Max, you’re an innovation manager. But what exactly is innovation?
"Innovation is developing and examining new processes and products. As VodafoneZiggo we want to maintain our market position and strengthen it. To that end we need to anticipate changes in the telecom industry, where trends follow one another in rapid succession. For example, the fact that fewer and fewer people watch linear TV. Or the rise of WhatsApp. As a result, people text a lot less and mobile internet has become more important."
So, innovation is more than providing ever faster internet?
"Absolutely, although fast, stable mobile ánd fixed internet is important. It is the minimum we need to do innovation-wise. We also keep an eye on other companies, not only a competitor like KPN, but also Spotify and Netflix for instance. They keep expanding their offer and customers increasingly use their services on the go. To enable that, you need bigger bundles and faster internet."
Which current innovation trends are you monitoring?
"Subscription services for online gaming, for example. There have been a few that came and went, but the market seems to be there. Especially now with the introduction of 5G for mobile gaming and the fact that people are looking for even more convenience. The Internet of Things and smart home solutions are interesting, too. In the smart home of the future, all electronic devices communicate with each other. Our network will play an important role in that. As do our thousand servicemen who can install these devices everywhere."
Does your team come up with all the innovations for VodafoneZiggo?
"No, we talk a lot to consumers, companies and knowledge institutes. In addition, we receive loads of ideas, hundreds a year, especially from start-ups, a very important group for us. Because of these talks and entries we know what’s going on at our customers and when we need to respond to a trend. From our business customers we learn to work more innovative – for instance in the field of HR. Recently, I witnessed a system that filters written applications and selects only those that meet the requirements. Anyway, we always look at the added value of all these innovations. Innovation is not indiscriminately implementing something, just because it is new."
Why are start-ups so important for you?
"They are often the first to translate new technologies into concrete products and services. And they anticipate new needs. Sometimes, our innovation team adopts such an innovation – or the idea for it – and integrates it together with the start-up into an existing or new project. Like the expansion of our network to the beaches in Zeeland. Coverage there used to be insufficient, because dunes block radio waves in one fell swoop. Thanks to a special small antenna on the beach, a smart cell, we managed to ensure coverage in those remote spots. Furthermore, we provided children’s watches with a location feature to parents. As a result, the beach lifeguards could focus on people in distress instead of looking out for kids."
What is your prize innovation blunder?
"There are few, because we initiate projects phased and small scale. One thing we have learned, though, is that initiating a project with a great many parties doesn’t work. The diversity of interest is too much, as is the amount of coordination needed. It’s better to start with fewer parties and focus on a partial solution."
And your greatest success?
"During the coronation of our king you could see live on Nu.nl how crowded it was in various areas of the capital. We made this possible by using our network data to create something like a crowd radar. Ideal for visitors looking for the best spot to party. And it was also a great tool for the police to ensure certain spots wouldn’t become overcrowded."
To conclude, which innovations do you foresee for the near future?
"New applications for the 5G network. What superfast mobile internet will enable in my view? Mainly B2B applications like autonomous cars. In maybe two years from now, I expect consumers to be able to play very high-quality online games, including new virtual reality or augmented reality possibilities. Perhaps with a new type of controller. It enables you to game on the go with a pinpoint-sharp, stable picture while playing live with other people at the same time. But that’s of course not what the average consumer uses the internet for. How they will benefit? We are keeping our eyes and ears open for applications that will answer that question."