“Connecting the dots”

Björn Hansen, Head of IoT, Division X at Telia Company in Sweden

Björn Hansen is driving the IoT agenda at Division X, Telia’s innovation hub. IoT is still a growing part of Telia’s business, and Björn is connecting the dots on a massive roadmap that will put us in the lead in this area. Today, he is leading 120 people who are dedicated to IoT.

“My teams spend about two thirds of their time on customer-driven projects. And one third is spent on trying to innovate completely new ideas that will redraw the map of how IoT will look like in the future.”

The end of the era of micro-management

“We are well over a hundred people working with IoT today. And although I meet all of them, both in a big group and in smaller settings, I am not involved in the details – I leave that to all the great people around me. My role is about painting the bigger picture and connect it to Telia’s journey towards becoming the New Generation Telco. I have a team of eight people that I coach and lead. We see each other often and I try to be a personal leader to them creating an atmosphere where it is okay to fail. I am a curious person and a good listener who sets clear goals and drives the dialogue forward. Still, I am always well aware that my team is much better at what they do than I am, which means that I never need to interfere on any detailed level.”

Leading big teams

“To lead innovative teams, you have to be able to both be clear about the direction, but also allow for anything to happen along the way. To give you an example, I almost always put down my own idea for a solution on the table very early. That way everyone understands the ambition and direction. But then I let everyone improve that initial thought and elevate it into something much better. When I put together my teams, I always surround myself with people who are cleverer and more capable than I am. In that way, I always feel safe in putting that half-baked idea on the table, because then I know that my team will improve and make the concept fly. This is also a way to create a strong momentum when we are implementing and executing the ideas, as everyone feels that they are part of the solution and that they came up with the idea in the first place. Success in innovation is always a team effort.”

Managing innovation

“It might seem abstract to lead innovation projects. But we have a very clear process when we work with innovation. My group of eight people work together with the team responsible for commercial products on a general roadmap for what we are developing. This way we secure that all we do is commercially viable, and the roadmap helps us with the general direction. This group meets monthly to work on the roadmap. My role is then to secure that the sprints that my leaders are responsible for take place and that we progress according to the plan. My responsibility is also to anchor the roadmap with all stakeholders, so everyone knows what we are doing and that we are meeting our targets. It is all about that combination of being a visionary, pointing out the direction, and simultaneously be that hands-on guy that makes sure that everyone knows what to do and have the resources to do a great job.”

Understanding what the customers want, before they know it

“It is an old quote, but it is still relevant – If Henry Ford had listened to his customers before building his first car, they would have told him they wanted faster horses. It is the same with the times we are living in right now. As a customer-centric company, we need to listen to our customers and make sure that they get what they need. But as a leading company, we also have a responsibility to create solutions that our customers do not know that they need or want. Yet.”

Rethink connectivity

“All IoT development today is a part of our innovation hub, Division X. We have simply concentrated all initiatives to one place to be able to work as effective as possible within this area. The challenge we have is to build a network that is as good for machines as for people. Historically our focus has been voice, people talking to people. But in the future the real growth lies in machines talking to other machines. But this calls for new standards and requirements. So, we are now creating a new architecture and infrastructure that can handle how machines communicate and behave.“

IOT is a fast-growing area and the speed of innovation is exhilarating. Leading big innovation teams is all about surrounding yourself with smart people with different backgrounds and
knowledge. Always point out the direction early on – then it is up to the team to deliver and never micro-manage the process, when it is up and running. The leader’s job is to be supportive and make sure that the team has the right resources. And, of course, creating a safe team culture where it is OK to fail and where everyone is invited to be an active part in the decision process. By failing fast and getting everyone involved early, we shortcut the roadmap and make sure that the solution is well anchored before launch. We are involved in IOT projects, spanning from simple data collection to using technology and connectivity to generate advanced predictions and forecasts by using this new technology.

My key advice to other leaders

  1. Surround yourself with smart people
  2. Create an atmosphere where it is OK to fail
  3. Never micro-manage

Facts

Education
I have an MBA in Leading Innovation from Stockholm School of Economics.

Life before Telia
I spent eleven years at Ericsson, and five of them was in Switzerland. I have also worked for Telenor, Samsung, DigitalRoute and Nokas primarily in sales and commercial product management.

Life outside work
I lead an active life. I am a passionate skier and I try to stay ahead of the kids in the off-piste.

Family
Wife, two almost grown up kids and a cat named Sverre after the legendary freerider Sverre Liliequist

Something you didn´t know about me
I have a 1 100-litre aquarium connected to IoT at home. So there is a geek in me too, believe it or not.