Culture of innovation

Innovation Space TÜV NORD

30 March 2017

Behind the growth in networking in our digital world there lurk both new opportunities and challenges. But this transformation will only succeed with a vibrant culture of innovation. Which is why, in the Innovation Space of TÜV NORD at the Hamburg site, a team is on the lookout for innovative ideas and solutions for a secure Industry 4.0.

Grosse Bahnstrasse, Hamburg-Stellingen: Here, nestled between a federal trunk road and the railway tracks in the west of the Hanseatic city, lies a small industrial area. By 2023, the new long-distance Altona railway station will have been built here. Number 31 is the main office of TÜV NORD in Hamburg: a complex with three six-story office buildings that extends for almost the entire length of the road. The company’s history is closely intertwined with technological progress - over a period of nearly 150 years, a multinational corporation has evolved out of a collection of small boiler monitoring associations and now sees in digitalisation a wealth of opportunities to find new ways to connect issues such as system safety and IT security.

But if you want to know how TÜV NORD is reinventing itself in times of artificial intelligence, industrial robots and self-driving cars, you have to head down into the basement. For it is here that the Innovation Space of the Industrial Services business unit has recently set up home: It’s brightly lit with a light-coloured floor, a glass cube in the middle of the room, an L-shaped corner sofa and a beanbag made of denim - and everything has that new smell. On the first table you come to, alongside adhesive tape, sticky notes and thumbtacks, there’s a drone. And the postman has just delivered another big package - the virtual-reality glasses have finally arrived. With the technology built into the glasses and special lenses, it’s possible to create an authentic and interactive environment in real time.

At the heart of the Innovation Space is a large, open room. All the tables in it are equipped with casters, making them into mobile work stations. Drawings, tables, colourful sticky notes and sheaves of notes have transformed the walls into a vast creative space. Here it is that a team of ten people is working on new ideas for TÜV NORD. The team leader is Carsten Becker; “Head of Corporate Center Innovation” is the legend on his business card. “That’s what you call it now,” he says.

His team is a “mixed bunch”. The department features “a start-up guy, an Indian colleague, two staffers with doctorates, a newcomer to the profession, a lot of colleagues with families, and I recently brought in a colleague with 30 years’ worth of experience,” Becker explains. The professional profiles vary hugely too. They include media professionals, MBA holders and bank workers alongside electrical and industrial engineers. The name of the game is diversity: the idea is for the different skills and talents to unleash creative and innovative processes.

In offices of this type, for instance at start-ups or in innovation labs, it’s common for there to be no fixed work stations, and everyone has to hot-desk. Carsten Becker deliberately decided against this principle because his colleagues wanted to set themselves up in one place for a while. But everyone still has to swap round every three months. This avoids the onset of rigidity in the teams, and the regular change stimulates the innovative process and dialogue between the staff.

“We don’t have a specific field of innovation,” Carsten Becker explains. The idea is instead for him and his colleagues to safeguard jobs and create new ones against the backdrop of Industry 4.0, which is now considered the fourth industrial revolution. “In specific terms, what that means for us is that we work with experts from the various operational areas to improve existing ideas on the one hand and develop new solutions and business fields on the other,” he says. Also linked to the Innovation Space are research projects – “With these we want to live up to our social responsibility.”

One ongoing thematic focus is on “Security4Safety”: in the networked factory it’s no longer nearly good enough just for individual systems to work safely in the classic sense of the word. Now the machines also need to be protected against hacker attacks from the outside: and the emphasis here is on security, with the same ultimate aim of protecting people and the environment. Other topics include quality issues in 3D printing, possible uses of augmented reality in industry, and digital testing methods, for example for lift inspections.

But Carsten Becker actually sees his team as an internal service provider: “We want to be enablers and make things possible.” It’s for this reason that the innovation experts offer workshops and seminars for colleagues. "Together we’re looking for new ideas and making modern technologies accessible,” Becker says. After all, the biggest problem is still resistance to new things and the fact that that many people don’t know what opportunities Industry 4.0 has to offer. “Which is why we’re open to all, and anyone can come and see us,” he explains. For this purpose they have open hours, during which at least one member of staff is on hand to explain innovative technologies. Inquisitive folk should also try out the new virtual-reality glasses. "Because, if you want to be open to change and transformation, you have to understand and experience current technologies.”

Three questions to ...

Christian Bredlow from Digital Mindset

#explore: Why do companies need innovation management?

Christian Bredlow: Companies need a healthy culture of innovation so that ideas can be generated that allow the companies also to think outside the box. I think that you have to allow new ways of thinking to grow in a somewhat uncontrolled manner.

#explore: How digital is German industry today?

Christian Bredlow: I’m currently seeing a major initiative in the SME sector, but it’s still being hampered by bunker mentality and structures. Digitalisation is often confused with technology. A homepage and a new Exchange Server are no indicator of anything. Here in Germany, as you’d expect, production and logistics have already made pretty good progress. But it’s in cooperation, communication, and culture that I see the greatest catch-up need.

#explore: What would you recommend for companies that want to become more innovative and digital?

Christian Bredlow: Let people make mistakes, encourage innovation! In the digital age, it’s easy enough for ideas to be checked for feasibility. Think up products, trial them on the Internet. Optimise. Next cycle. We all need to adapt to agile times, for which we’ll be best prepared if we work digitally and, above all, think creatively!

Christian Bredlow is Co-Managing Director of the Digital Mindset agency, which seeks to act as a pilot to guide companies through the digital transformation.