Alfa Laval – a global giant on a digital transformation journey
Interview with Charlotte Staun Christensson
Interview with Charlotte Staun Christensson
Our client Alfa Laval is a leading global provider of products related to heat transfer, separation, fluid handling, and much more for Marine, Energy, and Food. Together we're working on an exciting innovation project to create a shared design system for their digital solutions. We met with Customer Experience Focus Manager Charlotte Staun Christensson to learn more about the project and hear her view on innovation and digital transformation in the industry.
Can you tell a little about the company and what you do for those who are not entirely familiar with Alfa Laval and your offerings?
“Alfa Laval is an engineering-based business. We make heavy machinery and products, mainly for the energy, food, and marine industries. Our hardware control processes like heat transfer, separation, fluid handling, and much more. For example, we provide products that handle wastewater and separation in production processes.”
You’re on a digital transformation journey, where also EGGS is involved – can you tell us about that?
“My team in Alfa Laval works with developing digital solutions for the hardware that we sell. For example, we create HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) used by machine operators and dashboards for monitoring. Alfa Laval is a big company, and we serve many different types of industries, which over time has resulted in us having silo-based solutions. We’re working towards becoming less silo-based and more integrated across industries and developing systems and solutions with a clearer Alfa Laval expression.
EGGS initially became involved to help us analyse the existing systems, and now you're helping us develop new, more integrated design systems. The goal is to generate a better customer experience by creating a common solution for our digital solutions. Users should easily recognise our different solutions, no matter which product they’re using. We want a strong Alfa Laval brand that is expressed and recognised by users everywhere with a uniform way of operating our solutions.”
” Innovation is about solving problems. The solutions can be disruptive, but not necessarily. The core idea of innovation is really about making everyday life easier for our users.”Charlotte Staun Christensson, Customer Experience Focus Manager, Alfa Laval
What will be the advantage for the end-user having a more integrated design?
“Through the work we're doing with user insights and testing, we're getting a much better understanding of their needs, what works and what doesn't. This allows us to create better, safer, and more effective interfaces and digital solutions. For example, we can develop a dashboard design where important information such as alarms and warnings are clearer and more visible and where we have removed unnecessary information. We're able to do this by displaying and enhancing different types of information depending on who the user is. We segment users and hide info that is not relevant to the user. That makes it easier for people to find the information they need and to do their jobs.”
How would you define innovation?
”Innovation is about solving problems. The solutions can be disruptive, but not necessarily. The core idea of innovation is really about making everyday life easier for the user. Innovation doesn’t have to be a big, fluffy, complex thing. It’s about a way of thinking, of constantly looking for better, easier ways of doing things.”
Do you have any tips on what businesses on similar digital transformation journeys to yours should think about?
“Yes. First of all – you need to have UX (User Experience) professionals in-house. That's necessary to be able to work with product development and have someone who understands design thinking and these processes and can drive and own the transformation. You also need a good external design partner to get the outside perspective. Moreover, you need user insight. Always. Focus on getting an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) out instead of focusing on perfection. Trust and follow the processes and methods for UX – trust UX people’s professional experience. They know what they’re doing!”
Any pitfalls that should be avoided?
“Information bias. We’re distant from the users. That might lead you to make assumptions about them that aren’t true. For example, assuming – without verifying – that they don’t know or can’t do a certain thing. Our user groups in Alfa Laval are changing fast and are not the same as ten or 15 years ago. So, we need to continuously update ourselves on who they are, what they know, what they don't know, and what needs they have.
Another thing that is important to remember is that there are no shortcuts to success. Innovation is hard work, and thinking that there are quick fixes or that shiny tech is the answer to your problems is a mistake. Don't focus on glossy, fancy technology. Deal with the basics first and figure out what the needs really are.”
“There are no shortcuts to success. Innovation is hard work, and thinking that there are quick fixes or that shiny tech is the answer to your problems is a mistake.”Charlotte Staun Christensson, Customer Experience Focus Manager, Alfa Laval
What made you chose to work with external designers and EGGS specifically?
” Choosing EGGS for the job was a no-brainer. We knew that you had a lot of relevant experience in the marine industries and, for example, with Framo. And we knew that we needed external help – we simply didn’t have the capacity or competence to do the job. We’re experts on hardware in Alfa Laval, but we needed external experts on software and someone that can give an outside perspective on things. It’s easy to become blind and not see the obvious when you’re so used to your everyday environment.”
What has the experience of working with an external design and innovation team been like?
”It’s been amazing. It feels like the external designers have become part of the Alfa Laval team. It's been a great partnership, and I think that's really important. You don't want a supplier – you want a partner, and that’s what we got. Also, they are genuinely nice people. Down to earth, problem solvers that are a great contribution to the team.”
What challenges do you see for the future in the industry? And for Alfa Laval specifically?
”One thing that we're seeing is that hardware is becoming a commodity. What really creates value is digital services and the insights that they can provide. Also, digital solutions are becoming more and more integrated with the hardware. Companies need to adapt to these changes, and you need to set aside resources and invest in keeping up with these constant transformations in the market. You're never done. You need to constantly improve, change and adapt according to new insights and learn new ways of working and operating.
For example, companies need to find new models for production, sales, payments, and profit with the move toward a circular economy. Change and adaptation are slower and more challenging the larger the organisation is. Alfa Laval is a big organisation, and it will be an important challenge for us to steer in a new direction. ”
“Hardware is becoming a commodity. What really creates value is digital services and the insights that they can provide.”Charlotte Staun Christensson, Customer Experience Focus Manager, Alfa Laval
And what opportunities do you see?
"I think analytics and data will offer great opportunities. Numbers and knowledge will need to be combined and connected. In this, Artificial Intelligence will play an important role. For us and others in the industry, remote support and operations will be an essential service. Being able to serve a vessel remotely has many advantages; it’s easy to be proactive, it saves time and money, is better for the environment, and is safer.
Compliance regulations largely drive innovation in marine industries, and I believe we'll see a significant impact on reducing carbon footprint and measuring this. It's fantastic to be part of big changes like the ones we're facing in the industry and Alfa Laval. For me personally, it's a great experience to be part of building something new and creating a software department basically from scratch.”
Innovation and digitalization in the maritime industry