Searis, is a industrial software (an ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT)) company based in Trondheim, Norway. Founded in 2012 by cybernetic students and NTNU graduates Kjell Husby, Tor-Inge Eriksen, Bernt-Johan Bergshaven and Tore Norheim Hagtun. Connecting existing and new data points, Searis ‘helps people and organisations solve problems and create new innovation opportunities’. Their product ‘Clarify’ is an interactive timeline that acts as a collaborative platform to support industrial operations in data driven decision making, collaboration and innovation. ‘Making complex industrial data understandable and available when and where its needed.’ Searis’ clients range from Eide Fjordbruk, Lingalaks, Orkel and Cflow spanning industries from agriculture, aquaculture, shipping and manufacturing. ANTI has worked with Searis in brand development from the visual identity and communications to UX design and product development of Clarify.
TM At Searis you’re using data to help people make better decisions, seeing the world as data points; keys to unlock new opportunities. But for so many the idea of ‘data’ is abstract, even alienating. However, without a doubt the measurement and connection of ‘things’, in a factory to in our home, to even ourselves, is going to have a profound impact on our world.
What are the top three real changes you expect the industrial internet of things (IIoT) will have in the world over the next five years?
TH More than being an IIoT company, we see IIoT, data and technology in general as tools to solve problems and to ignite new innovations. Our core competency is cybernetics - meaning how we can apply technology to control a system or a process to reach a desired state or goal.
Ever since we started the company our goal has been to apply our technical background to traditional industries with potential to improve. All human activity has a footprint and an impact, and in a world of finite resources we need to do better, to reduce waste and to do more with less. That is the fundamental challenge we want to contribute to solve with our technology and services. We truly believe technology and better use of data can have a positive impact in doing so.
Over the next few years I believe we will hear a lot more cool and documented stories on how technology and data will contribute to:
Changing the way we work
Today people spend too much effort on tasks technology should take care of, such as collecting, organising and putting pieces of data together to try to form the complete picture. Data is often of poor quality and the whole process feels more like a burden than as a useful tool.
Emerging IIoT technologies, cloud platforms, machine learning and in general better data infrastructure is changing this. Technology can and will take care of problems of routine and scale. This in turn frees up time and enable people to apply their focus, knowledge and expertise to solve the problems they face in their role. Regardless if you work on the factory floor or if you are a C-level executive, everyone can benefit from a better data foundation to work with. Today a lot of work is carried out based on static reports that are outdated almost at the moment they are made, but with new technologies past, real time and future data will become available to all.
This will push every role to become more data driven in the next few years. This in turn can have a lot of positive effects for efficiency, resource use, footprint, etc. when people turn data into value and actual problem solving. But it also demands a new set of skills for many people, basically learning the tools to be more of a data analyst within their area of responsibility and expertise.
Our responsibility as a technology company is to make data less abstract, and make people understand that data is just a natural representation of the world they work with every day. To make data great (again?) and a natural working tool for everyone!
Changing the way we collaborate
Complex industrial production generates a lot of data and includes many people with different areas of expertise. As well as empowering individual experts to make better decisions, I also believe that modern technology will change the way organisations collaborate both internally and externally. This might especially be true in aquaculture, where all activity will impact your neighbour, giving very clear incentives to collaborate more.
Technology can help us gather and share better information, as well as showing us the effects of our choices, before we make them, by modelling and simulating different scenarios. Technology can help us better see the consequences of our actions, leading to more informed choices and helping us optimise for people, planet and profit.
From our work we see that there is enormous potential in improving production by bringing colleagues together, and making it easier for them to share insight, experience and expertise. We believe the combination of human expertise, the best possible data foundation and supported by machine learning is the key to more wins going forward. In addition better collaboration between organisations, researchers, governments and technology providers will be easier, based on the best possible data foundation.
Technology will support this effort, but it needs to be followed up with organisations being willing to adapt and improve how they work - together.
Changing the way we innovate
The industries we work with have a huge potential in putting the data they already have to use, both to solve concrete problems, but also to unlock totally new innovations. Emerging technologies as mentioned before will lower the threshold for testing new data driven ideas, concepts, products and so on - moving traditional industrial companies into a new space of data driven innovation. This will affect both how they do production internally, but also the range of products and services they can offer their customers. We are only at the beginning of grasping what this will mean for new business models, new data products, etc. We will also see a lot of exciting initiatives in the machine learning/AI and data science domains, to improve production and tackle important problems.
We are already collaborating with our customers to find possibilities to improve both their products and services based on the data we collect and that is super exciting!
But again, it comes down to having organisations that are willing to change and act on new opportunities.
I believe the companies that will have the most success in the future are those being able to observe, interpret, decide, act and learn from their data as quickly as possible. That demands a lot from both technology and organisations, but the change will be real and it is coming!
TM AI is a hot topic with a great deal of excitement (and fear) around it, understandably so. But one of the many profound discussions we’ve had working together has been around IA (Intelligence Amplification). IA is a topic not commonly discussed or even known about. Can you explain what Intelligence Amplification is and what it could mean for organisations and even individuals in the future?
TH For me the main point about Intelligence Amplification, as well as the cybernetic mindset, is that it acknowledges that complex problems demand collaboration between many different technologies and systems to be solved - there is no quick fix. With all the hype around AI and other new technologies it can be easy to believe that these will fix everything. Humans will become obsolete and even slaves of our robot overlords, in a perfect world where everything can be quantified and AI will make the correct decision, every time.
I believe that is hardly the case.
AI can be a great tool to solve specific challenges and optimisation problems, but it is seldom the solution alone. At least not for complex industrial production companies such as our customers, where your organisations success depends on many smaller optimisation problems.
The best pop cultural reference to explain IA may be Iron Man. The perfect symbiosis between human and machine, where both are needed for success. The Iron Man suit amplifies the human capabilities, but it is still the human that is in control and makes the decisions. Both human physical and mental capabilities are amplified based on sensor fusion and computing power, as well as the increased arsenal of tools that the exoskeleton suit represents. The key point is that the combination of human skills and technology is needed to save the day. And that is what makes Iron Man awesome.
This might seem like a stupid example and not very relatable when you are working on a factory floor, but there are several levels to IA. Based on our experience from various industries we believe the key to improving industrial processes is combining the best data foundation with human expertise and data science.
Data science and modern computing power can solve problems of routine and scale, see patterns, give suggestions, make predictions, filter information and combine data across sources, to avoid information overload. Humans have experience, can offer different perspectives, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving skills, improvisation and so on. Skills that are very hard for computers to replicate.
Our contribution is building that software that brings all these pieces together. Our technology brings in both data, people and data science - to ignite, share and «amplify» the common intelligence of everyone involved in the organisation.
I believe keeping humans in the loop is vital both now and in the future, for better decisions and to control and understand AI. Of course humans have flaws, errors of judgement and bias, but so do AI. The world is not 100% quantifiable and there will always be flaws and errors. But if we acknowledge that and work to minimise it, we are in a much better position than in the doomsday scenarios where we give all control to some super all seeing, all knowing general AI.
TM Norway is a making great leaps in the world of tech. With amazing innovations and startups emerging out of Trondheim. What is it about Norway internationally, and Trondheim as a community, that has made it a great home and launch platform for Searis?
TH I think the mindset in Norway in general is very entrepreneurial, but in a different way than the «unicorn-culture" we see internationally and that is all the buzz these days. Historically Norway has not been an easy place to survive, so we’ve had a need to harness the land and the ocean and we’ve had to build solid, quality solutions to live here.
This mindset of «adapt and overcome» in combination with a history of quality engineering is something I think gives Norway an edge. We might not move as «fast and break things» as well as others, but moving moderately fast and fixing things has its positive sides too.
In combination with Norwegian organisations in general having flat hierarchy, openness and a willingness to test out new technology, I think Norway has a very good foundation to build upon. Especially in heavy industries as those we operate in. If we can combine the needs of the established industry with startups being able to build scalable tech to solve those problems, Norway can be a great first market before going global.
We are so lucky to be working with several forward leaning companies with relationships based on trust and a «can do» attitude and that makes developing new technology so much easier. Good partnerships means everything for our ability to develop, iterate and test our tech out in the real world, with real data and real people.
The Nordic Model with a sensible work life balance and social security of course also makes Norway a safe place to start up. Although in some cases it might be too safe and comfortable to drive forward new innovation.
Trondheim has a very nice mix of startups, research and education institutions, as well as some larger companies attracting international talent. In addition there is more and more happening on the cultural front and it is close to both the coast and the mountains. All in all Trondheim is a great place to work and live, with a lot of untapped potential.
TM Starting a business is a challenge in itself, but when you’re product and service is breaking new ground with no frames of reference, it is a major task.
What have been the big challenges you have faced in communicating the value of Searis’ services and Clarify as a product to potential customers?
TH We came up with the Clarify concept after several years of developing data solutions for industrial companies. With Clarify we are aiming to tackle some fundamental problems across industries and sectors that we have encountered. So we are very confident that our technology solves real world problems and can fuel positive change for our customers, but communicating the value and placing Clarify into their everyday life can be a big challenge.
We need to convince people that data, expert collaboration and data science are vital to solve the problems our customers care for. Then we need to show that the product in itself has the functionality and the vision to actually solve those in a way that our customers believe in. We have a big responsibility in proving the value for individuals, groups of people as well as the whole organisation.
As you mentioned earlier, many see data as alienating and a source of frustration. A vital part of Clarify is the social interaction and knowledge sharing we want to enable, centred around the data we collect. That means we need to get both the enthusiasts and those less enthusiastic onboard. To get people onboard, regardless of position and employment level, everyone need to see the value and believe that it will solve the problems they individually care for. So we have spent a lot of time on understanding what the fundamental challenges are for various players, to get our message across and build a product that can actually meet these demands.
In addition we need to help people see future possibilities and innovations that are possible when they get control of their data. In some cases that means coming up with ideas to how they can shift their whole business model based on their data. That means we need to have a deep understanding of the business problems our customers care for, as well as the knowledge on how technology and data can be applied to solve those.
TM How have you overcome these?
TH It basically comes down to spending hours and hours with our customers, testing, learning and iterating. And of course a kickass team that can put lessons learned into practice, both through communication and more importantly the product and technology we build.
Our approach from day one has been to collaborate with our customers, to truly understand their situation, problems and opportunities. We started the company while still studying, by renting a car and touring Norway to learn and figure out how we can contribute to positive change. That is still in our core today and will be for the future. Being closely in touch with our customers is crucial to what we do, both in communication and in building a product that actually works out in the real world.
The development of Clarify have, and will be, a collaborative effort between us and our customers. Constant iteration and improvement to get where we want to go.
From a communications standpoint it has been very important for us to show actual use cases that resonate with new customers. We will be focusing much more on telling these stories in the year to come.
We have also been very conscious in not overselling technology and what it can do, but being clear on what is possible short and long term, deliver what we promise, fix problems and just being enjoyable to work with.
It is all about building trust in data, technology, our product and us as a company. It takes time and is a constant work in progress, with constant room for improvement. But we are getting better and better at it and look forward to taking on more customers in the upcoming year.
TM Searis is essentially an industrial B2B company. Yet you have taken a very human centred approach to the brand and in product development. Why has investing in design been so important and what has been impact?
TH As should be clear by now, we believe that keeping humans in the loop are key to solving the industries biggest challenges. And in order to build a product that people will love, we off course need to focus on humans, both in design and communication.
Technology and data in itself has no value if no-one is using it and design plays a crucial role in making complex data understandable, enjoyable and useful. Industry solutions are notoriously famous for having horrible UI and UX, contributing to people seeing data/technology as a burden, not a tool. But people deserve better and it is our duty to improve and clarify.
We have spent a lot of energy and resources on vital design questions such as - how can we make data come alive, be exciting and spur a sense of discovery? How can we make complex data understandable for a wide range of people in various roles and of various backgrounds? How do we show just enough information to make sense, but avoid information overload? How can we help people dig deeper if they want to? How do we help people get the overview they need to do their job as best they can? How do we facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration between colleagues? How do we combine data with human expertise? And so on and so on. For us it is a constant iterative process working closely together with our customers.
The design process and working with you in Anti has also been very important in clarifying our message. Being engineers and developers, there are so many things we want to communicate, but the branding process has helped us focus our efforts, both in verbal and visual communication, as well as in the product itself.
The real impact I believe will come further down the road - when we truly succeed in improving peoples lives, the impact of organisations and in turn the sustainability of our common planet.
TM Today Searis is operating across 4 continents, with 22 industrial operations with around 6Billion data points logged… so whats next?
TH At the moment we are focusing on Norwegian aquaculture as our first target market. We have been working with the industry for several years and they have som big challenges that Clarify is in a very good position to contribute to solve. Our goal is to go all in this year and establish a strong position in this segment.
First we take aquaculture - then we take the rest of the industrial world!
Using data for decision making, collaboration and innovation are universal problems and we have global ambitions to clarify. Our goal is to expand internationally to new segments and verticals and we are working together with different customers to ensure we build scalable tech to fundamental problems across industries. The future looks very promising and 2019 will be a very exciting year indeed!
Tom Morgan is Executive Creative Strategy Director & Partner at ANTI
Tore Norheim Hagtun is CEO & Co-founder at Searis