not have one company car per employee but rather service level providing a car at disposal according to needs. So from owning or renting a car, we are turning to consuming either miles or hours or any other flexible arrangement.

 

Individual SAP employee might thus profit from various cars for different occasions. Smaller car easy to park when driving in a city, a family car when going to the seaside for summer vacations or an offroad when going for a skiing weekend. Or perhaps would he or she like to try a convertible throughout summer? Expanding on this mobile cart, let me describe a few services that could be interesting from the user’s point of view. Just by entering the car and connecting to the GPS, there would be a welcome and the navigation system would be automatically selecting the optimal journey to the next meeting. If I go to the petrol station and I refuel, the bill would be automatically added to the right expense company account. No more diffcult and manual handling of receipts and bills into a system. By the way, this is already possible thanks to SAP technology called Concur.

 

So this was one example that for changing business models you need flexible and reliable, rock solid IT infrastructure with data, applications and solutions and building on these, you come up with new services and ways to engage with your customer to serve their needs better.

 

Digitalization is truly affecting each and every industry and each and every geography. The adoption might be different if you compare America and Western Europe to Russia and CIS but it is omnipresent. Sometimes, it comes under headline of business transformation but the ultimate aim as to how best adapt for future market is always the same.

 

For a long time, SAP has been associated primarily with large corporations. In reality, 80% of your customers are SMEs. In Germany, the SMEs have been traditionally considered backbone of economy, but in the Czech Republic, SMEs have been in an inferior position with regards to access to funding and innovation, when compared to multinationals. Has the situation changed?

In SAP we have the same customer base in each country where we operate. What might differ, is the definition of the SME as such, with regards to the revenue or number of employees. But the principle how we engage with SMEs, what products and solutions we offer and how we engage with them, stays the same. As you pointed out, SMEs are also a backbone of business for us. Look at our product and portfolio and you find a range scaling from small to large enterprises. In some areas the offer is the same, in some areas there are special products developed in cooperation with our partners, based on our technology and ready to solve specific solutions in particular segments.

 

Three particular segments – finance, media and production – have been discussed at SAP Forum held in Prague in June. Finance and production are often discussed, but what was the reason to include media?

As I mentioned, digital and business transformation is relevant for each and every industry. Some of the industries might be more adaptive than others. With media and in particular social media, the question of making use of data available becomes imminent which brings us back to the solutions we offer. This was confirmed in the keynote speech of Mr. Petr Dvořák, CEO of Czech Television, discussing new trends in TV time consumption and the effect on the transforming world of media as such.

 

SAP is active in both, public sector and private sector. How is the public sector, comparing to the private one, interested in digital transformation? Are there any differences, can you give an example?

It is interesting to note that with regards to the digital transformation, the often mentioned public-private sector divide is not relevant. There might be some slight concerns with regards to cloud solutions, but overall, the solutions and the responses are the same. Let us take the example of growing pressure from citizens with regards to the need of more transparency and budget spending or the pressure to be more flexible in handling administrative agenda filing on the documents and paperwork. The topic of efficient data use and data sharing can be extended to health care where I see a great advantage and potential. The potential of connectivity was demonstrated in one study done by the Heidelberg University Hospital which carried out digitizing cervical cancer screening in Kenya, in a process that helped to prevent data loss and duplication. And one last positive remark regarding adoption and readiness, I am pleased to see that the level of discussion is almost comparable between Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

 

So far, we have talked about transforming businesses and technologies. Now, let us talk about people. What is your view and approach to leadership at SAP in times of transformation?

In SAP, we make sure we have the people at the right positions. We embrace the notion of all inclusive diversity, in terms of gender, age, nationalities and last but not least even different physical abilities. I am so proud not only about my diverse team and particularly about the high number of talented women managers in executive positions throughout the region.

 

We walk the talk on disruption and so we introduced the methodology called design thinking which is a smart way of brainstorming and engaging with our customers. But we also use it internally. We talk about potential disruptive ideas, topics, trends and influences and how to link them to the opportunities our technology enables. Therefore, the employees need to be open to learning and to adapt fast. We also experienced our transformation from turning from an enterprise resource planning system company into a cloud company based on rock solid technology SAP HANA. This way, we are able to address much bigger market potential, in terms of different industries, lines of business, different buying centers etc. Our experts are trained to be always the most relevant source for their customers as potential consultants on future disruptive trends in a particular industry or business. We invest in training, education, coaching and we are aware that this is an on-going and never ending process.

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