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Industrial analytics thought leadership-series.

How will industrial analytics, Industry 4.0, IIoT and digital transformation change businesses? And ultimately the world? We ask industry leaders to share their view on these technologies, how we use them, and where they will take us.

Nada Ahmed:

Don’t start with data. Start with a business problem

Companies can learn about innovation from the culture and the methods in the tech industry. Leadership, clarity and customer focus has to guide the change. But you cannot start with data and hope it will guide you, according to innovation expert Nada Ahmed.

“When I as a private person give my data to somebody, I get something in return. News about what my friends are up to, grocery shopping online or ability to share the bill online at the restaurant. In business-to-business we should have the same expectation. What is the business problem we want to solve by sharing, analyzing or value-adding our data?” says Nada Ahmed, Senior innovation lead at Aker Solutions.

“Data will almost certain be able to help us, but what is that compelling business goal of reduced downtime, lower cost or increased security, that will make it worth our while? There is a disconnect between the hype surrounding data and analytics and especially AI and the use cases in real life. To me the key to success in digital transformation is clarity, customer value focus and integrative thinking from top management,” says Nada Ahmed.

Design thinking and customer centricity

The innovation practice has a lot to learn from Silicon Valley, and Nada Ahmed is for one endorsing the method of design thinking. Looking at business problems from a customer perspective and from many different angles is essential to establishing the business case. Also the agile method with rapid prototyping and the ability to adapt and change late in the game is essential. Re-thinking of business models, digital transformation and projects in analytics will thrive in a learning culture rooted in top management, is her point-of-view.

“The use cases af digital transformation in heavy industry are still scant. If you deliver machines or infrastructure with a life span of 30-40 years you shouldn’t expect the same speed of disruption as in business-to-consumer industries. On the other hand you cannot ignore the long term potential of a much more data-driven model in your industry,” she says

Drones and seabed

In the case of offshore oil rigs the future will hold sensors everywhere, unmanned units, drone inspection, complex equipment designed for the seabed, heavy use of 3D visualization, predictive maintenance and remote control centers on shore. Getting ready for this vision of autonomous operations in a long term perspective can be reached by building robust digital twins of the asset.

“The innovation potential is humungous. The question is how to get there. Even a company like Aker Solutions is too small to do it alone, and we are actively seeking strategic partnerships. The road map should constantly be revised, and the dialogue with customers is of course key to plot the course and decide the speed in innovation,” she says.

In her practice Nada Ahmed works with data scientists. The data dimension is important, but it starts with business knowledge and a business problem.

“Take predictive maintenance. We need to carve out the business potential. Are we talking about reducing down time from two weeks to one hour, if we can predict and identify a problem before it emerges? And if so what will that mean to a customer? Data is only one of the dimensions. We have to start with the business issue, and be creative around business models. Let’s use this digitalization wave to radically rethink and transform the way we operate.”

Let’s bring back creativity

Nada Ahmed endorses methods in the innovation practice that reveal customer behavior. It’s not about what they say. It’s about what they do.

“The ability to focus on core value is what design thinking is about. Even if you have been around for many years and have an impressive track record you must stay on your toes and identify the right problem to solve for your customers. How do they operate? What motivates them? What incentive is driving them?”. Those who are able to identify early signs of change in customer behavior will have a tremendous advantage.

According to Nada Ahmed innovation cannot be solely bottom-up. Not only do we need diverse teams but a safe space where new thoughts are encouraged and failure is tolerated. But above all, it is vital that the vision and commitment for innovation comes from the CEO office.

“We need room for more creativity in traditional companies. In that respect we have a lot to learn from Silicon Valley. It is about constant challenging yourself and others, and it is about sharing ideas. Google is a role model to me. The exponential thinking and a deeply rooted learning culture is an inspiration.”

“Some of it has to do with leaving short-termism and make room for long term perspectives. To do that in practice we need to reevaluate our metrics and KPIs. We cannot only be measured on short term results but also need KPIs on learning and development for the future. In that respect some traditional companies have long way to go before they can reap the full benefits of new technology and embrace a truly innovative culture,” she says.

Nada Ahmed:

Pakistan, Hong Kong, France, USA, Norway. Next stop innovation.

Nada Ahmed is Senior innovation lead at Aker Solutions. She grew up in Pakistan and at age 16 she went to Hong Kong for studies. She continued in France and in Houston, Texas, where she became an environmental engineer, and subsequently started to work in the oil and gas industry. The employment with a Norwegian company led to Norway, where she has lived for seven years.

Currently she is working with innovation for the global engineering company Aker Solutions. Based in Oslo the company provides products, systems and services required to unlock energy from sources such as oil, gas and offshore wind. Aker Solutions operates from 52 locations and employs more than 14.000.

Follow Nada here:


“We need room for more creativity in traditional companies. In that respect we have a lot to learn from Silicon Valley. It is about constant challenging yourself and others, and it is about sharing ideas. Google is a role model to me. The exponential thinking and a deeply rooted learning culture is an inspiration.”

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