Double Agent Martti Mäntylä

Ensto’s newest board member Martti Mäntylä brings expertise from the crossroads of manufacturing and ICT.

The industrial internet today might be likened to websites just a decade ago: companies built them even though they weren’t always sure what to do with them.

Like having a website, the industrial internet (also called the Internet of Things) eventually won’t be something that’s optional.

“Products will be not only hardware, most will have software components,” says Dr. Martti Mäntylä, Professor of Information Technology at Aalto University, and Ensto’s newest board member. “It will be cost effective to embed intelligence in things made of plastic or metal, giving them a digital part as well.”

This means products – Ensto’s products – linked to the net, sending and receiving information. “A product’s functionality will happen, in part, in the cloud,” adds Mäntylä. “And software updates will mean product behavior could be easily modified.”

Some companies will exploit this to great advantage. Others will simply vanish.

Computer science meets engineering

Mäntylä’s background runs the gamut from industrial applications for computer science methods, manufacturing processes, engineering data management, user interfaces and interaction, building ICT knowledge and innovation communities, to his current interest in ICT and the digitization of industry. “I’m a double agent,” he says. “Computer science and mechanical engineering.”

While attending meetings, helping to develop strategies, and guiding major investments are the visible role of board members, Mäntylä characterizes this as the tip of the iceberg. “The responsibility the board bears is the iceberg below the surface.” And his background positions him well to pose challenging questions as well as identify opportunities.

The trouble with manufacturing

According to Mäntylä, industry is prone to making the same mistakes over and over again. What ailed manufacturing before the age of the internet continues to haunt it. “In the eighties and nineties I’d speak with a designer and say ‘Let’s go to the machine shop.’ He’d remark that he’d never done that before. The issue we faced was fragmentation and chasms between different company functions.”

“Designers sometimes design without understanding the reality of manufacturing. Then designs have to be reinterpreted by manufacturing folks who don’t understand design – creating errors which have to be fixed later when they’re more costly.” Bridging chasms can remedy that, and digitization has a role to play.

But Mäntylä cautions that because the internet exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean improvement. “Human and process and management problems are exacerbated by all the data and technology we now have. In that sense, we are in the early stages of really applying ICT.”

Remaining in balance

Mäntylä sees ICT’s role to serve the process and remain in balance. “Industry has not found the balance, despite the fact computers have been in use for many years.”

The challenge is to integrate ICT into human processes and data flows. “Companies are not alone and have to provide an interface to customers, partners, and the outside world. Companies should ask themselves: What is my API I’m offering to the outside world?”

Not everyone even knows what an API is, much less has one, but it’s probably a safe bet they’ll learn in the next few years. API is Application Program Interface, a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications, and an API specifies how software components should interact.

Mäntylä’s point is that human beings and organizations also need such clarity, a road map to the process of digitization, which takes into account the ecosystem of other players.

Results driven

Not always common with academics, Mäntylä is a man who desires real world results. He once dropped his industrial application work because he felt he wasn’t getting industry impact. “I felt like I was building Fabergé eggs – fascinating but difficult to scale and apply.” Ensto will certainly provide a hands-on opportunity.

How does Ensto currently stack up? Mäntylä notes that it’s unfair to compare different industries, but he’s certain of one thing: “Ensto’s business of moving energy about is to be fully digitalized. We cannot make the switch to sustainable energy without a better way of producing and storing energy and being cleverer in how we make use of it.”

He is hesitant to make bold proclamations about a company he does not yet intimately know, but there are some things one feels without knowing.

“Ensto has a family feel, a community feeling. People subscribe to the values and are happy to be a part of Ensto. That’s what well-run companies do. One can feel that.”

Author: Scott Diel