Do You Have an Innovation Strategy?

Construction and engineering are among the top five industries ripe for disruption according to research by PwC. Will innovation come from tech companies and startups, or could established firms be proactive? For Granlund, founded in 1960, innovation is a strategic essential and a core competency.

Granlund is a Finnish design, consultancy, and software services firm specializing in energy efficiency. It employs more than 800 people in 20 locations in Finland and in its offices in Shanghai and Dubai. The company is known internationally for being in the vanguard of building information modeling and for real estate management software development.

Granlund thinks strategically about innovation

“The best way to evolve in the long run and to do it sustainably, both locally and internationally, is through continuous innovation. If we can do things smarter and more efficiently than others, we gain a clear competitive advantage,” says Pekka Metsi, CEO of Granlund*. During its previous strategy cycle, the company invested seven to eight percent of revenues in innovation and development.

Granlund has an organization and processes for internal innovation, and it collaborates systematically with startups. But to ensure that the inventive spirit remains its guiding force, the company has created an innovation and development strategy.

I’ve helped Granlund devise this strategy twice, this time for 2017–2021. My task was to plan and facilitate the process, help organize concepts, and create presentations of the outcome.

Making clients and users happier with the help of technology

The strategy is based on the company’s customer proposition: wellness for the property and the user. Hence, the use and users of buildings drive Granlund’s development efforts. “User orientation and collaboration are at the core of the strategy, and in that spirit, we involved the whole staff in creating the strategy,” says Tuomas Laine, Director of Innovation and Development.

It’s evident that digital technologies like AI, machine learning, and the IoT will change how we interact with buildings and how we design and manage them. Granlund believes that by the 2020s, at the latest, the interface between machines and people’s activities will change the industry. Bots and machine learning will liberate designers from much of the routines. Professionals will be able to concentrate on more strategic issues and customer and partner services.

During the strategizing process, we identified four key arenas for innovation:

  • Information that supports the use of facilities
  • Analysis and optimization
  • Visualization
  • Methods and tools for collaboration

Even though almost all property- and design-related information is in digital form, human processing and interpretation is still needed. Granlund already uses algorithmic optimization for certain tasks, but design automation will increase in the future. That idea led us to making a tongue-in-cheek visualization of a Granlund “designer robot” shaking hands with a customer.

robot handshake

Creating cognitive and communicative buildings

In the fast-moving world of digital technology, it is difficult to be precise in strategic planning. However, Granlund wanted to articulate its vision for the future and set development stages that would logically lead to achieving that vision: built environments where users and buildings communicate with each other. A cognitive facility is the materialization of that concept.

The innovation roadmap is a visual representation of the strategy. The map has three lanes, reflecting Granlund’s business sectors: consulting, design, and software. The five stages of the cognitive building are:

  1. Platforms for visualization
  2. Platforms for analysis and optimization
  3. A reporting facility
  4. A predictable facility
  5. A learning facility

Real estate–related data will increase almost exponentially and provide the raw material for new platforms, services, and products.Innovation Strategy Roadmap

“We can learn from the car industry about the rules of consumer business, production automation, and mass customization,” says Pekka Metsi. “The automotive industry is rapidly developing driverless cars. For operating properties, even if they don’t move that much, you need a lot of human work.”

Intelligent technology is an enabler, but the user experience is paramount in the innovation and development strategy. A good user experience means, for example, that a property improves its user’s well being, productivity, and even health.

Also read: The Most Innovative Company Will Win

*) The quotations are my translations from an article by Sanna Karppinen in Granlund’s ½ Done Magazine, January 2017. Read the article in Finnish.

The illustrations are by Aarni Heiskanen, AE Partners.