Singularity University: Ewald Draaijer’s Californian immersion

What is the primary task of a leader during digital transformation? Assessing the scope of the new technologies in order to understand how they are likely to impact your business. Singularity University is famous throughout Silicon Valley for the programmes it offers to leaders and for making them aware of the revolutions that are underway. The CEO of SK FireSafety Group, Ewald Draaijer, has just returned from there. He explains to us how, thanks to digital technology, he has revised his goals upwards.

Digital technology: a catalyst for growth for SK FireSafety Group

SK_FireSafety_Group_Ewald-DraaijerEwald Draaijer met us in a lounge at the Shangri-La hotel, where this year’s Apax Lab is taking place. With a friendly smile, he opened his Mac on the table and pointed out a slide showing SK FireSafety Group’s new digital process. This security specialist company, with solid operations in Northern Europe, provides fire safety tools (extinguishers, alarms, etc.) to businesses, as well as sophisticated services addressing the security challenges of sensitive industries, in particular those of oil platforms and aviation.

When Apax Partners became the majority shareholder in SK FireSafety Group a year ago, the company was already targeting digital technology as a way to increase its productivity. “My goal with Apax Partners”, explains Ewald Draaijer, “is to grow the group’s business. Digital technology is one of the levers we have identified to extend our value proposition”.

“Automating processes and structuring information”

To make its engineers’ work easier, SK FireSafety Group replaced its paper schedules with PDAs four years ago. Each agent receives his or her daily schedule on the device, as well as information that helps save time in the field, such as vehicle availability and the location of the client’s extinguishers. The invoicing system has been automated: “invoices are sent the day after our intervention” explained Ewald. He continued: “We have reviewed all our processes, from the placing of an order to its payment”.

The CEO also relies on digital technology to structure his company’s information: “We consolidate our data in a data centre, which enables us to ascertain the maintenance level of our clients’ fire safety systems with precision”.

Company profitability has increased as a result of these operational changes. “We have gained 5 margin points by optimising our work methods thanks to digital technology” explains Ewald, while recalling that the EBITDA margins obtained by SK FireSafety Group are clearly higher than those of its competitors.

Singularity University, or how to tackle global challenges

Ewald is now thoroughly convinced that the digital transformation of his company is more than a matter of operational optimisation. His time at Singularity University made him aware that the very core of the security business will experience drastic changes over the next few years. “When I came back home, I thought: I must tell my children what is happening”.

And yet, he admits that, given everyday preoccupations, he had not been “sure he would find the time to go”. He nonetheless accepted Bertrand Pivin’s invitation and accompanied him to the NASA research campus where Singularity University is located. First lesson, a big question: “How can you have a positive impact on one billion people in the coming years?”.

To help the audience arrive at an answer, the Singularity University speakers, who include Fortune 500 Chairmen and CEOs, present an overview of technological innovations that have radically changed the treatment of central issues such as poverty, water management, food and energy, security, health and education.

Among them, Ewald mentions “robotics, artificial intelligence and big data”. How will these new paradigms impact his business? Too soon to tell. Nevertheless, Ewald has initiated brainstorming efforts on what fire safety will look like in the future. He intends to create a partnership between universities and young talented individuals at SK FireSafety Group in order to develop the next generation of extinguishers. “Singularity University significantly expands the range of possibilities. You leave it with great ambitions” he explains.

Silicon Valley showed him that his company’s future successes depend on what the company does now. “Change is coming faster than anyone thinks.” Ewald fully intends to take advantage of the new opportunities provided by digital technology and, why not even invent the fire safety of the 21st century?

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Apax Talks is a digital magazine aimed at company managers. It presents growth levers for SMEs, with a focus on TMT, consumer, healthcare and services sectors.