Career insight

Andreas Häberli – Chief Technology Officer Group & Mihai Barbulescu – Business Owner Disrupt


This joint interview features two engineers talking about a topic they love – innovation. Andreas and Mihai go deep on what it takes to create an environment that fosters innovation, and everything is going digital. They talk about the technology of yesterday, today, and, perhaps most excitingly, what lies ahead. Intrigued? Read on. Or better yet, join the team!

What does innovation mean for dormakaba?

Andreas Häberli: At dormakaba, innovation is at the heart of our mission: We want to make access in life smart and secure. We stay true to that by striving to improve every day. Innovation is driven by courage and curiosity, which are two of our company values. For us, innovation means creating space to experiment and provide access to the newest technology. We continue to invest more in innovation than our competitors, reflecting the importance of innovation at our company. We are proud that dormakaba has a longstanding history of setting standards in the industry, even well before the merger of the two companies Dorma and Kaba. One of them is the reversible key patented by Kaba in 1934, and a more recent milestone is our Mobile Access solution.

Mihai Barbulescu: Responding to a rapidly changing global environment with vastly different needs compared to 20 or even 10 years ago and new digital opportunities requires innovation. We are quite aware of our position in the market and understand that many competitors and start-ups are looking to challenge it which motivates us to always innovate and stay ahead. Our products are aimed to improve people’s daily lives, so the focus is always to come up with a brilliant solution and continuously redefining access.

What does innovation mean to you personally?

Andreas Häberli: Innovation requires a flexible mindset, imagination and an inquisitive nature. I believe that it is also crucial to have a willingness to be wrong – your experiments will fail. There is no way around it, it is part of the process. If you embrace the problem and are motivated to try again and again, you can work your way towards a solution. Innovation for me also means teamwork: It is not a solitary exercise. You need to have a diverse group of people around you working towards the same goal.

Mihai Barbulescu: For me, innovation has to do with play and curiosity. It is tremendously exciting to try new things, to find out what works, and to imagine what role it could play in two or five years. At my work, I get the freedom to explore and try out new approaches. Every once in a while a true innovation revolutionizes how our customers use our products. When this happens, it is a really special moment to feel the impact it has on changing people’s lives and behaviors.

What kind of environment do you need to be innovative?

Mihai Barbulescu: Having the time and space to creatively try things out without the pressure of having to deliver a certain product at a certain time helps me a lot. I am pleased that at dormakaba I have the freedom to experiment and grow – I was able to experience many exciting technology shifts while also evolving my career based on my interests and change job titles four times during the last seven years.

It is also valuable to exchange ideas openly with my colleagues. This interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge always inspires new ideas. It is important for innovation to have different perspectives from different cultures. At dormakaba, you have access to a network of innovators across the globe to exchange and test your ideas faster. The barriers to reach out to colleagues are low: we share information openly and work as a team.

Andreas Häberli: I agree, our global teamwork is something I value. Besides leveraging our interconnectedness, we also make organizational changes to provide the right environment. In order to prioritize innovation and digitization, we established a new organizational unit: "dormakaba digital". Our digital transformation experts develop digital services and products and act as strategic advisors and "sparring partners" for our customers.

What is the innovation work like at dormakaba?

Andreas Häberli: First of all, we constantly question our business, our products, and processes. After all, in order to develop innovations efficiently, you first have to start with yourself and set up your working methods in the best possible way. A simple example: As a global group, it is important that we speak a common "innovation language". When we speak of "Decision Point B", for example, everyone should know what is meant. This sounds trivial, but it's important that we work hand in hand to develop innovations.

Mihai Barbulescu: We have two balanced views on innovation. The first is to look at technology trends and select those that are most promising for our company. We explore with these technologies and attempt to embed them within our products to see what is possible which could not have been imagined before. Equally crucial is the question: What do customers want? What challenges do they face? This can also happen in the course of a development process. That is why we have to think and work agile.

Andreas Häberli: Right. We address customer needs in a targeted manner: with intensive research and development and, again, we invest here significantly more than our competitors.

You just mentioned customer needs and new technology trends. What developments and challenges do you currently see? What is your outlook for the upcoming years?

Andreas Häberli: Touchless access, or touchless economy, will be crucial for the years to come. Think about improving mobile access – a development that dormakaba spearheaded – that allows distribution of personalized access rights without meeting in person. Other solutions are “sense on approach” technologies, either based on video analytics or based on a new wireless technology (Ultra-Wideband, aka UWB) which we pioneered jointly with a start-up company in the last few years. It can be paired with automatic doors, or optical door “buttons” that trigger door opening without touching. Naturally, we cannot give any specific details – you will have to come work with us to know what we are developing.

However, an example as to how we were informed by both customer needs as well as new technology, would be the self-boarding gates at airports. dormakaba is the world’s leading supplier of self-boarding gates, which significantly reduce boarding times while simultaneously improving service and security.

Mihai Barbulescu: There are several aspects that I find especially interesting. Facial recognition, for instance, is a game-changer for access control. Instead of relying on objects (card, phone, key, etc.) for access control, you are yourself the method of access. User experience is much improved, but there are obstacles in the data and security implications. It is exciting to think of solutions to these issues.

Also, analyzing anonymized access control data could provide a lot of information about traffic flow and security issues. Making decisions based on such data can improve the product operation significantly. Like Andreas said, come to work with us to be the first to know which exciting developments lay ahead!

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