Close ties between academia and business keep Norway at the innovation forefront

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Advancing connectivity to accelerate the digital future

Advance means that Telenor is at the forefront of technological development, constantly innovating and exploring for the benefit of customers, businesses and society.

Tor Andreassen, professor at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and director of the Digital Innovation for sustainable Growth (DIG) centre and the Digital Transformation Hub, says that greater openness and dialogue between academia and enterprise is Norway’s competitive advantage.

Professor Tor Andreassen’s family used to run a suitcase factory. They made the suitcases and a third party sold them to people who needed them. They didn’t know much about their customers back then because the technology to do so simply didn’t exist.

“If you had told my father to embed sensors into his suitcases to collect data, he would have thought I was smoking something,” says Andreassen.

Capturing economic value

Today we live in a world in which we can capture data from just about anything.

User and usage data can be collected, stored, analysed, and used to make better, smarter decisions in business. Even a suitcase business. This is changing enterprise as we know it. It’s disrupting business models. And it’s lifting the veil that once separated companies and customers, creating a direct line to the heart of what people really want.  

A long-time NHH professor of strategy and management, Andreassen speaks passionately about digital transformation. He’s excited by what he calls the “turbo-charging” of Norway’s digitalisation during the Covid-19 crisis and the new wave of technology that has taken the country by storm. But he has a concern as well.

“While it’s important for Norway to be on the frontlines of IT, AI and IoT technology, we also need to be sure to capture economic value from these technologies.”

Dr. Tor Wallin Andreassen
Dr. Tor Wallin Andreassen, Professor of Innovation and the current Director of the research center Digital Innovations for sustainable Growth (DIG) at NHH.

The perfect storm of AI, 5G, IoT and cloud computing has hit Norway, but Andreassen is worried that all our investment will go into making the technology rather than understanding how to use it and extract value from it. Inventions and innovations are like Yin and Yang; you can’t have one without the other. We must balance research into both areas, he says. 

These concerns were shared by Telenor, one of the makers of such technologies and a decades-long friend and partner to NHH. Together, they envisioned a new kind of arena to address these challenges, planting the seeds for what is now the Digital Transformation Hub@NHH, or the Hub@NHH. Established in 2019, the Hub’s purpose is to ignite a dialogue among Norway’s corporates, stimulating new ideas and putting a spotlight on the problems that need solving.

The Hub is an ‘academia meets business’ arena in which together we discuss and debate the problems we face, using real-life insight and experience.

— Tor W. Andreassen

Value creation, innovation, and transformation in a digital era is the crux of perhaps every subject brought up at the Hub. Innovation, such as commercialising an invention, is something that Andreassen claims is all too often being done in the wrong way and needs to change.

“Data from the Norwegian Innovation Index indicates that most businesses today innovate in their customer relationship area to safeguard their cashflow rather than do what is best for customers. That means that innovation is done to lock people into subscriptions or services to cement the relationship, which isn’t necessarily to the customer’s advantage.”

Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen, Norway
Andreassen describes the The Hub, which is located at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen, Norway, as a place for people who wouldn’t normally connect to come together and discuss real-life dilemmas. (Photo: Varde Solutions)

Connects the unconnected

Dialogue is the mother of all ideas. The Hub members bring perspectives from their respective industries, using expertise from NHH, combined with insights from their peers, to re-frame the problems and weigh the pros and cons of disrupting their own business models. 

“I was recently speaking to peers in the U.S. and Australia, and they are drooling over what we have achieved. We have managed to create an alliance – a true partnership – between academia and enterprise, using real business and real problems as our starting point. It’s unprecedented.” 

The partnership model that NHH has created is, as Andreassen says, rather unique. It means that when they send out a survey to corporates, NHH gets on average a 75-80% response rate. Harvard, on the other hand, typically gets 15-20%, according to Andreassen. He attributes this to the Scandinavian model, which is based on trust and cooperation.

“Why would a CEO want to talk to a researcher? To be truly relevant and interesting, researchers need to understand the business problem, and CEOs have an appetite for research that enables them to find the best implementation for complex problems. We need to work together rather than in parallel.”

NHH’s DIG/HUB universe with partners. DIG partners (at the bottom) are automatic members of The HUB@NHH.

Sense of urgency drives openness and collaboration

There’s also, perhaps, a greater sense of urgency in the small country of Norway. Oil has been quite literally the fuel of the economy for 50+ years, and the country is in hot pursuit of a successor once fossil fuels are benched for good. This means that new sources to fund the welfare state are required. To make the transition to sustainable growth in a digital era, business and academia must learn to work together.

“The Hub is the research world and the business world coming together to figure out how to capture value in the future. Telenor and NHH shared a vision, and two years in, we are already seeing the benefits.”

Andreassen is a self-proclaimed “hopeless technology optimist” but with a caveat. Technology optimism depends on technology adoption, he says, and the Hub is an arena for businesses to hone their skills and knowledge to ensure that invention and innovation always go hand-in-hand.

“We need inventions but by god we need innovation – taking that invention to the market. Nothing happens unless people – leaders, customers, employees and citizens – start using it.”

About the Digital Transformation Hub 

Digital Transformation Hub @ NHH is part of Digital Innovation for sustainable Growth (DIG) – Norway’s leading research centre on digital innovation for sustainable growth at NHH Norwegian School of Economics. Its purpose is to assist leaders in their strategic decision-making on how to create, deliver, communicate, and capture value in a digital era. Here’s how to join.