Executive Insights are a series of discussions with c-suite executives from a range of industries, to learn about their roles and the part that digital transformation plays within their large organisations.
As the Chief Innovation and Digital Officer of a FTSE 100 company, it is unsurprising that Inken Braunschmidt has a lot on her plate. Fortunately, she managed to squeeze in a chat with me about the role that digital transformation plays at Halma, and her experience of engaging with scaleup technology.
Halma is unusual. With a collection of 50 or so small to medium-sized subsidiary companies, this can create challenges (e.g. decentralised, differing systems), but it is also Halma’s strength. The organisation identifies emerging category leaders across hazard detection and life protection, and has the dynamism that comes with smaller independent entities, but with the benefits of a large corporate (such as financial firepower to make acquisitions).
They are driven by a clear purpose and are focused on niche markets which have long-term drivers. This means they are committed to growing the companies that they acquire, and taking them to the next level. Inken highlights that there is also a strong focus on identifying opportunities to improve business performance across their portfolio. Given the decentralised structure of the company, Inken reveals that one of the priorities for Halma is to strengthen their commitment to identifying convergence opportunities. Currently, the 50 companies are all relatively siloed with their own systems and technologies.
Inken emphasises that the companies should not be developing different IoT or software platforms and reinventing existing solutions, but learning from one another and sharing insights – a benefit of being a collection of businesses under one umbrella company. Yet Inken also recognises that there are external partners that can provide solutions straight out the box.
Inken reveals that she is constantly looking for ways to improve collaboration and best practice sharing within Halma, and opportunities to be able to “copy and paste things internally”.
“That’s why it’s that combination of having a look at what we have developed internally and what we can do with it. But it’s also looking for external partners to work with, and not to reinvent the wheel again.”
As a result, at Halma they are proactive in engaging with scaleup technology. However, Inken stresses that there is a difference between startups and scaleups – “I would prefer [to work with] scaleups, because these companies have already had their first customers, they have had their major learnings. […] But they’re still small enough and agile.”
Inken’s preference for scaleups may have something to do with the fact that they have similar characteristics to the Halma companies as they are of small to medium size themselves. Inken reveals that given the scaleup is not confronted with a big corporate, “these kinds of partnerships with scaleups are quite successful”.
When asked about the benefit of engaging with companies like swiftscale, Inken states that these types of companies “have the best overview of interesting startups or scaleups within the ecosystem”, providing a filtered representation of the market, which can “make your life at the company and the corporate much easier.” But having internal scouting teams can also be beneficial, by having “eyes and ears in the innovation hotspots”, demonstrating the importance of being immersed in the scaleup ecosystem.
Regarding the impact of COVID, it turns out that Halma was well equipped to weather the storm. Having a decentralised model meant that different parts of the business were impacted at different times according to how the virus spread throughout the world. The agility and dynamism of the small to medium-sized companies meant that they “could act fast on whatever needs to be done”.
Moreover, Inken highlights that Halma “doesn’t need a revolution based on a post-COVID world”, as they were already well on their way to digital transformation: “I think we started that journey already three years ago”. As a result, Halma did not need to shift their priorities, unlike many other large organisations, but simply had to double down on their existing purpose and strategy. This period of uncertainty has instead proven that digital transformation can help organisations diminish their vulnerability to external shocks, and that engaging with scaleup technology can help enormously with this.