Shane McArdle stepped into his new CEO role at Kongsberg Digital in September 2022. At the time, he told us he's not a typical CEO – and one year on, it still holds. McArdle's first year has seen strategic shifts and expansive growth in a dynamic digital landscape that continues to shape the future of work for the maritime and energy industries. We caught up with McArdle to reflect on his last twelve months in office and hear more about the company's direction under his stewardship.
"It's a cliché, but it is crazy that it's been one year already."
It's not easy to get hold of Shane McArdle. After spearheading Kongsberg Digital's Digital Energy division for three years, the Irishman became the CEO in September 2022 – inheriting the title from Hege Skryseth. In a rather famous office speech on his very first day as CEO, he promised to visit every single Kongsberg Digital office by Christmas the same year.
The ambition was there, but a CEO's life is very busy. But 12 months in, the (still) reasonably fresh CEO has been travelling the world, visiting offices, colleagues, partners and clients – gaining new perspectives and knowledge on Kongsberg Digital's daily operations and possibilities and how to make a mark on the industry.
Have you been the world's busiest man for the last twelve months?
"I'll admit I was maybe a bit too eager to meet the whole organisation and learn everything about Kongsberg Digital in such a short period of time", he says. "Still, what we do and how we are developing and implementing new technology across industries such as the maritime, energy, renewables, and utilities is not something you learn by having Teams meetings. I wanted to get out there and meet the people of Kongsberg Digital, customers and partners.", McArdle says.
Kongsberg Digital has shared some great news over the year, securing significant contracts with Shell, Chevron and Höegh Autoliners. What are your key takeaways and highlights from your first year as CEO?
"There have been so many highlights over the past 12 months, but what stands out most for me is my KDI colleagues. Their shared ambitions and commitment to pushing the boundaries in shaping the future of work for the heavy asset industries are inspiring. This proactive approach to industry challenges, whether for the maritime, energy, grid or renewable sector, is something that I admire and was also something that I was thrilled to see that our colleagues worldwide share.", Shane says with pride. "With the continued momentum towards digitalisation and decarbonisation we are experiencing in our industries today, our customers are advocating for advanced digital tools to foster their efforts. This is where KONGSBERG truly excels, offering end-to-end solutions seamlessly connecting every facet of the value chain."
Just as the new CEO, Kongsberg Digital has had a busy last 12 months. With new colleagues, clients, partners and an impressive investment from Shell Ventures and Idékapital of 90 million US dollars, the company is set to continue scaling and exploring new markets.
In March, Kongsberg Digital launched its Industrial Work Surface with the vision to "shape the future of work" – and the promise to "put humans at the centre of the technology". How is Kongsberg Digital approaching this?
"With my background as an engineer and working in operations, I have first-hand experience on just how time-consuming and hard it can be to just do your job - getting hold of the correct information, resulting in delayed operations and postponing deadlines, it's just a lot of hours spent waiting. Together, we are challenging how businesses design, build, operate and maintain their assets – and we are doing so through the Industrial Work Surface.", Shane explains – with quite a hint of enthusiasm.
"Using industrial data created by enterprises, The Industrial Work Surface provides a single source of truth for your industrial data. Users can have an end-to-end experience with their data but also plan, execute and carry out their work in one common interface. They can follow a molecule from the well, through the processing facility, onto the vessel and into the market – the same goes for their electrons – from production to consumption. It is our way of transforming business and positively changing behaviours; we are shaping the future of work."
And the humans at the centre of technology?
"Technology must serve humanity, not vice versa. The Industrial Work Surface emphasises an Industry 5.0 approach, meaning humans remain integral to tech. It's not just about tracing a molecule's journey but ensuring every engineer and operator has real-time, intuitive access to the needed data. This is more than just digital transformation — it's about reaffirming our commitment to humans as the linchpin of innovation, ensuring that as we shape the future of work."
"This exceeds just having access to data; it's about guaranteeing that every engineer and operator are empowered to re-image how they perform their job." Shane states.
How has the reception of the Industrial Work Surface been in the market?
"It has exceeded our expectations. Our standout testimony of this – looking back at the last year – is our contracts with global energy operators such as Shell and Chevron. But also, what we are doing has been met with great expectations in the maritime sector, as digitalisation serves as one of the core factors in changing how we provide services in the maritime industry, reduce emissions and reach the Net Zero targets laid out by the IMO. "
…is the Maritime industry able to reach its Net Zero targets?
"The maritime industry is often referred to as slow and conservative. But, looking at what has happened there in the last ten years or so, the industries have stepped up and started to renew their vessels and fleets, adapt new fuel types, and implement digital solutions. I would say that the maritime sector is a front-runner in adopting new technology and ultimately aiming for a greener industry. But it takes time. Therefore, we are working closely with our clients and partners in the industry to adapt the Industrial Work Surface and its functionality for the sector."
So, are you saying the industries are ready to change and adopt digital at scale?
"Absolutely. The energy and maritime sectors have displayed a readiness and urgency to adapt to digital transformation. We have too; we all live on the same planet, and we all need to contribute. However, there are inevitable challenges. One of the primary obstacles today is not so much about gathering data but its sheer volume, complexity and ability to leverage it effectively to optimise operations. Many companies have experienced setbacks in past digital ventures, which underscores the importance of choosing the right partner that can make the complex world of digital more understandable and approachable. But as I've stated earlier – you need to figure out what your North Star is from a digitalisation point of view. How do you want to use digitalisation to leverage your business and re-imagine your operating model? That is a basic but extremely important exercise for you as a digitalisation leader to do", Shane explains.
We hear a lot about AI right now. How does it fit into your vision?
"AI is heralded as the future but can't work in isolation. Without human intelligence to guide its application, AI can be a double-edged sword. It's crucial for industries to realise that blindly chasing the latest tech isn't the solution; it's about integrating these tools to add genuine value to operations. We also have to be conscious that the industries we work towards are highly safety-critical and will take time to trust AI. That is why we focus on explainable AI to build that trust and carefully embed it into our offerings. We see ourselves as a curator of this tech and have already integrated ChatGPT capabilities into our industrial work surface."
As an engineer with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, how has it been to dive into industries such as maritime and renewables?
"We have a lot of domain knowledge in KDI, with many of our people coming from these industries. While the maritime and renewables sectors present unique challenges, they also offer incredible opportunities for innovation. What excites me most, on a personal level, is Kongsberg Digital stepping forward to help shape the future of work across industries, harnessing the power of digitalisation to drive meaningful change. We all feel a responsibility to make things better. I like solving hard challenges because you tend to get a lot of support when you demonstrate progress despite the headwinds. We are seeing that now."
What's next for Kongsberg Digital and yourself?
"We have a lot of exciting processes and projects going on. It's difficult only to point out one or a few. Still, on a technology level, I am very excited about our further development of the Industrial Work Surface and how we are weaving in AI. We are still only scratching the surface of what AI can do, but we have to be pragmatic about where we can apply it. We see ourselves as a curator of AI for our users. The industries we work towards are extremely safety conscious, and we can't unleash an unknown or black box technology into that environment. We will continue to push the envelope on explainable industrial AI that will build the trust we need in order to adopt it at scale."
"Exploring new industries and possibilities – we are leveraging our partnerships with TGS and FutureOn to create a digital twin for the Offshore Wind industry to provide optimised project planning and decision support throughout the whole lifecycle for wind farms. We need to speed up the time to market with these technologies to truly start the energy transition. Where we are now with the majority of these projects is still in the concept, design and build stage. We believe technology and access to the correct data surfaced most intuitively can speed up the process. That is why we are investing so heavily in this space right now."
"And last – and this I am very excited about – we are hosting our first-ever Tomorrow Show with clients and partners in Houston at the end of October. The Tomorrow Show will offer a platform to executive leaders from energy operators, including Shell, Chevron and Höegh Autoliners – to mention a few – to explore how transformative digital innovations will shape the future of work in carbon-intensive industries, helping to make operations smarter, safer and more sustainable."
Where do you see Kongsberg Digital in the next 5 years?
"You know, 5 years is a lifetime for us at the pace we are moving today," laughs Shane. "In the next five years, I envision Kongsberg Digital not only considering an IPO despite challenging market conditions but also expanding our footprint through continued scaling. We're on a trajectory to venture into new markets and integrate ground-breaking technologies, solidifying our position as a leader in the digital landscape. We are building a legacy, a solution that will positively impact 100,000's of industrial user's life every single day. I will be happy if every one of them has an AI buddy that helps make their work life much more efficient, safer and better."
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