KONE’s Chief Technology Officer, Maciej Kranz, is bringing a 360-degree approach to innovation at KONE. Having spent two decades working on the Internet of Things—and penning a New York Times’ bestseller on the subject — Kranz brought his expertise to KONE in 2019, to help the business and its customers implement next generation transformations. “This holistic role was really compelling to me,” says Kranz of his Chief Technology Officer role, “because it involves not just using technology to help transform KONE operations, but also to drive innovative physical and digital offers to transform the industry and KONE’s business.” Kranz also leads KONE’s Technology and Innovation unit, and has been able to put a holistic approach to innovation into practice in 2020, a year when customer demands pivoted overnight and the future of buildings and cities changed forever.

We talk to Kranz about how KONE implemented rapid innovation in a safety-conscious industry, co-innovated with customers at scale, and helped transform the workplace to build a better future.

"I draw inspiration from partnering with people to collectively move mountains. Because it’s not about me, it’s about us transforming the company."

Accenture: How do you inject groundbreaking innovation into a very traditional product?

Maciej Kranz: KONE has a proud 110-year history of ground-breaking innovations. One example is machine room-less elevators. Two decades ago, KONE changed how buildings were built, so you didn’t have to build an extra room on top of the elevator shaft. The construction of a building became easier and more aesthetically pleasing.

Another example of a big innovation was KONE UltraRope. It extended the reach of elevators, allowing buildings to get taller and have the same elevator go from top to bottom. Now, we’re building on this foundation. Our main focus is accelerating the speed of innovation and execution.

The customer environment is changing dramatically. When you think about the impact of COVID-19, major trends around digital adoption have accelerated by a decade. Industry business models, tenants’ expectations and basic concepts are changing rapidly, e.g., around what a building is and how it is used. The same goes for city districts. Paris, for example, is considering 15-minute neighborhoods, where you can access pretty much everything with a 15-minute walk or bike ride. There are also new entrants in the marketplace — digital players large and small. So, to stay on top of these shifts, the speed of innovation and execution is key.

Accenture: How are you addressing changing customer needs?

MK: We’re taking a comprehensive approach across three areas. First is customer and partner co-creation. We implemented this in a consistent way last year, as one of the most frequent requests we got from our customers in 2020 was related to our expertise in people flow. For instance, how do you move people from parking lots to COVID-19-optimized offices in a timely, safe manner? Making that happen requires tremendous work and collaboration with partners and customers.

“You must co-create with customers because every environment is different. You need to work with an ecosystem of partners to ensure every stage is safe — from microbe-free surfaces to social distancing rules, from reduced congestion to contact-free journeys. No one company can do it alone.”

We recently rolled out a network of co-innovation centers, KONE WORX, where we do exactly that. We look at a customer’s problem statement, we look at an idea, then we work out how quickly we can move from that idea to a scalable solution. The funnel starts wide and, after a thoroughly structured process, we reach a handful of solutions.

Customer co-creation one-to-one is fairly straightforward — you have one customer and one vendor working together. But, if you have an open ecosystem with multiple customers and partners working on a scalable solution, it can be tricky. We’re still perfecting this more complex model.

Besides customer co-creation, the second area we chose to focus on is speed of innovation, combined with a culture of experimentation. I don’t like the statement ‘speed to fail.’ For us, it’s ‘speed to learn.’ We’ve created a role specifically for this, Chief Innovation Officer, to drive our innovation roadmaps and best practices across KONE’s Technology and Innovation unit, and throughout the entire company.

Finally, as our third area of focus, we’re evolving our R&D and IT organizations into a competency-based structure, where we can quickly realign our resources and focus them on key priorities. So, when customers' requirements change, we can quickly refocus both our teams and our offering roadmaps.

Accenture: How do you inject a culture of innovation into a company like KONE, where safety is as vital as speed and agility?

MK:The creation of KONE’s Technology and Innovation unit five years ago was pivotal. At that time, most of our peers were hiring chief digital officers, who led digital efforts somewhat separately from the mainstream activities of their companies. At KONE, we focused on cohesion within the company and we combined core R&D, digital R&D, IT, innovation and partnership functions. We were able to create a blend of core values — a strong, proud mechanical engineering foundation, combined with digital ways of working, agile methodologies, as well as strong architectural and management structures. Our approach has been to blend the best of both worlds, physical and digital.

Of course, such a transformation is a journey. But thanks to our integrated approach, we have been able to introduce new classes of products such as KONE DX Class elevators, which seamlessly blend digital and physical capabilities, and KONE 24/7 Connected Services, our remote and preventative maintenance offering.

One more aspect is quality of our people and a pragmatic culture. This was another key reason I joined KONE. People at KONE were very welcoming and eager to adopt new ideas. In my early days at KONE, the feeling was, ‘we do things this way, but if you have a better idea, we’re happy to listen.’ People were very willing to adopt new concepts. In addition, my colleagues were also very patient in teaching me the basics of KONE technologies, products and markets.

I moved from the Bay Area to Finland with an ask: ‘I come from a different industry, with different experiences and best practices, and I’m joining an industry with 110-years of history, a great track record of innovation, and great people — how do we join forces to create something very unique?’ This was my formula for success and it has worked well.

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