The SuperIoT AI Hub, one the five finalists of the Champions Challenge 2019, has demonstrated to be a very efficient and still growing network. Established in Finland three years ago, this initiative of the University of Oulu, in partnership with a local ecosystem of innovative companies, research centres and public authorities, has successfully built an effective community and developed tools to support SMEs in their digitalisation. We met with Pekka Jokitalo, leader of this great team of digital technology facilitators.
How did the story of your Digital Hub get started?
The Hub was created in 2016, when the European Commission launched its DIHs development policy and set-up the DIHs catalogue. The University of Oulu saw the opportunity to formalise already existing collaborations and increase their impact.
The local ecosystem in the Oulu Region consists of 300 SMEs, the University of Oulu, the Oulu University of Applied Sciences, the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), 300 AI researchers and experts from these three research institutes, and Business Oulu, a local public business development entity. These experts are at the core of the action of the DIH today, actively involved in the identification and the specification of the requirements and challenges faced by industry and public authorities when it comes to implementing IoT and AI in their processes.
At the same time, we established the Allied ICT Finnish, an ecosystem formed by 10 DIHs. Nowadays, the whole national ecosystem consists of members coming from 7 Finnish ICT hub cities: 17 research organisations, the economic development agencies of those 7 cities and over 1200 companies.
The combination of this national initiative and the one of the European Commission’s policy for fostering the European Industry digital transformation was a great input for the setting-up of our DIH.
Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?
The SuperIoT AI DIH collects together world class innovative IoT and AI companies on one hand and research institutes to digitalise the European industry on the other hand. The DIH utilises deep network and platform economies to deliver complete solutions from sensors and wireless communications to data analytics and data-intensive services seamlessly and cyber secured, integrated into existing processes, tools and platforms. SuperIoT AI DIH is an active member in European DIH network and is registered in the EU catalogue of DIH.
Our basic operations are funded by public authorities, research organisations’ in-kind funding, and companies’ in-kind and direct funding. Business Finland also participated in the launching of our DIH. However, this public funding source will stop so we have to find new streams of revenue. The DIH has special funding service team professionally seeking funding from relevant public and private sources.
How many companies have been accompanied by the DIH on the base of the DIH services?
We have first developed a “Runway model for joint business cases” that we applied extensively within the DIH to support the companies in their digital transformation. This model integrates all our services into one process.
In the Reboot IoT Factory project, over 40 SMEs have been supported in developing and testing their digital and AI solutions on real factory platforms leading to more scalable products and services.
Furthermore, SuperIoT AI DIH, together with the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence AI DIH (FCAI) have developed a Digital Maturity Assessment tool available for all industrial organisations to assess their understanding on the level of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Already more than a hundred organisation have used this free-of-charge self-assessment web tool. Interestingly, as the tool is also available in English, only 2/3 of the participants are from Finland and 15% from the public sector.
This tool produces a basic visualisation of AI maturity in six dimensions:
This tool enables maturity comparison among participants and, in the long run, it should enable the creation of a national and international AI maturity overview.
What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?
We are strongly involved in this European dynamic of DIHs development which has an impact at different geographical levels. We are currently involved in joint research actions with other DIHs in the Interreg Baltic Sea Programme InnoCAPE. The goal of this programme is to support the Industry 4.0 revolution by transforming innovation ecosystem through better capacity and competences of public enablers.
We have also joined the DIHNET.EU community and we are one of the 28 AI DIHs partners that in October 2019 signed a framework cooperation agreement for the creation of a network among Digital Innovation Hubs promoting AI in Europe. Within this AI DIHs network, we also participate in the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation AIOTI initiative. We are cooperating on a voluntary basis to write a process on how we should work together. For example, we are currently working on benchmarking the processes of our portfolio services.
We are very interested in the Digital Europe Programme and the proposal of harmonising the activities of DIHs and their processes. Our hub is preparing an application to become a European DIH and we are in conversations with 5 other DIHs in the area of Oulu dealing with various ICT technologies (i.e. AI, IoT, printed electronics, high power computing, etc). To become a EDIH would enable us to access better possibilities to participate to European projects and receive further funding for operational actions.
We already have a very integrated governance model so the EDIH will not radically change the way we collaborate with other DIHs. The Super IoT AI hub has a leadership and a management steering group that meets bi-weekly to develop our strategy and to plan our activities. This steering group gather representatives from the ICT Research Institutes, companies, public administrations and financing organisations involved in the hub. The other DIHs have the same kind of steering committee which we are participating, too. Thus, this cooperation between various steering groups in Finland is a real added value when working on the structuration of the EDIH.
What could be the added value of Pan-European collaboration?
We are learning a lot from other DIHs and from our participation in European projects and voluntary cooperation. We are presenting our way of working and we have been advocating to others DIHs the Runway model for joint business cases that we have successfully used for several years. This set of processes and services is a very strong tool to help companies in establishing Business cases. Such Pan-European cooperation is a good way to improve your own processes, learn and exchange best practices.