“The construction industry is a hidden gem for co-digitalization” – Interview with KONE’s Head of R&D Johannes Rastas

Arttu Närhi

Arttu Närhi

When we look at buildings, we think about People Flow experiences. Helping people – and material – move effortlessly during the entire life cycle of a building, from the construction phase to modernizing them, is at the heart of KONE R&D. Connected elevators and escalators play a role here. “There is still unrealized potential there, and co-creating a total experience around our products and solutions together with startups is something we value a lot,” says Johannes Rastas, Head of R&D at KONE.

“Broadly speaking, the construction industry has benefited least from digitalization,” he says. However, KONE sees that its sphere of interest is much broader than the construction or elevators and escalators domain and spans smart cities and buildings.

Over his 20 years in corporate innovation, Rastas has worked with significant tech players, such as Nordea, where he headed the bank’s digital banking development. Before that, he led software engineering functions at Microsoft and Nokia. Now, he is focusing on the next milestone for KONE: to become a genuinely physical plus digital player and transform the industry. The rise of smart buildings and cities offers a tremendous opportunity to make traditional machineries, like elevators and escalators, an essential part of the smart city ecosystem.

Not just a metal box going up and down

“Our core products are powered by software,” Rastas describes the ongoing transformation. “Predictive maintenance solutions and KONE 24/7 Connected Services are examples of how we use data to improve user experience and provide new offerings.”

Currently, roughly half of KONE R&D roles are in software, working closely together with hardware experts on numerous exciting developments combining the best of both worlds. One example is bringing benefits to construction (like the KONE Jumplift) and the broader Smart Building industry, including addressing end-user experience.

“We are mastering both sides of the coin – hardware, and software,” he continues. “That is what we mean by becoming a physical + digital enterprise. We thrive in solving complex challenges, connecting outdated legacy with the latest hardware and software, and orchestrating massive data flows. We master this complexity to provide our customers and end users simplicity and peace of mind. And our mission is to do this better than anyone else”.

KONE provides different solutions for new buildings and buildings in use. They have different needs and requirements for equipment and software installations. But even before end users use the solutions, we can do a lot at the construction site.

“At construction sites, only 30% of construction workers' time is productive,” Rastas says. “We can tackle this with data-driven material logistics: make sure that the right tools, equipment, and building materials are in the right place at the right time, and all tasks are completed more efficiently.”

Learning from other industries

Construction has benefited less from digitalization than other fields due to the slow pace of change in general. With long lead times in projects, industry players must be close to their customers, collaborate with their peers extensively, and keep a keen eye out for changes elsewhere.

“We developed KONE 24/7 Connected Services this way,” Rastas says. “We process an enormous amount of data, with about half a billion IoT messages from our machinery daily. Connecting these to the cloud, combining machine learning and analytics to process them, and enabling our proactive maintenance efforts with this was not a challenge the construction industry could solve alone. In fact, KONE was one of the first companies to adopt Agile principles in the entire R&D organization, not only for software development but also our hardware development.

KONE volumes force them to think about scalability in all development. Geographical scale is vital as KONE operates in more than 60 countries and serves over 550 million customers in different parts of the world. Their partners and new solutions must also satisfy these parameters.

“We want to work closely with customers to create compelling offerings. We always need to think big and can invest in the solutions that have the potential to go big,” Rastas says. “Most of all, we want to work with risk-taking partners who invest in their great ideas.”

Adding up all the daily journeys

Ensuring users have a smooth experience within and between buildings saves one person a few minutes daily. Not much on a single journey, but those minutes add up over time. Moreover, with KONE products moving over one billion worldwide daily, the total saved time goes up to billions of minutes.

“A completely seamless and intuitive People Flow experience starts, for example, when I am driving to the office,” Rastas explains. “The parking gate I drive through recognizes me immediately. After I park the car and walk towards the elevator, the system automatically calls the elevator, ready to go to the floor where my next meeting is.” 

On top of this, Rastas elaborates on developments that can improve interactions with users who have specific needs or even enhance accessibility for people with disabilities. 

“Our vision for people flow in buildings is that it is completely hands-free, intuitive, and almost unnoticeable,” he says. “To make this a reality, we must go beyond the elevators and escalators’ domain.”

APIs – gateways for KONE partners

APIs allow KONE to serve the buildings’ users and collaborate seamlessly with their partners. Operational APIs monitor equipment status, while experience APIs enable new services like delivery or cleaning robots to integrate with the elevators. 

“We have been industry leaders in both categories,” Rastas says. “It’s quite evident that this will be how companies connect their products and services now and in the future. Thus, it’s an important venue for innovation partners, too.” 

No limits exist to what could connect with a smart building or the products that make up one. However, Rastas has a clear focus on what partners should ideally bring to the table to make the experience the best for building end users.

“I challenge our partners to help us think about the things we can provide together to create a better total experience,” he says.

"We are driving the construction industry forward"

KONE has extensive in-house R&D resources and capabilities. Yet, Rastas and his team are not under any illusion that good ideas need fresh perspectives and multiple players to get the most out of them. 

“We are open to experimenting with new things in a truly agile manner, and the construction industry with the smart buildings domain offers endless opportunities to innovate together,” Rastas says. 

Sustainability as a cornerstone of the KONE strategy is where multiple opportunities for co-creation, new ideas, and innovation are open. Additionally, going beyond the elevators and escalators domain to make the total experience of end users as smooth and as seamless as possible is another potential area for co-innovation. 

“Start-ups are swift and agile. They get things done quickly,” Rastas says. “We have many benefits in being a large corporation, but speed is not always our strength. Conversely, startups and scaleups might not have the reach and scale, but their niche is something they know very well. They spot opportunities, and I think there are many  ways to join forces to tackle challenges together.”