This month we travel to the Western area of the Scandinavian Peninsula, to Norway, a wealthy European country known for its glaciers, deep costal fjords, and abundant energy resources. Located in the vibrant city of Oslo, there is a young and pioneering Digital Innovation Hub – DigitalNorway -thriving in a country with a well-developed digital infrastructure and a public and financial sector ready to invest in digital solutions.
We met with Pavan K Sriram, Head of International Projects, and Eirik Andreassen, Manager of DigitalNorway, to know more about what makes unique this Digital Innovation Hub.
How did DigitalNorway start?
Eirik: DigitalNorway was stablished in 2016 as a non-profit organisation to contribute increasing the pace in the digitalisation of Norway. In 2027, fifteen of Norway’s largest businesses entered as owners of the DIH and we started a partnership with the Norwegian government. We are currently thirteen employees working to connect companies and experts together to share experience and expertise across industries and disciplines.
Large companies in Norway had the impression that clients’ requests were becoming more and more advanced. Most of these companies rely in a large network of subcontractors, and they had concerns about if these subcontractors were going to be up to the standards when applying new technologies. DigitalNorway was stablished to help Norwegian small and middle size enterprises to apply digital technologies, grow their business and become more competitive by using digital technologies; and by doing so, also becoming more attractive as supplier to large companies.
We have principally three main tasks: gather information from the ecosystem, process the information into knowledge that SMEs can use, and adapt the learning to the needs of these enterprises by disseminating it through different channels.
Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?
Eirik: From the point of view of a medium or small enterprise, the primarily need is to remain competitive. Hence, all you do as manager and a leader is to ensure that that role of the company is maintained; this secures value for your clients and, in some way, security for your employees. To make sure that we do that properly there are some boundary conditions that need to be in place, and that is why we work with authorities and policy makers. The role we take in everything we do towards politicians or policy makers or anybody responsible for the boundary condition is to be the voice of the needs of the SMEs, because the higher you go up in the policy making hierarchy, the further away you are from those who have the need for good policy. Being a DIH, we have the unique role of filling that gap and bringing closer the different parts involved in the Norwegian ecosystem.
The most important ecosystems we participate with are the Clusters, the Industry organisations, the Industry Parks, etc. all those that organise networks. We are also responsible for the secretariat for DIGITAL21, a strategy process for research and competence building in Norway, in which the digital needs for SMEs to succeed are translated into a policy document. We also have similar documents in other areas such as oil gas, forestry, health, construction, etc.
Many of the Norwegian SMEs still struggle to get access to data and to be able to use it in the best possible way. There are many service and data providers, but the data provided has many different formats and it is very unstructured. In DigitalNorway we have seen this as a need, so we are working together with one of the policy makers and have stablished through a project called Datafabrikk or Data Factory. At the beginning the platform will use mainly public data – in Norway we have a good set up of public data – and gradually will be extended to other data sources.
What specific services does your DIH offer?
Eirik: We offer a training course in business development, which is a workshop-based program that is currently being held digitally due to COVID-19. This program takes companies through a fine thinking process and a business development process where they are challenged on the use of data in their business models. It is a combination of inspirational and work-based program where they work with a case from their own company.
We also have what we call in Norwegian roadmaps. These are step by step guides for people who want to exploit the opportunities for instance, in the innovation process. We have the same type of roadmaps for efficiency, and for leadership and digital transformation, and for sustainability and digital marketing. This roadmap concept is continuously growing as there are new needs from SMEs and we find new opportunities to provide this.
We also have many courses on digital technologies to give people a basic knowledge, but precise definition of the various digital technologies (e.g., machine learning, IoT, etc.) so they can start or follow a conversation. We also have an industrial Digital Academy aimed at more advanced learning on digital technologies, and more specialised projects within specific important industries in Norway such as oil and gas or power utilities. Additionally, we provide EU projects and participate in boards and governing bodies where we contribute to develop policy and policy documents.
How many companies have been accompanied by the DIH on the base of the DIH services?
Eirik: We provide our services to SMEs as broad as possible and primarily through the Clusters. It is difficult to know the needs of the SMEs without working with them, that is why working with Clusters help us to scale the services. We only provide one service directly to SMEs, the workshop-based programme in which we have already accompanied over 250 companies.
Pavan: We are also providing direct support to SMEs through the FSTP funding of EU projects, closely matching companies with potential partners since the launch of the project’s open calls.
Did you receive any EU funds and, if so, how did you employ them?
Pavan: We are involved in two on-going EU Horizon 2020 projects. In DIGI-B-CUBE our role is in accelerating innovation support in healthcare and IT sectors, and in Trinity which focuses on advanced robotics, our task is accelerating innovation towards SMEs in agile manufacturing. INNOCAPE project is about competence building between Nordic and Baltic country. SMEs can use InnoCAPE digital maturity assessment tool to discover where they stand in their digital journey, compare themselves with other industry players and identify their areas of possible development.
What could be the added value of Pan-European collaboration?
Eirik: Our focus is mainly on Norwegian companies that is why most of the information in our website is in Norwegian. Of course, nowadays there are more opportunities in the European space than only in the Norwegian one. We believe that if we can make our services offering valuable and useful for Norwegian SMEs, it should be valuable and useful also for European SMEs. The collaborations we have within the European Union’s projects are important for us because they help us stablish connections with other DIHs and through them to SMEs. At the moment, we do not have other Pan-European collaborations outside the EU projects.
What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?
Pavan: The Digital Europe Program is closer to application of technology to SMEs and that is also our main focus. We are not a research institute, but it is important for us to follow and be part of the technology development; both to influence and to capture and disseminate it. We are in the consortium of two European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) applications for Norway. We have a strong vision on terms of DIH, so we are watching closely how Digital Europe is developing and we will play our key role from Norway in this activity.
This has been a challenging year, how has your DIH been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Eirik: We have not been greatly affected by the covid situation in a negative way. The companies that we support are really concern about how digital can help them, so we are busier than ever! Looking at the negatives, the question is: of all those things we are doing, are they the right ones? Creativity and collaboration have been badly affected. Innovation and thinking processes actually require you to sit down and let the thoughts evolve. When you only have your own mind to listen to all the ideas are great, and you are missing the discussion and correction needed to develop really good solutions. Therefore, we are extremely busy, work a lot of hours, but we are not sure we are always doing the right things. Time will tell.
Interview by Marta Palau Franco (DIHNET)