Confessions from the board room: Stijn Bijnens’ three levers of added value
Stijn Bijnens, the Belgian poster boy of the late 1990s internet hype, later became LRM chairman and is today the CEO of tech giant Cegeka. As he strolls with us through Corda Campus, we notice the hushed conversations here and there and admiring looks at the boss. After all, Bijnens is and remains the primus inter pares of the Limburg business community, something you can only look up to as a young techie. Now for the POM levers.
Stijn Bijnens’ three levers:
- Implementation of new digital technologies in the production process
- Investment in technologies that are just about to mature
- Product and service specialisation
Belgium is getting a fourth telecoms player alongside Telenet, Proximus and Orange to build out its 5G network for faster internet. Cegeka is in the driver seat. So, you are opting for the ‘Implementation of new digital technologies in the production process’ lever?
“Look, 5G is a gamechanger. The arrival of 5G means productivity gains. This is something Belgium was pretty good at in the past. We have however been floundering in the last 20 years. 5G will herald a new wave of automation, allowing us to once again make substantial productivity gains. Companies thus face fundamental change. Let me explain. Nowadays, factories work with robots. There is a computer inside every robot to control it. It is very expensive if you want to make such a device smarter. With 5G, you no longer have to put that intelligence in your robot, but in the cloud (working with and storing data over the internet, ed.). Then you obviously need to be sure the internet works. Wi-Fi? Unreliable and unsafe. You will never see an operating theatre running on Wi-Fi. In contrast, a cellular network like 5G operates on its own bandwidth. Only we can broadcast on that frequency. It’s comparable to the radio. For example, Studio Brussels is on a certain frequency and everyone else has to stay away from that. That’s what makes 5G reliable. Moreover, there is no delay. That way, you can separate intelligence from mechanics. So the factory of the future is going to have robots that are really just dumb tin boxes. Thanks to their 5G connection, they will be controlled remotely. It’s a bit like your Outlook app. That is also in the cloud, and no longer on a computer in your company’s basement. So robots will become much cheaper, you can reprogram them very quickly for multiple tasks and you are going to be able to run an entire factory from the cloud, so to speak.”
‘Mark Eyskens summed it up in one sentence: economics is the law of scarcity.’
That dovetails perfectly with your second lever: ‘Investment in technologies that are just about to become mature’.
“Indeed. Companies usually only start automating when they really have to. Therein also lies the success of the automotive sector. Enormous competitive pressure has kept them automating, putting this sector miles ahead. Other companies have always hesitated. Won’t this mean laying off people? Well, now is the time for companies to move further down the path of automation and digitisation, especially with regard to administrative processes and services. Here lies the low-hanging fruit. Ready for picking. More with fewer people. In these times when vacancies are just not getting filled: automate! Because how awful is it to ask yourself in hindsight: ‘If I had done this 10 years earlier, who knows how far I would have been now.'”
Finally, opt for the ‘Product and service specialisation’ lever.
“Well, I’m going to explain that to you based on two men I met in the 1990s. Even though it was not compulsory, I went to former prime minister Mark Eyskens‘ lecture in Leuven on Saturday morning. In his first lecture, he basically told you everything you needed to know: ‘Economics is the law of scarcity’. Scarcity arises because we have infinite needs on the one hand, but only a limited amount of productive resources to meet those needs. Scarcity forces us to consider what we deem most important. The law of scarcity determines which goods are scarce and which usually causes their price to rise. And later, when I took my first steps into the tech world with Ubizen, I met John Cordier, the then CEO of Telindus. He added an addendum to Eyskens‘ lecture. ‘Stijn, if you want to make money, you have to make something that you can sell multiple times, at the best possible price. So make a product that is scarce, which allows you to set the price autonomously, and make a lot of it’.”