If people can sleep in a self-driving car, what happens to the hotel business?

Henry Tirri has made a great career in the academic and business world. He says that digitalization will spare no one. ”If you want your company to exist 50 years from now, you have to pay attention to digitalization and what it entails.”

Reetta Räty, 16.08.2018

The official title of Henry Tirri, PhD, Computer Science, is: Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at InterDigital, Inc. 

His LinkedIn profile endorsements reveal that he is also the former EVP & Head of Technologies Business of Nokia, and an exceptional visionary: “Henry is absolutely one of the smartest people I know.” ”Henry has had an extraordinary career at Nokia, initially joining as a Research Fellow to ultimately becoming the company's CTO.” “Henry is a true technology visionary, understanding the ultimate impact of new technical inventions before most of us do.”

The simplest way is to think that digitalization means bringing information technology into devices and actions where it has not existed before.”

In addition, Aalto University is fortunate to have Henry Tirri as Executive in Residence at Aalto University School of Business.

And now, he is taking our Skype call at his office in Long Island, New York.

“I am a kind of a hybrid: a technologist who knows business”, says Dr. Tirri when describing his professional identity that has formed through positions in universities and businesses. Dr. Tirri has spent half of his career in the academic world, and the other half in the business sector.  Like other technology gurus, he is constantly getting invitations to speak about digital transformation and artificial intelligence.

“Perhaps the most fundamental feature of change is speed”, Dr. Tirri says. He remarks that as a term, digitalization is not very specific; in fact, far from it. “Whatever digitalization means, the simplest way is to think that it means bringing information technology into devices and actions where it has not existed before. Money has become digitalized long time ago, travel agencies have vanished. Music, books, videos have been transformed into digital form… accordingly, a large amount of other service sector activities will change.”

What will become of hotels, when people can sleep in a moving car?

When Dr. Tirri talks about the digitalization of transportation, his idea that “bits eat atoms” becomes clear. The physical will become digitalized. The consequences of changes in the automotive and transportation sector will be concrete, not science fiction: increased parking space, fewer parking fines, fewer accidents. The value of a city center commercial space may drop, when it becomes easier to move from one place to another. There may be more cars than now, but fewer hotels, because it will be possible to sleep in a self-driving car.

Cars will become network terminal devices that gather a huge amount of data from around them.”

Just like in music, banking, or media, business models in the automotive sector will change. Dr. Tirri says that cars will become network terminal devices that gather a huge amount of data from around them. This accumulated data will be used for applications other than only those concerning cars and traffic – just like the data gathered by mobile phones. The change will both open and close business opportunities: newspapers suffered from digitalization, but as cars become self-driving, people will have more time, for instance, for using the media.

“When bits eat atoms, there will be an opportunity to change physical devices after they have already been sold. For example, cars can be updated. This means that the industry will be affected by Moore’s law, familiar from information technology, that predicts such speed of development that it will pose the greatest threat to traditional companies. Actors in digitalizing industries cannot keep up with the speed of change, and their competitiveness will decline.”

Do you understand new operators in your field?

What does the change at hand mean in terms of management?

In answer to our question, Dr. Tirri gives a mini lecture. His reply is fast and vivid.

“Sheltered business does not really exist anymore. Those who just try to remain the same or aim for slight improvement, will not succeed. In time, they will be disrupted. If you want your company to exist 50 years from now, you have to pay attention to digitalization and what it entails.”

Turning a humble ear to others may be difficult especially for young, hungry, and strong-willed career climbers.”

A good management should keep up with the changing environment, or rather, stay ahead. Managers must think about what is possible, what can change. “If opportunities are not seized, they will become opportunities for competitors.”

Dr. Tirri believes that companies should humbly listen to external parties in all situations - customers, business partners, organizations, experts. This is necessary in order to get an idea of where their own sector is heading. “What is needed is strategic understanding of the effects of technology, and insight into which direction competitors are heading. Expertize offered by universities is one channel for this, but not the only one.”

In Dr. Tirri’s opinion, the modern manager must be networked with other business actors in the industry, and, in particular, also understand the operation of new competitors. Turning a humble ear to others may be difficult especially for young, hungry, and strong-willed career climbers.

“I have seen plenty of closed minds around. Defensive views and rejection based on incorrect assumptions on that listening would undermine a person’s expertise in the eyes of others. Some people are faced with quite a change in attitude, in order to learn how important listening is.”

In addition, Tirri believes that there should be more collaboration between different organizations and therefore, AI needs its own CERN. Read more about his idea.

Henry Tirri is an Executive Resindence at Aalto University School of Business. He was one of the speakers in Aalto EE's Digital Summit which also includes an online course. Aalto EE's digitalization programs help executives to discover which emerging technologies will have an impact on their particular business environment and how the digital transformation can be managed. Aalto PRO's Business Digitalization programs support professionals and managers and update their knowledge of the latest digitalization tools and principles.

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