“When I was a child, the game that I was most passionate about was chess. I loved the pieces, they reminded me of soldiers lined up on two sides, ready to do battle. I mostly played with my father and I usually lost. That drove me mad, so I started to learn more about chess, took part in tournaments and became good at it. The game of chess is a scaled-down version of the competition we face in life –a competition on markets or between countries, for instance. The framework is the same too: there are leaders, kings and queens, the management who are the rooks, bishops and knights. And last but not least come the pawns – the pieces on the front line. They are the young people. A wonderful rule of chess states that pawns are the only pieces that cannot move backwards, they cannot escape and can only advance. They have no friends in high places and have to go it alone. If they manage to get to the other side of the board, they can transform into another piece. Another basic rule is that if you want to win, then there can be no weak points in your line up. The same is also true for business and within the framework of a country. A strategy is fundamental to achieving results. And in today’s world, strategies need to include technology and innovation.”
This is how Luciano Malgaroli explains the idea behind A&T – Automation and Testing – the Italian trade fair dedicated to Innovation, Technologies and Skills 4.0 which took place in February this year and of which he is founder and CEO.
- The fair has its home at the Oval Olympic Arena, part of the Lingotto exhibition complex in Turin. Here, mechanical arms move autonomously, technologies analyse, select and sort objects with an extremely high degree of precision. There are avatars able to answer (almost) any question, computer mice that enable the visually impaired to play video games, devices that can inspect pipes for leaks and an enormous 3D-printed 1980s robot looming over the stands. This is a window into the future of work – a window that we still need to push open even wider.
In today’s world, can we ignore innovation?
We are at a singular moment in this challenge that involves us all – call it an evolution. Take a look around and you will see companies transforming and people modifying the way they work. Production methods, business models, design and distribution are all changing. Recent research by the Politecnico di Milano has revealed, however, that just 26% of the roughly 200,000 small and medium enterprises in Italy are digitally mature enough to fully develop their business by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by technology. Though in theory the importance of digital innovation is acknowledged and upheld, in actual practice many organisations lack a real drive to innovate. A remedy must be found.
Just 26% of the roughly 200,000 small and medium enterprises in Italy are digitally mature.
Is that why you decided to set up this trade fair?
We really need to have confidence in the technological evolution of our industrial production systems, of national and international scenarios and of market trends - so that we can promote the competitiveness of enterprises whether they be large, medium, small or micro. The main goal of the fair is exactly that: to create awareness, share information and build a culture of innovation by showcasing technologies. The event also promotes a broad and specialised offering of training programmes. Our single starting point remains: the analysis and understanding of markets.
What is the biggest mistake in approach that you have come across in your efforts to create awareness?
Far too often, people ask me what technology is. Is it an opportunity or a threat? We shouldn’t start off by trying to define it. That’s pointless. As Seneca said: you can’t hold back the wind with your hands. It’s a fact that any company that fails to introduce innovation will be swept off the market. How can we build business models that attract talents and young people and dissuade them from looking for work abroad? That’s what we should be asking ourselves.
It’s a fact that any company that fails to introduce innovation will be swept off the market.
Let’s go back to your passion for chess. It requires you to think ahead and pre-empt the moves of your opponent. It appears that the general public struggle to make these moves. How can businesses compensate for this?
- On the one hand, we have to put pressure on our governments to allocate large sums of money to research and innovation. More importantly, we should be taking a long-term approach. Indecisiveness does not help a business. Companies tend to think in 3-year terms and they need certainties. On the other hand, entrepreneurs need to play their part by taking a new approach to innovation and investing in more attractive business propositions. It’s a vicious circle. Incidentally, over 70% of SMEs in Italy (seen from our vantage point as a specialist trade fair) are aware of the fact that they need to invest in innovation and digitalization to stay competitive on the global market. Entrepreneurs know full well that what is needed is an all-encompassing industrial strategy where innovation is central to the whole production process. We need to be open to new technologies, invest in training, do away with subjective short-term visions and instead opt for enabling innovative systems that look to the medium-long term. In a nutshell, what is needed in Italy is a plan for industry that gives entrepreneurs confidence and delivers a bold, innovative manufacturing asset for the nation. But we also need to bring clarity and provide guidance on exactly what should be done and how, so that those running and managing our businesses know what the right investments are and which technologies are really useful.
We need to be open to new technologies, invest in training, do away with subjective short-term visions and instead opt for enabling innovative systems.
What role does training play?
It’s central. That is the reason why this year’s event stretches beyond the three-day fair and will go on all year. There will be other events and business meetings dedicated to companies operating in the main industrial sectors across Italy. We have realized just how important it is to carry the impetus on tour. Just think that over the three days of the fair, more than one hundred events took place – roundtables, workshops and seminars – where experts in their fields explained that it can be done.