The Slovenia Times

Shaping the future in an innovative ecosystem of connection and cooperation by means of human-adapted technology

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Aside from implementing new technologies to boost your own business, you also manage BTC City Living Lab, which is a unique ecosystem with a multi-branched physical and digital infrastructure. What are the main focus areas of your business department?

The Department of Digitalisation and Innovation was established upon my arrival to the BTC company, which was two and a half years ago. One of the important pillars at the department is the integration of employees in the culture of innovation within the company. To this end, we have established an innovation office, within which employees can present their improvement ideas and are also rewarded for proposing good ones. The second pillar is the renovation of business processes within existing business areas of the company (paperless business, warehouse automatization, etc.). The third pillar is the repositioning of the BTC business model, which means that we are updating our existing business, while at the same time reallocating resources to innovation in new segments, such as the ABC accelerator and BTC City as a "Living Lab", which is based on the concept of a smart city. The idea is that BTC City Living Lab is a place where companies can quickly test their solutions and get feedback from the market as to whether they are the right ones or not.

What kind of business model testing are we talking about?

The focus is on the energy, mobility, retail and smart city segments. BTC City Living Lab is an ecosystem with a physical infrastructure, which is upgraded with a digital infrastructure that collects data on what is going on in the area. Together with our daughter company, AV Living Lab, we are offering so-called testing grounds and packages to companies around the world. We are mainly in contact with innovation departments, such as the one at Magna Steyr. They have decided to test new mobility solutions, within which they will put in place shuttle vehicles that transport visitors in BTC City, tracking their travel habits, entry and exit points, driving time, etc. With the Toyota corporation, we will test new business models of car and ride sharing for the business-to-business segment. The thing is that all the industries in today's world are being faced with many challenges. In the automotive industry, for example, there is a lot of discussion as to what the car of the future will bring - a car as a platform, a car as a digital assistant, new mobility business models like mobility as a service, integration into new energy grids, shifting ownership models, etc. In a nutshell, it could transform human mobility itself. 

And the challenges are not limited to within particular industries only - they also pertain to overcoming cross-industry issues by finding new future business models. Our concept offers a unique place for large companies to discover new segments and connect with companies from other industries through our innovative ecosystem.

What are your plans for the future of retail segment development?

We are approaching it strategically. For this reason, we have established BTC Phoenix, our own internal start-up, which is developing a platform for the so-called BTC City digital marketplace. The platform will be launched in a couple of months. It is a project that brings together offline and online stores in a single digital platform that will connect all the partners in BTC City. The platform will enable visitors to easily find where certain products and services are sold, while at the same time giving them the option to compare them in terms of price. We are also thinking of an additional upgrade later on - for example a Click & Collect service, which will enable visitors to collect their selected products at a single pick-up site.

In cooperation with the Slovenian-Japanese business world, you organized the 5th Forum Society 5.0 in Slovenia. The event dealt with the Japanese development initiative Society 5.0 which aims to create coexistence between the virtual and real worlds, balancing economic development and addressing the challenges of society to create a better, super-smart and more comfortable society with people at the forefront. How far or close to realisation is the idea of Society 5.0 in Slovenia?

With Japan, we are connected through the cooperation on the NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization from Japan) project. The main partner on the Slovenian side is the ELES company, and BTC City is one of the locations chosen for the implementation of two powerful batteries as well as a control management system for electricity management. In case of power shortage, the batteries will serve as backup. In light of the growing business relations between Japan and Slovenia, we have decided to jointly organise the Society 5.0 event together with the ELES company, the Slovene-Japan Business Council and the Embassy of Japan.

Society 5.0 is a highly profound idea to develop the human society. By means of work and technology, which have always been a basis for humankind's existence, we can finally build a world of justice and equality, create a good and healthy environment, deal with hunger and, what is most important, provide a basis that will allow for further global economic growth.

This year's Forum Society 5.0 was also attended by Yoshiaki Ichikawa, who is a visiting professor at the Japanese universities in Tama and Tokyo. He is an expert in advanced technologies and standardisation, the head senior engineer at Hitachi, the President of the ISO/TC 268/SC 1 Smart Community Infrastructures technical subcommittee and the IEC/TC 111 Environmental Standardization for Electrical and Electronic Products and Systems technical subcommittee. When we first hosted the professor at BTC City, we presented the BTC City Living Lab model to him and we agreed that we could become the testing ground for the Society 5.0 model in Europe for Europe.

The Society 5.0 initiative thus presents an opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between Slovenia and Japan. At the same time, it allows Slovenia to become the European partner for Japan in the development of this extremely complex concept of Society 5.0. Could you tell us more about the role that the BTC company will play in this?

There are a couple of important milestones and one of them is Slovenia's presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2021. This will allow Slovenia to position itself with a view of the future and the Society 5.0 by preparing a concept legislative framework and proposals that would justify the term Society 5.0 and its operation. The next important milestone is 1 February 2019, which marks the day that the EU-Japan Trade Agreement enters force, establishing an open trade area that covers more than 600 million people and almost one third of the total world GDP. Synergy therefore shows at the highest levels and BTC can serve as an environment that can provide support in terms of testing and the implementation of certain pilot projects. On the side of Japan, we have global companies, such as Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Yaskawa and similar, as well as their government institutions. In Slovenia, what is important is the support of the government and organisations who wish to support this kind of cooperation: the BTC company, ELES, the Jo┼żef Stefan Institute, the University of Ljubljana, etc. Thus, it is important to have an ecosystem of Slovenian and Japanese companies as well as inter-connected departments implementing concrete projects that will function as a sort of showroom for the entire Europe.

In what way does Society 5.0 address the challenges that the humanity is facing today and how does it differ from the Industry 4.0 concept?

Society 5.0 is a highly broad concept that comprehensively covers the challenges of today. It is a fair society of the future which integrates technology aimed at improving the functioning of people, while at the same time putting emphasis on protecting the environment and nature. It answers the question of how technology can serve people in order to improve their functioning and enable a better living. A great emphasis is also placed on support for the physically handicapped and on intergenerational cooperation. The difference between the concepts of Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0 is, therefore, that the first one focuses primarily on the technologic perspective: robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things - the integration of devices and their operation based on big data. The sociological aspect, however, might be somewhat neglected. Hence, the concept of Society 5.0 emphasises this notion - how can people be happy with all the existing technology? Can we expect it to become custom-made for humans or will it enslave us? Therefore, Society 5.0 integrates the individual and all groups of people, focusing on creating a fair society of the future and finding an answer to how technology can be of help.
 

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