Interview with Karsten Dehler
Chief Commercial Officer for It-Forum and Project Manager for the IoT Week 2019
Karsten Dehler is Chief Commercial Officer for It-Forum, a network of over 470 companies, private and public organizations, colleges, and local, regional and state authorities in Central Denmark Region and Southern Denmark. He’s also Project Manager for the IoT Week 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the current emerging market trend that promises to merge the physical and data worlds together. What benefits do you think IoT brings to individuals and society in terms of sustainability, and how has Aarhus managed to become known as its innovation capital?
Many individuals and society in general (no matter if it’s public organisations or private companies) are struggling with making smarter, better decisions. The ones that want to make a change often have a hard time explaining where and how big the impact or result of a given solution or decision is, because the underlying data—the before and after data—is missing.
This is exactly what is being changed with IoT devices, especially via the data they gather. When we gather data, our impact on a given problem or area is quickly available via that data, and we can see if things are moving in the right direction, with the positive changes we aimed for. And when we work together across ‘classic industry borders’ and involve private companies (well established ones, as well as start-ups) in cooperation with cities and communities, we can create a positive impact much quicker. It’s a classic example of synergy effect at its best, where the sum of all parties equals much more than the worth of each initiative on its own.
Aarhus created ‘Smart Aarhus’ several years back to facilitate exactly this kind of cooperation, bringing public and private players together to try new joint solutions quickly, see if they work, and then use them to make better decisions and choose what to scale and how. They also supported ‘Public Data Denmark’, where cities and public authorities share data to anyone that can use it, e.g. data gathered in the city regarding road temperature, pollution, rain, smog, cars in traffic, bikes and so forth is made available to anyone that could use it to come up with suggestions to benefit us all. Many other cities in Denmark are following Aarhus and many have joined Danish, Scandinavian and Global smart city initiatives.
Aarhus will be hosting this 2019's IoT Week 2019. Back in 2017, participants of the IoT Week Geneva signed a declaration promoting the development and adoption of IoT technologies in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We hear that the SDGs are to play an even bigger role during IoT Week Aarhus this year. Can you please tell us a little more about this?
Definitely. First of all, we have created a series of tracks under the overall topic that we call international cooperation and SDGs, because if we are going to make a positive impact on the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to work together across additional industry borders, across traditional sectors and definitely also across international borders. For a small country like Denmark, if we just focus on ourselves, we won’t have much impact. So we're very much hoping to inspire other countries, both within the public sectors and private sectors, to work together. We’re hoping the international cooperation and SDGs track will reach out mainly to the strategic decision makers and actually show them with cases and concrete examples how companies today are assisting in reaching the goals even faster—in the fastest possible way, basically.
We have also created an area between the public expo open for everyone and the venue side where you have to pay to get in. In this area, we are introducing our new way of serving water, food and drinks to the participants. One of the three food stations we have is being dedicated to making food related to the SDGs, so it will be zero-meat and use as little water as possible. We will also be handing out, in person, glass bottles to be reused by each participant so they are filling up glass bottles and actually taking them home with them, instead of using the traditional plastic bottles that create a lot of garbage for us to recycle. We’re also working very hard to predict more precisely the number of participants, so we can reduce the amount of food that often goes to waste during an event like this. And if we do have food waste, we have already made deals around Aarhus to reuse the food and give it to shelters and so forth, where people can come and collect food that hasn't been used or eaten by the participants.
The Concert Hall is working to reduce energy use in general and use what they save to create better events, whilst making a positive impact on the environment. We are also working on both our start-up competition (for companies that already have a solution or product in the market and are ready to scale up and go global) and our Hackathon, which is for students and very new companies with just an idea. We're bringing the Hackathon participants together to ‘hack’ current problems that we need to find new approaches and solutions for. For both the start-up competition and the Hackathon, we have singled out Sustainable Development Goals for them to focus on. So for the start-up competition, we have singled out SDG 3 good health and well-being, SDG 6 clean water and sanitation and SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, so we are looking for companies with new products and solutions related to solving the SDGs within these areas. For the Hackathon it'll be almost the same: SDG 3, SDG 11 and SDG 13 Climate Action.
As a follow up to the declaration that was made back in 2017, this year we will see the participants signing a new declaration that will take it a step further and challenge companies and the public sector, in cooperation with cities, to reach the goals even faster. So we will use this follow up to challenge the traditional differences between companies and cities and get them working together, highlighting that by working across borders, we will reach the goals even faster. Something relating to this follow up declaration will be in the public area and we’re hoping participants, partners, cities and everyone signs the follow up, but I can't reveal the final name for our declaration yet! However, I can promise that the Public Expo as well as the inside Exhibition is something that our guests can look forward to experiencing as we are dedicating such a big part of the event this year to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals - just wait and see.
What, in your opinion, makes Aarhus a great destination for sustainable meetings and events?
On the venue side, the general feeling in Aarhus is that people are more "doers" and willing to help and assist. For example, we have large numbers of volunteers based within Aarhus, so we don't need to bring in assistance and helpers from around the country who would need to travel here, potentially causing CO2 pollution. And what I have been working on this last year is making the conference inspire the city and reach beyond the venue. For many years, I've been going to conferences where the conference would live entirely inside the venue and not actually reach out to the participants in the city surrounding the venue. And since we are focusing on the sustainable development goals and they should be on top of everybody's minds, that is one of the reasons why we have created the public expo—to sort of open up the conference, with an open air, free access area for everyone, where they can all come in to see the different ways in which IoT devices can help us make better decisions, based on data rather than gut feelings. All of this would not be happening were it not for the help and support of the City Of Aarhus.
What makes Aarhus even better is that it's a small city that has everything close by. It's located so that you have water, beaches and the sea, forests and beautiful nature close by, and we have a lot of initiatives, many of them started by Smart Aarhus that we talked about earlier, which help participants to walk to local venues and find their way around the city without having to use public transport. Because it's a smaller city than London or New York or Paris, they will have an experience where they can see all of these things working and that participants in the different municipalities are working together with the different stakeholders in the city.
For instance, they will see the electric city bikes that are talking to street city lights, so that if you're using one of these electric bikes you'll be helped with green lights whenever possible during your trip around the city. We are actually creating a bike tour around Aarhus so visitors can see and experience all these different proposals and initiatives at work around the city: everything from utility to water handling to using alternative routes in the city and transport options you can use instead of parking your car here. We have different solutions where we are gathering data from the sidewalks and the bikes paths, because Aarhus is a biking city; biking is very popular. We are gathering temperature data so we can see when we will need to salt the roads, and if it’s icy, we can reduce the amount of big trucks going around spreading salt on the roads. So there will be a lot of concrete examples.
It is no coincidence that Aarhus is called the "City of Smiles" and I will guarantee that our guests and visitors will experience a city of doers, willing to go the extra step to create a unique experience. Just to give you another example, we have the local running communities that have offered help related to SDG 3 Good health and well-being; they are creating running routes so that our conference participants can go out running together each morning and experience the city with people that know the area. They will see how we are ensuring that people can get their exercise, even though they're in a new city and maybe not used to being able to run on their own. But Aarhus is a very safe city and there will be a lot of assistants helping and guiding our guests during the event.
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