15 August, 2022

The spark of life: How innovations become vital for business

‘Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement, and progress’, said Theodore Levitt, an American economist and a professor at the Harvard Business School. And while keeping up with technological improvements is just a question of interest for ordinary users, it turns into Carroll’s Red Queen’s race for some industries: ‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place’. Let’s see which industries consider innovations vital, and how different motives help businesses manage to stay on top in the ever-changing world.

There are many reasons for a company to innovate continuously, and a detailed list of them would take an article of its own. Nevertheless, each industry has its own motives, and the growing awareness of environmental issues has become the primary reason for the first hero in our story.

From black cloud to green path

One of the oldest industries in the world, energy, is now going through its second birth in the form of green energy. Just several years ago, the sector was incapable of competing with fossil fuels by any measure. Oil, gas and coal were considered the main energy resources – but everything has changed with technology that has turned wind, sun and water into powerful energy sources and made even the most arrogant giants of the industry yield.

Now, in the industry traditionally considered black, increasingly more manufacturers are moving into the green zone, and Danish Ørsted A/S (formerly Dong Energy) became a sample worthy company. Emerging as an oil and gas developer and supplier, Dong had been steadily adding to its fossil fuel portfolio until 2008, when the topic of climate change started to take central stage in energy debates all over the world. The idea was initiated by the company’s managers, namely, Jakob Askou Bøss, the senior vice president of corporate strategy, and Anders Eldrup, Dong’s then-CEO. When they conceived their plan, the company was largely responsible for a literal black cloud over Denmark: “At the time, 85% of our power and heat production was black and 15% was green. Our CEO, Anders Eldrup, said that within a generation, Dong would flip that ratio around, so that 85% would be green and 15% black,” says Bøss. The solution to the problem required almost complete equipment replacement, but there was no turning back.

The company faced massive resistance along the way. Employees, investors, and even politicians did not believe a green revolution was possible; bills for the wind energy rollout were going up and Dong’s debt was growing. The situation improved in 2014, when the wind turbines started generating not only energy, but also revenues. Dong went for the IPO and set to diversify their technologies, adding new tech solutions as the green energy industry was opening its wings all over the world. By now, operating under the new name of Ørsted and bearing the title of “the greenest energy company in Europe”, the company is not going to stop. “Within the past couple of years, we have reentered the onshore-wind market and moved into solar PV and storage solutions. These moves will help diversify our technology mix so we can better meet the demands of our customers. Everything we do reflects our vision to create a world that runs entirely on green energy”, says current CEO of the company Martin Neubert, and these words reveal the undeterred race of the green innovation in Ørsted.

Seriously entertaining business

The primary reason for innovation in another company was the enthusiasm of its founders. German Arri was founded by two filmmaker devotees in 1917. The company’s founders, August Arnold and Robert Richter, assembled their first device from used parts in a former shoemaker’s store, and once the industrious duo finished, they instantly started brainstorming ways to improve things further.

“First and foremost, they were film enthusiasts, driven by a love for visual storytelling and technology. If you walk around Arri today, you’ll see that same enthusiasm and passion — it defines who we are and what we do,” says Dr. Jörg Pohlman, one of two Executive Board members at Arri AG. It could not be otherwise in the industry born of sheer curiosity and longing for entertainment. These two triggers gave rise to the constant renewal – having developed a taste for the new fun, the public demanded more. Cinema competed with other popular types of entertainment – circuses, theater troupes, vaudeville acts, magic shows, and so on – at first. Eventually, however, it would supersede these other forms of entertainment as the primary commercial attraction.

Inveterate cinemagoers wanted more, and the industry was happy to satisfy them. Arri knew that if they stayed on place, they would eventually become a thing of the past – just as silent black-and-white films. Since 1937, when the company designed the first camera with a reflex viewfinder, Arri has pioneered every area of the film industry, from engineering through production, lighting, visual effects and many others. When the future came, its Alexa digital video camera helped it stay competitive. To date, the company has not only continued its spark of enthusiasm but inflated it even more. “We have never walked away, instead facing difficult times by redoubling our efforts and increasing investment in R&D. The fact that we offer such varied products and services, covering all sides of the industry, gives us a unique perspective and allows each division to benefit from the expertise of all the others,” proudly states Jörg Pohlman, and this statement reveals a true case for constant innovation and moving forward.

Trust through development

Trust of users and customers is the main incentive for the next hero of the story. It is French Oberthur Fiduciaire, one of the oldest companies in the security printing market, but also one of the most innovative players in its industry.

The need for paper money in the age of technology is constantly questioned, but these doubts are constantly dismissed: “Cash is king even in times of COVID-19”, notes Fabio Panetta of the ECB. Paper money is still used widely, which makes no impediments for a counterfeiter to get one. In turn, this means that it will be easy for them to forge a bill… would be, if not for tailor made solutions and securities developed by Oberthur Fiduciaire, one of the leading security printers in the world. At its printing works, chemistry, physics, and art synergize to create a sum of technical assets and aesthetic approaches, says Henri Rosset, Research Centre Manager at Oberthur Fiduciaire: “When I talk of “goldsmithery”, the term is not an exaggeration. Extended to all levels of the company, we embrace the range of this combination of technology and artistic expression.”

However, counterfeiters also show artistry and, moreover, an enviable persistence. The rate of technological advancement appears to have sped up the time it takes for each new security feature to become counterfeit-prone, forcing currency issuers to upgrade their banknotes and coins more regularly to keep counterfeiting at a minimum, explains Reserve Bank of Australia in its bulletin. This is why tireless development is Oberthur’s primary concern, noted the company’s CEO Thomas Savare back in 2020: “The security aspects of banknotes are under constant development. Our R&D division works relentlessly to create new security features that we offer our clients in order to deal with counterfeits … Techniques are constantly changing, and we have to invest in equipment of increasing efficiency and precision.” 

Apart from security features, the company has recently faced one more challenge: adapting the technology for pandemic use. Everyone remembers the information war waged against cash at the beginning of the pandemic: banknotes were accused of carrying infection, and some even openly declared their danger, which, as it was proved later, was fundamentally wrong. Nevertheless, Oberthur decided to further strengthen customer and user confidence by using Bioguard biocide. The solution has been developed by the company for over a decade, and, when additionally tested for the coronavirus family pathogens, showed high efficacy for slowing down propagation of viruses, making paper money even safer than before. An important development as it is, Bioguard became another note in Oberthur Fiduciaire’s general leitmotif of never-stopping search for innovation. For the company, it’s not about winning the tech race, but about winning trust: “[Trust] must be the fundamental quality of every relationship and every transaction, and the means of obtaining it remain the same: quality of work and the many guarantees we provide with our offers,” comments Thomas Savare.        

In conclusion, there is just one thought. It does not matter what industry the company works in, or that the technical revolution has been on everyone’s lips for only a couple of decades. The examples of our heroes, as well as thousands of others, show that for some, technological improvements are just essential part of everyday business – and though their motives are different, their common strivings can become a good example for any company that feels a need to change something.


Debora Franks

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