Innovation and technology: What do leaders want to see?


Bertrand Piccard, chair of Solar Impulse, Estelle Monod, senior VP at Schneider Electric and Claire Rutkowski, senior VP and CIO champion at Bentley Systems, spoke at the recent Global Leadership Forum Summit about the scale of innovation and change needed across infrastructure and how to achieve it.

Infrastructure is central to the world’s ambition for decarbonisation, international development and a more equitable global economy. That will mean changing how we deliver infrastructure, how we manage it and even what infrastructure we invest in. 

Faced with such a dramatic need to change, industry leaders have to consider carefully what technologies and practices are available to adopt without putting at risk their businesses and the livelihoods of their people.

Bertrand Piccard of Solar Impulse believes that shouldn’t be too hard because the incentives are so high. He says that the right modernisations deployed now will generate a more efficient, less wasteful and more profitable outcome for the industry.

That being the case, the whole industry will need to foster a greater openness to new technology and practices, which in turn will require leaders to create a culture of innovation and willingness to try new things. It will also require expertise in what works. 

That is something that technology partners like Schneider Electric have been working to achieve, engaging in decision-making and helping to emphasise how the right technological solutions can help achieve a project’s ambitions more effectively. Doing this can involve a range of techniques like testing and workshopping technologies with people planning a project. 

But for a culture of greater technological adoption, Schneider Electric’s Estelle Monod says collective buy-in is crucial because even excellent technologies can struggle with only one advocate for their adoption, rather than being tested and supported more widely.

With a desire to innovate, also comes some tough assessments of where industry is right now. While some companies are clearly leaders in innovation and technology adoption, the industry must also address the fact that many companies are far less mature when it comes to things like digital capacity, despite the merits of digital developing being clear for some time.

The feeling that those organisations have already been left behind will need to be addressed by providing avenues for them to get up to speed. Otherwise the industry as a whole may struggle to harness the full benefits of technologies needed to really become sustainable. 

Claire Rutkowski of Bentley Systems explained that less digitally mature organisations need avenues to set their strategies and improve capacity. That can enable further technological adoption and reinvestment of savings to do more, like harness digital twins.

One of the cultural challenges that may hold organisations back is the perceived scale of the mountain to be climbed. With so many technological innovations now in the marketplace, it has become impossible for decision-makers in infrastructure to know everything that is possible and what opportunities are best for their outcomes. 

This is particularly acute in the world of sustainability and and energy transitions, where huge global pressures have driven remarkable innovation and invention. So how can the industry solve that knowledge gap and make the adoption of new innovations manageable? 

Estelle Monod says we must recognise how hard it is for clients to navigate issues like how technology will impact on scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. She suggests design consultants and technology partners being involved early to help bridge the knowledge gap. 

That will be one way to solve the knowledge gap. Another will be to get the industry to speak together and share experiences of new technologies and practices that each organisation has used. Doing that can help to ensure knowledge about what works becomes more widespread, while also creating trust in new technologies that have in effect been validated by successful use.

Doing that may open up the industry to a greater willingness to do things very differently, adopting some of the many sustainable innovations available thanks to hearing about how well a particular new technology or practice has worked elsewhere. But it will require a culture of openness between organisations that are sometimes competitors. 

Bertrand Piccard believes this is something industry leaders must take up with each other to share knowledge with their clients about what is possible. They must also shift the culture to help industry break free of a temptation to always do what it has always done.