Digital transformation is here to stay. We must therefore constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will become digital. Digitalization brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In my series “Dialogue Interviews” I discuss these topics with leaders in Switzerland, from our member organisations to digital shapers and the brightest minds in the fields of technology and innovation. 

For this edition, I talked to Elena Cortona, Head of Digital Transformation at Schindler. The company famous for its elevators and escalators is more than 130 years old and firmly rooted in tradition. It is also very much involved in adapting to the opportunities offered by digitalisation. 

Nicolas Bürer: You are Head of Digital Transformation at Schindler. The company is more than 130 years old and successful worldwide. I assume new digital technologies do not have the highest priority at Schindler, as you mainly manufacture products like elevators and escalators, or am I wrong?

Elena Cortona: In fact, you are wrong about that assumption. Schindler has a long history and tradition, but has always been at the forefront of technology. This was key to Schindler’s tremendous success. It’s no different with regards to digitalisation. Schindler is very active in applying new digitised processes and in developing new digital products.

Nicolas Bürer: What are your main digital priorities in the next few years?

Elena Cortona: On the product side, Schindler is already connecting its global portfolio. By collecting data, we aim to increase the quality of the services to our customers.  In cooperation with Dassault Systems, Schindler aims to digitise and optimise certain processes to create for every elevator installed its “Digital Twin”. This means that for every installed piece of equipment, there will be a digital copy containing all the data from the design phase to the on site installation.

Nicolas Bürer: Some industries, for example the media industry, have to deal with a high degrees of disruption caused by new tech companies. Do you see a similar threat for the elevator and escalator industry?

Elena Cortona: Global mega trends like ongoing urbanisation and an ageing population won’t disappear in the coming years. These two trends imply a global increase in tall buildings and the continued need for vertical transportation. Our market is and will keep growing, both for new installations and for our service business.

Nicolas Bürer: How do you rate the Swiss manufacturing industry with regards to digital innovation in a global comparison? Where are we making progress, where are we ahead and where are we behind?

Elena Cortona: In the past years, a lot of manufacturing activities have been transferred to countries where manufacturing costs are lower. We must ensure that the same doesn’t happen to engineering and other related activities. Digitisation is a good example of how the proverbial creativity and long-term view of a country like Switzerland can be used to leverage its competitive advantage in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and quality.

Elena Cortona: Everybody is constantly talking about digitalisation and, from time to time, I have the impression that it is not quite clear what this term really means. What is digitalswitzerland’s role in giving context to the word? And by doing this, what parts of the population do you try to target?

Nicolas Bürer: Indeed, digitalisation is a buzz word, used everywhere for everything. Our aim is to raise awareness for the digital changes taking place and ensure organisations see it as an opportunity. Many people fear digitalisation. It also requires understanding the potential risks for business models and society overall. Since digital transformation affects all industries and all people, we build our different initiatives for specific stakeholder groups: actors in the politico-economic arena, the education ecosystem, startups, SMEs and corporates. We also try to raise awareness for the entire Swiss population by organising the Digital Day, a national event to enable dialogue with the public on the impact of digital transformation on our society. Of course, digitalisation is an ongoing process and the focus will change over time as it steadily brings new developments. Our mission is never really over.

Elena Cortona: Many people think of digitalisation as awkward technical stuff that is best understood by engineers and computer geeks. How much will digitalisation affect large parts of the population and how do you make it more accessible to people who feel no affinity to technology? Do you see big differences between people from different age groups?

Nicolas Bürer: Digitalisation is only a means, not an objective. At the end of the day, it is about making things faster, more convenient and accessible. People want to improve their lives with new products and services. Some examples we all know are Uber, Spotify, Airbnb, cashless payment systems, voice tools, but also new AI services with e-mail providers. We are all affected by these changes. We see differences in the way people adopt them, younger people in urban environments tend to be earlier adopters. And that is not only true in Switzerland, but worldwide.

Elena Cortona: How do you think  an organisation like digitalswitzerland can make a difference in bringing our county to the forefront of technological advancement? How would you rate Switzerland in terms of digitisation?

Nicolas Bürer: We use a cross-industry and multi-stakeholders approach, which means we constantly try to bring people from different sectors together. Politicians, NGOs, SMEs, startups, investors, corporates and the population should have a joint dialogue on digitalisation. This is key to our mission. This approach seems obvious, but is in fact a big change: moving away from thinking in silos and collaborating across sectors. Just like digital transformation does. We also develop and implement specific projects that can be potentially of great importance for Switzerland: the Challenges to foster cross-sector innovation, our startup programmes to connect the ecosystem and our Vertical industry-focused projects. I feel positive about Switzerland’s future, many rankings rate the country very well on digitalisation and innovation. For example the newly published “Regional Innovation Scoreboard” from the European Commission in which 6 of the top 10 regions are located in Switzerland! There are still many areas where we can do better like keeping scale-ups in Switzerland, and addressing topics like eID, eGoverment and diversity to name a few.