“Permanently question the existing.”

Manfred Mitreiter, Head of Business-Development & Innovation Management at Hekatron Vertriebs GmbH

The existing was made by someone with less data than you

Innoboard: There is no generally applicable definition of innovation. Every industry and every department conceives it differently. How do you define innovation?

Manfred Mitreiter: To me, innovation does not only mean to invent, create, or develop something new but also to permanently question the existing, to put it to the test, and to renew it if necessary. In the context of a business, it does not matter whether we are talking about products, services, or processes. From the perspective of the company, we must focus on the customer needs on the one hand and the internal efficiency and effectiveness on the other hand to ensure profitability.

You are Head of Business Development and member of the Executive Board at Hekatron. What is the role of business model innovation at Hekatron?

We are currently dealing intensively with business model innovation because we are sure that the useful addition or extension of our existing business model is necessary for further profitable growth. This is necessary for us to set the company on a future-oriented path. We are aware that the world, markets, and customer needs will evolve and change. This is incentive enough for us to develop, improve, and modernize the company as a whole, but also our business models, or to approach completely new business models.

How important do you rate trends and technology scouting and how do you ensure a transfer into the company?

Trend scouting, as well as the closely related technology scouting, is a high priority in our company. We deal, among other things, with a systematic and automated search on the Internet for relevant information on trends that are important to us. This information is processed and made available to the respective people in the company. The information is then often also an important basis for strategic decisions. In addition, we have recently implemented a trend transfer process. In this process, a systematic and regular transfer of the trends relevant for the company is performed on a top management level. Subsequently, specific measures may be adopted. In our quarterly “Hekatron innovation report”, made available to all employees via our intranet, we pick up on interesting topics concerning certain trends in addition to one specific topic. Moreover, we also run a blog on the intranet, where we regularly provide information on relevant and interesting topics.

With regard to networking, sensors technology, and mobile Internet: What will fire and smoke detectors look like in ten years?

The smoke detector will be networked in ten years’ time ‑ no question! Moreover, it will find its way into the “Internet of Things” sooner or later. In addition to the ability to network and the resulting possibilities, smoke detectors will also be operating intelligently in other areas in ten years’ time. Algorithms for secure fire detection, to reduce false alerts, and to run self-diagnostics will become increasingly important. This is made possible through more efficient and, at the same time, extremely energy-efficient processors. This will further promote the use of “energy harvesting”. The self-powered smoke detector is ultimately only a matter of time.

Innovation is rarely easy. The creative power of destruction eliminates competitors but also changes existing structures and mindsets in the company to which we feel strongly attached.

How can companies protect themselves accordingly?

It is important for an innovative company to explore the causes for holding so tightly onto existing structures and mindsets. What exists is known, sometimes convenient, and it works so well! So why change it? Especially in companies that have been successful on the market for many years and have an extensive workforce, the fear of changes is great. And these fears are varied: “Can I still compete?” or “What does the change mean for me personally?” are just two of the many questions that need to be discussed and answered in connection with changes in a company. It can be problematic if the environment requires swift action, where really time intensive work is necessary. Under certain circumstances, it may make sense to build the new, the innovative, in a completely different context – i.e., other companies – and, if necessary, integrate them into existing structures at a later date. The purchase of a company that offers relevant skills can be the method of choice to satisfy the factor of time. In extreme cases, even the creative force of destruction may have to be used – may it be only on the basis of relevant future scenarios – to allow a fresh start and necessary changes.

About the interviewee:

Manfred Mitreiter has over 20 years of professional experience in the field of innovation and project management. He was Head of Development for 8 years and has been Head of Business Development at Hekatron for the last 3 years. Before that, he worked at Liebherr in Switzerland. In addition, he has a personal blog http://blog.mitreiter.de with regular articles on economy, technology, and fire protection.