Peter Hinssen is an entrepreneur, focused in startups for almost 20 years. He’s a technologist at heart. About eight years ago, he decided to spend more time on telling the story about technology. He started teaching at MIT in Boston and London Business School (UK), and wrote a few books on how technology is changing the world.
Peter will be talking at the Asset Performance Awards about how companies and technical services can prepare for the future. How can you help your company in staying relevant The Day After Tomorrow?
Peter, you will be present as a keynote speaker at the Asset Performance Awards. Can you explain where your interest in the industry comes from?
It’s a little bit personal because my father worked in the oil and gas industry his entire life, specifically Maintenance and everything that deals with process control. So, when I was a kid, it was all I heard from my dad coming home. And I think the evolution that you see in this industry is fascinating. New technologies are changing, in my opinion, tremendously: dealing with assets, managing performance and thinking about prediction is going to change tremendously. So, I’m very excited to be part of this.
Can you give some examples of technologies that will impact our world?
Big Data. I mean, this is an industry that’s always been interested in information. But now Big Data is becoming abundant. We have technologies to deal with that. We have machine learning, artificial intelligence, all these mechanisms of connectivity. I think if you put it all together, it’s piling up technology after technology that is fundamentally changing how we think about how to deal with data. And I think it will have a tremendous impact on this industry.
What do you think the main challenge of the industry today is?
We’re currently in a disruptive era. I use this word carefully, but it indicates a constant acceleration and the need to follow that speed. Lots of companies see a huge conflict between possibilities and reality. So this gap and tension between what is possible and what you do day to day is a big challenge. We need to take a huge leap in skills and technology. This is also an opportunity to become more critical of your company. Performance plays an important rule. And the reason why your company exists is absolutely core. But be careful what you wish for. Because once you enter the spotlight, you’ve got to deliver. Take up your role and realise it.
Watch the full interview
What makes it so difficult to take up this role?
Being able to tell the story and carry it out. Storytelling is key. IT people should be rockstars, but most of the time they’re not so communicative. That’s because they don’t have the skills to tell their story. If you go from predictive maintenance to Asset Performance in a connected world, then you have so many touchpoints, that you have to broaden your gaze. You need more skills and competences. Your suppliers change. Your partners change. And everything becomes more fluid.
In your book ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, you’re talking about what is going wrong in companies today. What is your vision?
Well, I have a very simple idea of how much time companies spend on today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. Most companies are very busy with today. And when they look at the future, they often extrapolate today, they think that tomorrow is approximately the same. But we’re now facing so many different changes that there might be changes in business models or in technologies or new players coming onto the market. We have to think about this disruption, ‘this is the day after tomorrow’, and how you deal with that. When I talk about today, tomorrow, the after tomorrow, many people say they dedicate 70-20-10 % of their time on it. The reality is we spend 93% of our time in today, maybe 7% thinking about tomorrow and virtually none in the day after tomorrow. And I think in many industries, this was okay and in the 20th century. But we’re now fully in the 21st century. That doesn’t work anymore. We have to be much more flexible and agile. And that’s why the day after tomorrow is more important than ever before.
You will also talk about two interesting concepts: staying essential and staying relevant. How can we achieve that?
Of course, you want to be essential. You want to do something that makes sense. If you do predictive maintenance, that is essential. If you work for customers, you’re hoping that you are vital for that customer. But the other question is, how relevant are you? And I think there’s a very clear difference between essential and relevant. And I think an example in the telecoms industry. If you look at telecoms 10 years ago, a telecom operator was essential. You need a SIM card, and they were relevant, they give you added value. Today, in this world, they are still essential, because you still need that SIM card. But the relevance has dropped. And therefore, if whatever capacity you have in an organization, whatever position you have in dealing with the outside world, that is the core question, are you essential? I hope you are. But how can you make sure that your relevance doesn’t go down?
And that brings us to the maintenance and quality department. They don’t add value directly to the product. The customer doesn’t pay for maintenance that was necessary to produce his product. But it is essential. So what would your tip be to staying relevant?
Well, I think it’s we’re in an age where everything is interconnected. So, if you look at an organization, they are not silos anymore. We’re in this network age, everything is connected to everything. So when you say that your customer doesn’t pay for the maintenance directly, that’s true, but your customer will feel, see and understand whether this is something which is integral in terms of quality thinking or performance management. And in the end, if your company wants to be flexible and fast and agile, you have to incorporate that into every part of the organization. Every fiber, every node, every element has to understand that you are part of a bigger picture, and you have to keep reinventing itself to be both essential and relevant for the outside world.
On the other hand in our industry, there are a lot of service providers. They are companies that perform maintenance activities and make services. How is this new and how will they need to evolve?
We’re more and more in this age of networks, thinking about ecosystems, the role that they play is different. We’re beginning to see the old “I supply a product and that’s it” is over. It’s more and more as a service type of activities. And what you see is, instead of the traditional boundaries, we get fluidity, we have more and more of that network and ecosystem type thinking. And that means that you’re going to have new players entering the market very, very quickly. You’re going to have traditional players who have to reinvent themselves. And you have different types of partnerships and agreements that we need to figure out. And I think figuring out what your role is, as an external provider in this sea of fluidity in a connected world is going to be very fascinating.
This connectivity is entering a lot of factories. They are experimenting, but we see some reluctance and difficulties to scale up. How can you solve that?
Well, I think we’re in a phase where a lot of the technologies emerging take something like AI or machine learning that’s relatively new. Most people don’t understand it very well, there is a huge skill gap that we need to fill, because we need to train and prepare people for that. But a lot of things are just trying out, companies are experimenting and figuring out how to apply this, but it’s very early game. If you compare that to the PC industry, this was the time where we had Commodores and Atari’s, and not the established industry like we have it today. We’re going through that phase. And if you’re too early, you’re going to burn a lot of money and not get a lot of results. But if you wait too long, you probably run the risk of becoming completely obsolete. I think it’s making sure that you’re constantly in tune that you’re constantly alert that you follow this as closely as possible and make the right move at the right time. But you can only do that if you are prepared.
How can people prepare for this skill challenge?
I think they have to make time for it. Time is the biggest issue. To put your day-to-day work at the side is difficult, but you really have to invest in these skills. Experiment at first, like tinkering with fues untill somethings blows up. There are so many possibilities, also online, to test and try out different stuff. Everybody talks about life long learning, but most managers don’t do it themselves.
Why should people attend your keynote at the Asset Performance 4.0 Conference?
I think this is one of the most fascinating industries that for a long time, has already worked with data. But it’s now making a quantum leap. I’d love to talk about how I see that evolving, I hope to inspire you to maybe even do more than what you’re doing today. But above all, to prepare ourselves for, I think, a very disruptive wave that is going to affect everyone. And I think if we understand this, we can all actually come out even better as a result.