The 3rd “IEEE-TEMS International Conference on Technology and Entrepreneurship 2023” took place in Kaunas, where tens of business, academia, and government innovation specialists gathered at Kaunas University of Technology from all around the world. With sustainability and digital transformation as the main topic of the conference, innovation professionals discussed how all sectors of our society should adapt to modern challenges.
The worldwide well-known guests of the conference, Sudeendra Koushik, IEEE member, who previously worked as an Innovation Director at “Volvo”, and Andy Chen, IEEE member and CEO of the global consulting firm, agreed to share their thoughts in the exclusive interview.
Sustainability and digital ecosystem. What are the main global challenges on sustainability, in your opinion? How can technology help address these challenges?
Sudeendra Koushik: When you look at the digital ecosystem and global sustainability, I always felt that different countries are at different stages in this. Let’s call it evolution or transformation. It means that different countries respond to different challenges. For example, a European country and an Asian country might have a different set of challenges. The response will also be very different.
Why is this a challenge? Most companies are global, but at the same time, they have to be more than ambidextrous to deal with this diversity of responses. And because the companies have to respond at different scales, I think this will be a challenge for companies to deal with.
Now how does technology help? When you look at a solution, if the technologies can be used to scale the impact or the scope of the solution to the local region. For example, a Euro 6 versus a Euro 7 could be a scale of sustainability from a policy perspective. So, I think the challenge is the diversity. But the tool that can help in terms of technology is how companies can scale these solutions in these regions.
How does the intersection of technology and sustainability impact modern society and businesses?
Andy Chen: One of the things that we’re facing is climate change, right? Climate change is creating so many disasters – floods, some of the strongest typhoons or hurricanes. I think it’s going to impact everybody. And if we had a technology that could help us reduce the footprint, that’s going to sustain the earth for much longer. So, it is going to impact everybody. It’s going to impact the society, the business. And I think we need to combat it with some technologies.
What are the most significant innovations today, shaping the way we will act in the future? How should businesses and academia see it and use it?
Sudeendra Koushik: I think because of our consumption-driven behavior, all of these problems are getting amplified. For example, you go to a buffet, you pick up a plate, and once you’re done, you put that away and take another plate. So, it’s a kind of behavior which is the norm. And I’m not saying it’s about right or wrong, but I think the biggest challenge is how people are going to consume meaningfully. It’s about how we do it.
I heard Lithuania’s autumn is nothing like this. So, you see it. It is not something somebody talks over a news channel that is going to happen. It is happening. The reason why that is important is when people have to change, they have to experience it.
Behavior change using technology is very difficult because it’s basically a trigger internally to people that I want to do it differently. Otherwise, there is an old Roman saying that good people don’t need laws, and the bad ones will find a way around it. So, I think governance still depends on individual motivation.
All these technologies should lead people to see there is a bigger picture. As they always say, we have borrowed this planet from our children. But that doesn’t change my day-to-day decisions. Behavior change happens only if I see an incentive in it. Either the value of the new way of doing things is higher than the current value, or the effort of doing the new one is equal to or lesser than the current one.
For example, we can talk about electric vehicles. You can put sheet after sheet of facts that will help the energy. But even if it is true, is it convenient for the person? It is still a challenge as an individual to change the behavior. The user is concerned about how often can he get a charger compared to how often he gets a fuel station today.
What opportunities open for businesses in these times of digital transformation?
Andy Chen: With digital transformations, you’ll be able to reach out to any corner of the world. It gives the business in the lesser countries huge opportunities to compete with some of the more developed countries. But right now, everybody is talking about digital transformations. They want to build something in the metaverse, something in a different world. That becomes a new field. You argue your reality with the augmentations of what’s in the metaverse. It’s going to spring into a different type of thinking for younger people.
Most companies would now have real estate in the metaverse. That’s where people can go there. People can have concerts or anything. You don’t need to have a lot of buildings. You can just host the virtuals. That’s an opportunity for people with lesser infrastructures to be able to have that leverage field. Google has its own and you can have your own islands and things like that. It’s almost like a different world.
In your opinion, in what direction digital transformation will shape society in the future? Where are we moving?
Sudeendra Koushik: I’m a protagonist of saying we should not focus on technology but on the benefits of technology. It’s very easy to get caught in this pursuit of technology and forget the benefits of technology. If we use only digital technologies to master this change, I think we will struggle. As I said before, lifestyle change is going to be the basis for bringing technology to people to do that. So, people growing their own stuff, people doing their own localized civilization. I think the transformation should focus on who wants that, and give them that. At the same time, you cannot impose anything because people are free to choose in this world, but the transformation challenge will remain how to focus on the benefits. So, people have to be given those choices and as technologists, we need to really focus on the benefits of technology rather than on technology itself.
Andy Chen: I think the way that we’re going to shape our futures with these digital transformations is we’re going to be allowed more integration between online and the physicals. After the pandemic we know that we have a lot of conferences, we have a lot of stuff that goes online, people working without going to the offices. And I think that’s where the opportunity is for a future society because we don’t always have to be in one room to do things. So, I think in the future, there will be lots that will remain on physical presence. But the ability to be able to work together remotely and to collaborate around the globe. I think we’re seeing more and more of that coming through.
In your opinion, in what direction should business move today?
Andy Chen: The business has to be more agile. They need to take the pulse of the consumers and think ahead with the strategies. What are your strategies? How are you going to reach out to your customers? Those are the companies that I think is going to be able to serve and survive in the future.
Sudeendra Koushik: I think businesses should start looking at the well-being of their consumers. Because somewhere along the lines of capitalism, competition has taken the better half. We have learned how to be competitive, but we have not mastered how to be collaborative. So, I think partnership is the new leadership.
And if you look at all the World Economic Forum and other surveys about future skills, what should be these new companies doing? The first thing is complex problem-solving. And it’s just not problem-solving, it is complex problem-solving because these are so difficult to overcome by one person, one company, one team that you need to collaborate and that’s where the collaboration will move from co-innovation. So, a lot of fundamental shifts are expected in my view.
Discussion and partnership with the innovation specialists is a part of the “IN4ACT” project, implemented by the Kaunas University of Technology School of Economics and Business and financed by the European Union project “Horizon 2020”. More about “IN4ACT”: https://in4act.ktu.edu/