Learn how to move fast. That is one of the takeaways that IT Project manager Peter Navrén is taking back to his company Rexel in Sweden from the EIT Digital Summer School on the Internet of Things and Business Transformation. "You do not need to sit in a conference room for months to think through a business idea." Navrén learned how to do it in just two weeks.
Summer is an excellent time for people from companies like Rexel, a multichannel distributor in the energy sector, to go on a two-week course. At least, that is the case for Navrén. "The summer is quite good to take two weeks out of work time. It is not as busy as the rest of the year."
Besides the time, what were your other reasons for spending two weeks at a summer school?
"First, personal interest. I feel the urge to get updates from the current academic environment. I like to learn new things. Second, for the company. I believe that all companies will be affected by digital transformation. Since my role involves making the organisation more efficient, I like to watch out for business opportunities. We need to keep up to date with the latest developments and news and feel the pulse of what is happening within the Internet of Things and business transformation."
How did you find the EIT Digital Academy Summer School?
"That is a bit unprecise. I think I saw an ad in an online computer magazine in Sweden. I looked it up and contacted EIT Digital. I had never heard of it before, but I figured it would be good since KTH is involved as well. That and the topic caught my eye. But what triggered me was the quote in the programme on how to use new technologies for new business opportunities."
Did you know what to expect?
"I had a pretty good idea what I was going to be doing. I spent almost one day on pre-assignment work that I had to do online. I had to write a comment as well on why I wanted to spend two weeks at the summer school - that was quite thought-provoking. Then, I spent another day studying five different topics via the online learning starter kit provided by the EIT Digital Academy. This brings you up to speed; it ensures all participants are at the same entry level and gives you the right mindset."
The EIT Digital Academy Summer School differs from other business summer schools in that it puts professionals in the same classes as EIT Digital Master School students. How do you feel about that?
"I knew there would be a majority of technical master school students when I applied. The local organiser - EIT Digital's partner KTH - , the topic and the setting were more important to me than the nature of the participants. The fact that these students have a high degree indicates the summer school is relevant. Though I think the mix could be more balanced. In my class, there were only two professionals. It would be beneficial to have more of a balance. That is not so much for classwork or teamwork, but more for the social aspects and discussions in general."
What do you get out of working with students?
"Being with students for two weeks forces me to connect with a younger generation. It is interesting to see how they work and think. I get their perspectives. They are unadulterated by corporate culture or dominant company thinking. That is very interesting. On the other hand, students' work by the books and are less experienced and familiar with company life."
What do you think you have brought to the students?
"I hope I did bring something. I think I did, in terms of trying to bring some structure to our teamwork; for example, by splitting tasks. Students can perform any particular task at any particular moment. That can sometimes lead to having more people doing the same thing. I therefore try to co-ordinate tasks. I also think that I challenge the team's solution (the business case the summer school participants work on - ed). With more business experience, I am able to look at it from the outside in, from an investors' and customer perspective. For example, I ask: "What is in it for the investor, customer, and business owner?"
Is it an advantage being only with students?
"In some of the discussions, it is not always an advantage. Students lack work experience. But to me, yes, it surely is an advantage. Being in the midst of so many students gives me the perspective that in business we need to have a balance between generations. If you only have business people you miss out on the latest technology insights and a creative awareness. The students have less boundaried ways of thinking, are less cynical and have a willingness to test an idea for some hours and then adapt the solution if the test fails. In business life, you need to deliver your targets and there is normally not much time to experiment. That perspective is quite clear to me."
What are the three main learnings things you learned in these two weeks?
"I would say working in an international community is very beneficial. But I already work in an international environment so that part is not new to me. The entrepreneurship in this summer school really stands out. The presentations and discussions gave me a lot of refreshing insights. I thought I had a view of what a startup was, but now I have much more understanding of entrepreneurial thinking. It is not rocket science, but sometimes we get lost in our great ideas without keeping the focus on the customer.
I also learned how to move fast. Here, we created business solutions in two weeks, starting with an idea all the way to creating a business model and a value network and bringing it to the investor. I learned that you do not need to sit in a conference room for months to think about that. Also, I realised how many opportunities the Internet of Things holds. I do follow the tech news and media but having nine different business ideas with IoT solutions in just two weeks shows how many different opportunities and chances there can be."
What are you taking back to Rexel?
"I hope to bring back open-mindedness and a bit of the attitude students have when it comes to looking at problems and opportunities. In our professional lives, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to work out an idea, who is doing what. There are certain structures and processes to follow. Here, someone opens a laptop and says, ‘I might have an idea,' and the rest of the team supports with more ideas rather than first discussing who should do what and who should have which responsibility. I plan to be more pushier about finding opportunities by prototyping. And, I want to be more innovative by connecting IT with business development in the digitalisation strategy, in addition to my work on efficiency and cost savings with IT."
Would you recommend the EIT Digital Summer School to other professionals?
"Yes. I think if you have the right mindset and background and you are willing to learn, definitely. The Summer School is not something you do just to take a break. It is pretty intensive because you have lectures all day, you work in a team and you make overtime. You need to invest a lot of energy. But it definitely pays out."