#Call4.0Leaders | Paul Harfas (Octavic): Agility is crucial when facing fundamental changes

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 21/01/2022 | 14:11

The first #Call4.0Leaders episode of 2022 sees us talking to Paul Harfas, Co-Founder of Octavic, a man on a mission of building Octavic’s Industry 4.0 MoM System as a go-to system for factory floor digitalization, while providing value to the industrial ecosystem by empowering Smart Factories to operate at top efficiency.

 

  1. What projects have you carried out this year to make your company’s operations more sustainable and resilient?

Sustainability is very important to us, both internally, in terms of our own company, as well as enabling our clients to become more sustainable in their operations. The solution we provide is aligned with the intent of Industry 4.0, but further than that, it moves towards Industry 5.0, by digitalising the factory floor and placing the wellbeing of the industry worker at the centre of the production process. Through our partnerships and the projects we are part of, like Innovation Norway, EFPF and DIREC, we contribute to developing Manufacturing Operations Management (MoM) systems that increase operational efficiency and implicitly enable users to reduce waste of material and energy by pinpointing the exact sources of waste, reduce greenhouse effect gas emissions by better production capacity utilization and prevent soil pollution by ensuring adequate maintenance.

In terms of our own company, we are firm believers in the power of the little things, as well as big changes. We take economic, social, and environmental factors into careful consideration and look closely into ESG requirements. We have not been afraid of making necessary changes in the business so we can comply to standards, but also promote the small things each of us can do on a daily basis to make the world a better place, like not using plastic cups, carefully recycling waste, or going paperless wherever possible. I know these may seem like small things, but to us they are important, because they help build a company culture where even seemingly small acts are important and contribute to a bigger, common goal.

We promote leadership that supports employees and practice open communication, which is an aspect we have put even more emphasis on since the start of what can best be described as a roller-coaster ride, namely COVID. For us, employee well-being and a work-life balance are extremely important, so we have a flexible working policy, to support the needs of our employees, who are young, dynamic professionals, in search of flexibility and independence while connected to the latest in terms of global tech trends. Lastly (but not less importantly) Octavic practices equal pay for men and women and is a firm believer in gender equality, and even though tech has been (and perhaps still is) a predominantly male-dominated industry, we are proactive about providing equal opportunity and inclusion.

 

  1. How can we find the right balance between intelligent machines and human intelligence in the new business reality of accelerated automatization and digitalisation?

I think finding that balance starts by realising that we are better together. Successful Artificial Intelligence deployment, in my opinion, will always be a collaborative process involving both human and machine intelligence, because of the complementary aspect needed: interpersonal skills, emotion or judgement comes naturally to us but not to machines, while analysing enormous amounts of data is something that a machine does effortlessly but humans can’t. Finding the sweet spot in this new way of doing things can be challenging if we don’t step away from conventional thinking.

Industry 5.0 involves leveraging the collaboration between increasingly powerful machinery and the unique creative potential of the human being. The real goal of today’s AI is not to work independently, but to be a part of the solution, and business processes need to be calibrated in accordance with this, to augment while avoiding over-automation. This means using technology to unlock the potential of people. This is the concept that sits at the core of our company, and our aim with the solution we have developed is to allow people to focus on meaningful tasks, while technology is used to implement repetitive mechanical tasks. For example, the data from production equipment is automatically collected, instead of needing to be input by production staff and it is later contextualised by human knowledge. What this means is that the grunt work is done by the software, and employees have time to bring human-specific skill sets, focusing on optimisation, innovation and bringing true value to the working environment.

 

  1. Are flatter, more agile structures better equipped to succeed in the new reality than their more traditional and rigid counterparts? How would you describe your organisation from this regard?

I believe that the past two years have taught us that agility is crucial when facing fundamental changes, such as the ones we have been witnessing since the start of the pandemic, and I also believe that some of the changes are here to stay. So having a flatter, more agile structure than the traditional hierarchical, rigid one is crucial to be able to respond to change. A flatter organisation means an operating model that is more dynamic and flexible. Agile is now much more than a way of working destined for IT. It is a way of making business functions adaptable to changes in markets, consumer habits and even technology.

Since we are a tech company, we have always had a certain level of agility in operations, however, we have made conscious efforts to transform business processes to enhance our operating model to unlock value through a flatter, more agile structure.

This agility is attainable in most companies, in many different shapes and at different levels. For example, a software like Octavic enables a factory to gain agility in production. Being able to automate production processes and use automation and AI to adopt a data-driven approach helps factories better manage resources and adapt to the many challenges in today’s manufacturing environment.

All this being said, the software itself is just one piece of the puzzle. The implementation and deployment of such a solution, as well as learning how to use it, can be a temporarily disruptive experience for operations, even though it brings value on the long term. This is why we have intentionally directed efforts into the continuous improvement of this process and have successfully brought the time needed to deploy our solution down to 3 months, compared to the 9 months which is currently the industry standard.

 

  1. Is the business world moving from a competition mindset to a co-opetition one? How integrated is your company in this regard and what can you tell us about the partnerships you have carried out with other organisations?

The concept of co-opetition has been gaining traction for the past three decades and has been a bit of a buzzword lately, as it is one of the forecasted business trends for 2022. Especially in tech, where the focus has shifted from platforms to ecosystems that evolve dynamically.

We have always had a focus on partnerships with other organisations, and have multiple types of partnerships, ranging from commercial ones, with resellers and integrators, to technological partnerships. For example, we have a partnership with DIREC (Digital Research Centre Denmark) for a 3.5-year long project focused on developing an Edge-Based AI System for Predictive Maintenance, where we are part of a larger team of partners along with other companies as well as universities. The collective aim for this project is to develop software architectures and platforms for edge-based execution of AI models, where these models can adapt to changing local conditions and be maintained with minimum intervention form operators, as well being scalable to entire fleets of equipment with accurate AI predictions. The importance of projects such as this one is that they allow cross-organisational collaboration to drive expansion within research, innovation, and education in digital technologies, as well as foster a cooperation mindset where different organisations come together to create solutions that unlock value for multiple stakeholders.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 21/09/2022 | 14:17

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