Swedish power tool maker Husqvarna Group is using the latest digital technologies to transform its business, and CTO Anders Johanson is helping the company rise to the challenge.
The outdoor power tool maker, which operates in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) domains, is developing digital products to complement its hardware.
The group’s Husqvarna and Construction divisions focus on professional customers, while the Gardena division caters for private customers.
Much of Husqvarna’s innovation strategy originates from Johanson and his team.
Digital services include connected lawn mowers, which are already on the market. This is part of Husqvarna’s Gardena Smart System, an internet of things (IoT) solution for gardening in an integrated system.
In a smart garden, technology helps to deliver optimal care to plants and grass. Gardeners can get a real-time overview of their garden through a smartphone or tablet app that enables them to control and configure all their connected devices, even when they are on the move.
Also supporting the Husqvarna Group’s professional customers is Husqvarna Fleet Services, a cloud-based system that is claimed to enable safer and more productive landscaping operations.
Johanson says the organisation’s strategy is driven by three major technology shifts: “The petrol to battery shift, the mechanical to digital reorientation, and the step-changes from manual to autonomous operations.”
These changes are “occurring at a velocity not seen before”, says Johanson, adding that nothing is as important to the company as digitisation.
In fact, digital is now a core competence for Husqvarna as it strives to stay competitive in a challenging market.
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But it is not just the competitive landscape that is changing – Johanson is concerned that technological developments could leave people behind.
By seeing first-hand what effect digital technology is having on traditional industries, Johanson has an insight into the challenges that today’s workers will face in the future.
Manufacturing faces a huge skills challenge in helping workers transition to digitisation, he says. “The young people who will join the workforce in a few years’ time aren’t the problem,” he says. “They find it easy to work with digital systems and by the time they start work, digital tools will already be in operation.
“But how can we train the current workforce?”
This transformation of the workforce must happen quickly, but Johanson says he is yet to see comprehensive training become available. “No schools or other educational institutions have come forward with a good solution that can truly help us to train the workers,” he says. “We have to develop better models for learning to raise workers’ digital skill levels.”
And Johanson should know what he is talking about – he is not only group CTO at Husqvarna, but also a lecturer at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), where he researches future business models driven by digital change.
With his links to academia, Johanson understands the value of businesses working with educational establishments. And he says collaboration with students and researchers is also very important to Husqvarna.
“We run collaboration programmes with elementary schools, and edge research programmes to exploit technology and business models, which is important in today’s changing environment,” he says. “These are exciting times and it is very important for us to open up and collaborate to build for the future.”
But Husqvarna’s knowledge-sharing goes beyond education. It also takes part in a joint collaboration platform with many Nordic industrial companies, known as Combient. Companies in this group include Atlas Copco (vacuum solutions), Electrolux (white goods) and Ericsson (telco).
“It is stimulating work,” says Johanson. “We share knowledge and drive projects together. I can call any of the other companies on the Combient collaboration platform to discuss things.”
But there are some areas where help and advice are not available, he says. That is when Johanson and his lab team have to venture into the unknown, which is a huge challenge.
One “unknown” for Husqvarna is what ecosystems it will have to be part of in the future, when it will have to work with companies it has not collaborated with before.
“When we want to connect our lawn mowers to Alexa, we have to work with Amazon, for example,” says Johanson.
“In the future, there could be startups out there that will disrupt everything in terms of business models for us.”
Another challenge facing the company, and Swedish society as a whole, is the increasing automation of traditional workplaces through artificial intelligence (AI), which Husqvarna is part of.
Johanson wants more public debate about AI and an acceleration of its take-up in Sweden. “We have to increase the pace of change at different levels of society, but also come together as a nation and build on our collective strengths,” he says.