Technology is evolving at breakneck pace, transforming how we live, work and play. A cliché, perhaps, but no less true for that. Responding to this change, people tend to fall into one of two camps. For some, this is a looming threat: they envision robots replacing human workers or automation chipping away at our autonomy. For many, however, technology is the great white hope that holds the solution to society’s most urgent challenges – from the smart energy systems that can lower emissions and fight climate change, to the new medical technology that will enable us to live longer and better. Not to mention the straight line between tech development and economic growth. On the one hand, the technology industries are themselves a vital motor of Europe’s economy. On the other, they design and produce innovations that act as multipliers of innovation and growth across sectors.
CTOs: the unsung heroes of tech development
Falling squarely into the optimists’ camp are the Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) of the world. For CTOs, technology is the great enabler – a source of innovation, driver of business growth and answer to the needs of consumers and society. Yet many of us may not be aware what this role entails: the CEO calls the shots, the CFO holds the purse strings… but the CTO? Put simply, the Chief Technology Officer is responsible at the highest level for technology development within a company. They lead R&I teams of engineers or scientists in the quest for new tech-driven solutions to the challenges we face; they are the ones making sure technology delivers on its potential and works for Europe’s economy and society. CTOs foster a culture of innovation within their companies and align this with business strategy – taking lightbulb ideas and transforming them into marketable products and services.
The CTO of the Year Europe award was created to pay tribute to the work of these pioneering technology leaders. The 2019 edition was awarded by Orgalim – Europe’s Technology Industries, EIRMA and Spinverse, and was presented on 12 November at Orgalim’s ‘Reinventing Europe’s Industrial Leadership’ conference in Brussels. A first-class pool of nominations from across the continent was whittled down to just six finalists, with the jury ultimately selecting two winners. Claiming the title in the Large Enterprises category was Amina Hamidi-Calvo, CTO of ABB Electrification, while Faktion CTO Joeri Van Steen triumphed in the SME category.
Turning technology into growth and opportunity
Both winners are shining examples of how Chief Technology Officers not only drive business development within their own companies, but also foster innovation that impacts society more broadly. Amina Hamidi-Calvo and her team at ABB Electrification (part of the Swiss-Swedish multinational ABB) contribute to Europe’s competitiveness with safe, smart and sustainable electrification for utilities, industries, transport and infrastructure. And innovation in areas like electric mobility infrastructure will be crucial to enable the transition to carbon neutrality and address climate change. “This is great recognition of ABB’s work in meeting the demands brought about by urbanisation, digitisation and a growing dependence on electrification,” commented Ms Hamidi-Calvo. “Technology really holds the key to improving how we can all live, work, and play more responsibly for the environment, underpinning thriving economies. I am delighted to accept this award and dedicate it to all the unsung heroes tirelessly making a positive difference each day through innovation and technology.”
SME winner Joeri Van Steen heads up tech development at one of the fastest growing artificial intelligence (AI) scale-ups in Europe. Faktion specializes in building AI, machine learning and deep learning solutions for some of the most innovative companies in the world. “This is a wonderful reward for the hard work not only of myself but of my team,” commented Mr Van Steen. “CTOs play a central role in driving innovation strategy and processes at a company and aligning this with business needs. These innovations can also make a difference to society, as in Faktion’s work with non-profit organisations on AI solutions to help address needs in areas like healthcare.” A recent not-for-profit project saw the Faktion team work on AI technology that could help identify the early signs of Alzheimer’s through speech analysis – just one of the many promising areas of application for AI in diagnostic medicine.
Enabling innovation with the right framework
Needless to say CTOs do not operate in a vacuum: in addition to market requirements and the competitive landscape, the policy and regulatory framework also shapes their decision-making processes. In a panel discussion with award winners and nominees at the Reinventing Europe’s Industrial Leadership event, Malte Lohan – Director General of Orgalim, the foremost association representing the technology industries at EU level – asked which policy issues are keeping CTOs up at night. Digitalisation and data ranked high on the list of responses, with cybersecurity and data-sharing approaches seen as crucial to the future of digitally-driven tech development in Europe. Moreover, the CTOs viewed targeted R&D&I funding for applied research as an important lever for innovation – although there was a feeling that access to this financing can be difficult, particularly for smaller companies. Finally, fostering AI development and adoption was seen as a key future area for strengthening EU leadership, with many viewing the European engagement for an ethical approach to AI as a key advantage for securing consumer trust.
Congratulating the winners of the CTO of the Year Europe title, Malte Lohan commented: “Their achievements highlight the vital role technology plays not only in boosting the performance of individual companies or industries, but in shaping a future that’s good for European society as a whole.”
Read more on how the EU can support technology and innovation to shape a future that’s good in Orgalim’s ‘2030: an industry vision for a renewed Europe’.