Q&A on Innovation
The INNOVAMI association interviews Alessando Pasini, CEFLA's Innovation Director
Alessandro, what does Innovating mean to CEFLA? What role does it play in the company, and why?
CEFLA sees product and process innovation as engines of growth. More specifically, the Innovation team provides – according to guidelines set out by the Board of Directors – management with close support in strategic planning and in defining innovation and/or business development plans. For companies that want to be market leaders, time is of the essence: changes can occur at a dizzying pace and making quick strategic decisions can mean not only getting ahead of the competitors but also creating a gap they’ll find difficult to bridge. That’s why we need people and resources to analyse market needs, to carry out continuous technological surveillance so that we are, above all, ready to act even on the weakest signs of opportunity.
Defining the “Digital Revolution” is often tricky. What does it means to CEFLA and how are you facing the challenge?
All 5 CEFLA businesses are facing the changes brought about by the Digital Revolution. What we need at this time is data, an ability to measure results and the effects of change. The availability of reports, past trends and statistics allows faster decision-taking and enhances understanding of complex realities.
Our history teaches us how, as volumes and experience grew, CEFLA’s mechanical skills improved rapidly to make us a key player; then, in the 1990s, the company went from being a mostly mechanical enterprise to a mechatronic one. Later, the huge impact of electronics on processes and products forced shareholders to go for carefully-targeted takeovers to boost specific skill sets. Today, we’re in the midst of the third wave of change being driven by software: now, innovation projects almost always concern the multi-faceted digital world and we’re gearing up to face those changes.
Some examples of applications you’re working on?
CEFLA Shopfitting has focused on “smart shelving system” solutions: “intelligent” shelving able to understand the person standing next to it and send data to both consumer and supermarket owner. So, in a few years, when we go and do the shopping it’ll be the shelf itself that tells us what we’ve forgotten to buy or points out the offers most likely to interest us. These projects have already won CEFLA Shopfitting two digital innovation awards in the retail sector (in 2016 and 2017). C-LED, instead, is working on interactive light projects: via a series of sensors installed in the light unit and a special multi-colour LED card, in the near future we’ll be able to enjoy automatically activated, “made-to-measure” light. For example, when we wake up there’ll be a warmer light to ease us into the day. In the afternoon we’ll have a colder, more intense light as we engage, for example, in physical exercise. In the evening, softer, directed lighting will make it easier to read without disturbing those alongside us. Further projects include improvements to cloud infrastructure and the creation of shared services that allow our products to be connected up to individuals.
What does CEFLA see as the guiding principles for Italian businesses to meet this challenge?
Everything revolves around customers and their needs. Our goal is to make their lives simpler. Understanding customers and improving digital interaction are the guiding principles of product development. Having access to the right technical skills will be equally important: we need to hire people with the right mix of experience who come from a decidedly digital background, and they’re not easily found. CEFLA recently instituted an Academy to hone young graduates’ digital skills so they can be employed in key digital innovation projects. It will get under way in September. We hope the experience proves to be a rewarding one and look forward to repeating it in the future.
How do you make the most of innovation to accelerate the digitalization process? What role do Start-ups play in this revolution?
CEFLA has always believed in the importance of networking and creating systems with leading companies and top people.
Our corporate history has several such examples: the development of digital medical X-ray imaging products at the beginning of the century, thanks also to collaboration with a Bologna University start-up; the establishment of C-LED as an internal spin-off, allowing a group of highly motivated, skilled people to devote themselves 100% to the new lighting business. There are plenty of other such examples. The hope is that, in the future, we’ll be able to organise a start-up call that can be financially and strategically supported by CEFLA.
From your viewpoint, what role should INNOVAMI play?
Innovami already plays a pivotal role for both the territory and CEFLA, which is, moreover, practically the business incubator’s partner via Bryo.
The hope – or, rather, the goal – is to create a stronger link with Innovami so it can act as a catalyst for start-ups that are crucial to the development of both CEFLA and other local companies.
How do you see your company 10 years from now?
It’s hard to make forecasts. That said, we’re more and more convinced that digital skills are essential and that we need, in this sense, to invest in people and training.
Software development will become an ever-more essential component of market interaction for all CEFLA business units, but also for the development of internal, manufacturing and know-how management processes. If CEFLA succeeds in maintaining that team spirit which has – starting from its shareholders – been its hallmark for 85 years and if it continues to create value through investment and strategic vision, I’m confident we’ll be able to adapt to the changes the market demands.