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It’s no secret that technology has changed the way we live. Everything from how you order coffee and book a taxi to finding a job and someone with whom to share your life; is now faster, more personalized and relatively seamless.
But this so-called “disruption” isn’t limited to the way we live day to day; the way we actually go about building the future has evolved exponentially alongside. You only have to read the tech pages of any news website to see that startups are taking over the world while some of the biggest innovations are coming from small, nimble companies intent on working collaboratively, openly and speedily.
It seems the most innovative organizations of the past century are now looking to the younger generation of businesses to learn how best to build the future...
Claus Cremers, Sales Specialist for Siemens MindSphere in Germany, is in charge of promoting a revolutionary new platform called MindSphere. Not only is he working on an advanced piece of technology, but the way he is going about getting the word out to the masses, and subsequently implementing the product successfully into the wider world, is quite unlike the expected modus operandi of a large corporate employee.
To understand why Claus’ work is so unique, you must first understand the Internet of Things (IoT): the idea that all machines of all shapes and sizes will be connected to the internet and hence able to communicate with each other. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean having conversations like humans do, but more about being able to automate various tasks without human intervention. An example might be having sensors installed on bins all around cities which, when the bin is full, alerts the council that they are ready to be picked up. That alert might then activate a self-driving waste collection truck which would – using the cameras tracking traffic around the city – take the most efficient route to the bin to empty and take on to the dump. All without any human interaction. MindSphere’s role is basically in the data collection and management – the data from the sensor and the cameras and the mapping tools and the autonomous truck all has to be available on a platform to be analyzed, sorted and processed. “We can almost look at it like a digital switch board”, Claus explains.
Claus’ work basically revolves around making the Internet of Things actually happen on a global scale – joining up the physical hardware, the mountains of data and the problems waiting to be solved by our ever more connected world.
But Claus and his team haven’t stopped at simply creating a piece of technology and selling it to customers – at the core of their work is one simple idea: openness.
MindSphere is an open platform, meaning with this Siemens software, you can link up any technology, any apps and any pieces of machinery. A closed system would be that of Apple’s: you can only use the iPhone NFC software to pay using Apple Pay and the closed system doesn’t allow you to invent a way of using that technology to – say – unlock your front door using your phone. Apple simply doesn’t allow it. “So we offer a platform and you find your own business model. We call it then “customer co-creation”. “We discuss with customers their ideas and then match it with our technology”, says Claus. “When you break it down to, for example, Siemens versus competitors, you will have a classic competition mode. But for the customer, the combination of the information that other companies and Siemens are delivering is maybe the best thing. So this makes it possible to combine. The customer decides what to do with the data.”
And the openness doesn’t stop there. Claus is keen to ensure anyone and everyone can build, use and improve MindSphere. Having a background in both informatics and economics, he is well aware of the changing world of startups, digitalization and global connectedness, and is keen to harness some of the most modern mindsets. “We are not anymore in this single Siemens family. We need to open up and work together, on demand, with people who are playing in this IoT field… it’s a playground for everyone.” As such, he leads hackathons – typically weekend-long events for building tech projects collaboratively – for Siemens, its customers and the outside development and entrepreneurial communities to work together on large problems. “It’s quite common in the developer scene to attend hackathons from time to time, because the best developers are connecting there and finding new software ideas as well. We are living in a start-up world.”
Among the open software and the hackathons, Claus and the MindSphere team also run a startup program called Rocket Club for new IoT startups, and even run a reward system for those people building great solutions on the platform – like collecting air miles but for building software. “The goal is to create an ecosystem that’s coming up with new ideas. So, to create new boundaries between the parties that are connected on MindSphere, to come up with new business models that help us to be more productive and to be more innovative and creative.”
By creating a community around MindSphere that includes Siemens employees, clients, and the outside world of developers, designers and entrepreneurs, Claus and the team are defying the traditional corporate conventions. The idea of a large company opening the doors to both its inventions and its expertise is gaining more steam in 2017, as corporates look to the startup disruptors for both inspiration and collaboration.
Kids have technology in their blood already, and I want to teach my kids to continue to embrace the future, stay open, be patient, listen to each other and find peace with themselves.
The question of why Claus is so intent on being open is a valid one. After all, wouldn’t profit be impacted by being so welcoming of competitor technology and spending so much time building specifically for the customer at hand? Claus disagrees: “Outside the closed rooms of Siemens and inside the community is also where you find specialists – and you find a solution more quickly. You also have more direct feedback from the customer, instead of developing something in hours and hours and then finding out that they want it differently.”
With models across the entire business world moving more towards an open approach instead of the traditional closed doors, it’s not just the MindSphere team within Siemens that Claus envisions taking the next step: “We will help the whole company. I think we are one of the best teams: young, diverse and international, and always trying to build bridges.”
Claus is very much on trend, with large companies such as IBM, Unilever and Coca Cola also looking to outside communities for partnerships and developments on their products and services. You only have to think back to the days of Blockbuster, who refused to move with the times when LoveFilm and Netflix came along, to see what can happen to organizations that keep their eyes, minds and doors shut.
But for Claus, it’s something more than simply keeping business going. “In the end,”, he says, “it’s about finding the solutions for the biggest problems.”
Claus Cremers was born in Paderborn, a small city which was home to Nixdorf – an early IT pioneer bought by Siemens in the 1990s – meaning he grew up in a mini Silicon Valley in northeast Germany. Claus has therefore always wanted to work with computers.
After studying informatics, Claus honed his interest in business by adding an economics education to his suite of skills. He has a keen interest in the way technology is changing the world we live in and sees this as a route to having more time to be creative and pursue passions, as opposed to simply giving humans more time to be more efficient in work. “I’m really looking forward to driving autonomous vehicles. Not to drive like crazy, but to use this time to do something creative.”
But it’s not just about technology creating space for new ideas, Claus also likes to use his time for sport: “Being outside and being active, for me, means happiness. It’s a form of freedom, it’s a way to be with nature and I feel so lucky to have a passion I can integrate into my life.” Playing for an amateur basketball team, he even considered starting a basketball technology startup to hone his sport.
Claus is optimistic about what the future will bring not just for himself, but for his whole family. He encourages his children to be open to new technological advancements, but also to ensure they are in touch with their human side too: “Kids have technology in their blood already, and I want to teach my kids to continue to embrace the future, stay open, be patient, listen to each other and find peace with themselves.”
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