It’s undeniable that keeping up with emerging technology trends is important for companies of all stripes. For corporates or organizations with long legacies, it can be slightly more challenging to adapt to technological shifts given deep-rooted company structures and business models – but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable. Take the Viessmann Group, for instance. The 99-year-old company has been tackling the area of energy, heating and cooling since 1917, and is currently active in 74 countries, boasting 2.2 billion euros in revenues. To this day, Viessmann is fully owned by the founding family and is now transitioning from the third to the fourth generation of the family.
Meanwhile, the company is also broadening its digital footprint with the help of Max Viessmann, who represents the fourth generation and is Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of the Viessmann Group. One of the initiatives the company recently unveiled is WATTx, a Berlin-based innovation lab focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT), specifically on the consumer and industrial side of it.
We caught up with Viessmann to chat about how he’s steering his family’s company into digitalization, what the word ‘innovation’ means to Viessmann Group and how WATTx is tapping into IoT technology to tackle problems in our day-to-day lives.
On one of the company’s careers sites, it stated that ‘Viessmann is dedicated to become the digital player in its industry’. Can you expand on what that means?
I think becoming the digital player is not a goal in itself. You don’t necessarily have to be the digital player in order to be successful. Instead, finding your sweet spot by serving customer needs that you as a company can address by applying digital technologies is important. Right now, we’re seeing a huge number of opportunities that can be grasped from both in- and outside of the organization. Things we do within our organization takes—what we call—a ‘transformative approach’ while things we do outside of our organization are considered ‘external innovation’.
Innovation has become a hackneyed term often thrown around mindlessly in the business realm, but it clearly matters to Viessmann. What role does it play in terms of your overall strategy?
I agree that innovation is a term that is oversubscribed [laughs]. Of course, there’s meaning behind it and there always has been, but people are interpreting it in so many ways that it’s become incredibly blurred. For us, we make a differentiation between repurposing technology through innovation versus creating it from scratch. We’re seeing it’s possible to achieve the former within our existing organization – but stuff that is traveling at the speed of light needs to be addressed adjacently and outside of this.
One of your recently launched initiatives, WATTx, seems to fit the bill of speedy external innovation...
You’re right. WATTx was founded last year by Bastian Bergmann, the CEO, to seek out and capitalize – alongside a strong team – on new opportunities in the IoT space. It’s focused on finding the sweet spot between pure software play and pure hardware play, which seems to be a difficult space to be an innovator in. That’s in part the reason why we’re focusing on it, without limiting ourselves to only Viessmann-related areas. Within IoT, WATTx addresses both the consumer and the industrial side by ideating and prototyping with a broad but rigorous perspective. Eventually, we’d like these ideas and prototypes to thrive and become viable and sustainable tech-driven startups.
Given that the company works at the intersection of IoT and the broader energy space, how do you think the development of IoT in the next five years will impact climate and energy solutions?
To be honest, I think the IoT space itself as a segment is now moving beyond the hype cycle. Trends in a phase before the hype cycle are often the ones everyone is writing about – but that people don’t typically fully understand yet. Now, people are increasingly becoming educated about IoT and its potential opportunities. From the energy, climate and heat/cooling standpoint, we can see a lot of opportunities that aren’t limited to one single product. The beauty of IoT is its huge potential based on the interconnectedness of many different devices and different business models, most of them coming to light only now. That’s the beautiful complexity of IoT that people don’t see upon first glance.
The Viessmann Group will turn 100 years old next year. What would you say have been some key factors that contributed to the company’s longevity?
There is probably a huge number of things that I could highlight. Let me focus on three things, though. First, consistency. We, as a family, from both a shareholder as well as strategic point of view offer stability to our employees and customers. It’s about giving people an idea of where they’re going to be in the near and long-term future. Second, pragmatism. We don’t do things for the sake of doing it, we do them because it’s the right approach. Third, strong determination. Whenever we see an opportunity, we purposely deliver on it at full speed. All of these factors have definitely contributed to our long-lasting history.
As CDO, your days must be packed. What are some apps and tools that are your daily life-savers when it comes to staying organized and productive?
My three life-savers are Asana for managing my tasks and teams, Slack for rapid knowledge sharing and communication with teams and Evernote to summarize my notes. I definitely try to avoid writing emails as best as I can.