According to Jeffrey Sachs, author of “The Age of Sustainable Development,” achieving sustainable development on our crowded, unequal, and degraded planet is the most important challenge facing our generation. This challenge for sustainable development is not new for Jonas Berggren, CEO of Standard Solutions Group. For over 50 years, SSG has been effectively working on their key to triumph in sustainability, cross-industry cooperation and SSG’s way in giving best results. In this interview, Jonas tells us their unstoppable take on sustainability, views on transparency as well as their successful collaborative business model and corporate culture.
As CEO of Standard Solutions Group, can you tell us what are the keys to SSG’s success for over 50 years? What has changed in the 50 years in regards to SSG’s mission and strategic focus and why? What has remained unchanged?
Nowhere internationally today is there cross-industry cooperation of the type that SSG has built up. The collaboration model, on which the company is based, involves building networks and interfacing in various forums to openly discuss common initiatives and solutions, and has proven to be highly sought after over the years and works extremely well across sectors and national borders.
There is also a partnership, which has been generating superb results for decades for both SSG and our customers that are essential for an energy and resource-intensive process industry in the global periphery. Our success is primarily due to more than 500 technical experts being actively involved in the company’s more than 60 committees and working groups. We have been able to focus on important changes, create joint solutions and thereby have been able to construct more efficient and profitable processes together.
What SSG is doing is both difficult and easy – difficult, because the mission involves keeping tabs on an incredible amount of information and easy, because SSG’s task has always been to make things as easy as possible.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
SSG absorbs all the information and then further refines it so that others in turn can use it. This ensures consistency, the reuse of the solutions that work best, and is a cost-saving measure that improves the resource utilisation and enhances both quality and safety.
After 50 long years, this unique and very strong will to cooperate is still developing. It has even been strengthened over time and now continues to be intensified and is crossing over into new business areas and new industries.
Standardisation and cooperation are the future. We must all become more efficient in today’s tough international competition. Consequently, SSG standards and recommendations are exactly what are called for. In essence, both the mission and the strategic focus are the same.
What has changed is the way in which we can work together with new technology and what issues are pivotal for collaborating together. We are currently focusing on improved productivity and sustainability along with how we can harness new technology to achieve this. When it comes to technology, we are facing an exciting evolutionary step including the Internet of things and big data that are providing unprecedented opportunities.
On your website, it says: The SSG Way – cooperation gives results. Can you share with us more about the benefits of cooperation in terms of your business model, business process, development and profitability?
The cooperation and sharing of experiences between industries in certain non-competitive areas contributes in achieving your goals more effectively in a cheaper, safer and more resource-efficient manner, as well as avoiding repeated unnecessary mistakes.
We have been developing a globally unique collaboration model for this for over half a century – “The SSG Way.” In our committees with experts from both the industry and its suppliers, we have developed a number of standards and standardised services over the years, which will help the industry to become more efficient, safer and more sustainable.
Our committee activities are very much a form of value networks. Some of these participants are competitors with the same type of products in the same markets. However, we have identified a number of areas that are free from competition where they can meet. Of course, they do not sit down and discuss their trade secrets. However, there are other issues where participants can benefit greatly from each other’s expertise and experiences. Several committees also serve as mouthpieces for the industry when dealing with authorities, and are key consultation bodies when drafting new regulations and laws.
Committees and working groups come up with a solution to a problem that the industry has highlighted. We at SSG then adapt and package the solution proposal prior to launching it on the market as a new or updated service, such as a guideline, a standard, an IT service or a training course.
This is where it gets really interesting. We live on our own income, just as any company does, but the resource base comes from the companies that participate in the committees. They provide us with development potential in terms of expertise that we develop and refine into a commercial format. At the same time, companies benefit from a value network in which they can accelerate their own development by utilising the knowledge and experience of others.
Therefore, we have a form of network symbiosis, in which all parties benefit from each other’s presence – something that is obviously perceived as highly valuable for all participants in the committees. One challenge that we are working on relentlessly is how to demonstrate the benefits that these networks deliver and how we can convey this to the relevant stakeholders.
In today’s new business landscape, people are talking more and more about the power of the collective and the need for increased cooperation and collaboration. And in this new reality, SSG’s working model serves as something of a role model.
In a value network, it is about the links between companies, particularly in the form of enhanced cooperation, which will be the key factor. The ability to orchestrate a large amount of external partnerships is a crucial knowledge advantage in this respect, and combining specialised external expertise allows individual companies to create a resource that is very difficult for competitors to mimic.
The competitiveness of the companies depends largely on how well they manage to develop partnerships, in which they can utilise their expertise as specialists or integrators. The company’s capacity for innovation also grows the external relationships the company has with other organisations. In fast-changing industries, it is especially crucial to combine the internal and external knowledge. Which is exactly the way that SSG works through “The SSG Way”.
From making industrial process a standard, now SSG is making sustainability a standard. What role does sustainability play in SSG’s overall service offerings and strategic plan? Can you elaborate why common standards are a key stop on the necessary road towards increased sustainability?
The company, which gradually and systematically moves towards sustainability, not only brings down its own costs but also raises the engagement and the ability to entice the brightest and most driven people. Adding to this is an increase in goodwill and a stronger brand, but this requires expertise, and the aspect that characterises a good company is that it has the skills necessary to become profitable by doing a good job.
Sustainability will be a matter of course for all companies in the future. The market will demand it. It will simply not be possible to do business without a sustainability perspective.
Our common future prosperity will depend on our ability to enhance efficiency when utilising energy and natural resources. But in order to survive, the industry must continue to cut costs and ensure more efficiency in its production methods. Among SSG owners and customers, there is a huge collective experience in sustainable investment, sustainable operations and sustainable maintenance.
Our role in this is to utilise our knowledge and transfer it to standards. Ultimately, it is all about creating energy efficiency, environmental benefits, and to use as little material and energy as possible in production.
Common standards, in other words, are an important stop on the road that is necessary to achieve greater sustainability.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and problems in the international process industry, and what is SSG’s role in addressing these issues?
SSG’s vision is formulated as “Business Excellence through industrial collaboration,” you have to make products and services that are competitive, but you must also be able to deliver them in resource-efficient ways.
Those who are best at both internal and external efficiency will be the future winners – and it is SSG’s mission to help the industry with exactly this.
Achieving internal efficiency in purchasing, production and maintenance at a more intense level requires an overall group perspective. Large global companies can certainly handle this process by themselves.
In order to succeed, it is essential that this process is initiated and driven by the company’s management. It is all about creating the right values and benefits for business customers in the most efficient way, by leveraging the combined resources and expertise of the organisation, employees, and partners.
Business Excellence means we ensure more satisfied customers, which in turn creates a wider base of operations. We attract colleagues who think it is enjoyable to work in a well-developed organisation. We generate more tangible results, commercial companies boost competitiveness significantly and the public sector enjoys higher dividends for every taxed krona.
According to United Nation’s last minute on the 13th of August 2015, that lack of transparency weakens sustainable development goals. What is SSG’s stand/view on transparency?
Cooperation between the company, its suppliers and competitors is a prerequisite for success. Because cooperation implies some form of transparency, as well as a clear framework for a neutral forum where information can be exchanged in a safe and secure manner.
We are living in a world where previous relatively stable borders in a range of regions are rapidly being transformed. We are headed towards a society where boundaries between markets and companies are becoming increasingly vague and dynamic in terms of both time and space. This concerns the boundaries between companies and owners, and between companies and their business partners.
It is about the limits of the various markets and about what is generally defined as a market, and it involves the boundaries between the national state and the global community.
The word “transparency” can be found among SSG’s core values. Transparency here means that we have an open and clear approach in relation to the outside world, that we give our employees, our customers, our partners and the community at large relevant and timely information about SSG’s ongoing work processes. Transparency helps the outside world to better understand our decisions and our actions. Therefore, SSG’s work and services are made even more credible and effective. Credibility is promoted primarily through regular information and communiqués, in which we are clear with the reason why.
One of SSG’s areas of focus is maintenance. Can you elaborate how companies can improve their performance by introducing a sustainable angle to their maintenance strategies? Would you agree that sustainable maintenance is the key driver for the development of more sustainable companies?
Yes, absolutely. Global competition means that we must be much more cautious with our resources in order to be sustainable in the long term.
Today’s economic models, which have their roots in the 1800s, are now aging and blurring our vision. Along with our partners, we are trying out new ways of looking at reality and new tools that take into account the sustainability value from a life-cycle perspective – the “life cycle sustainability value,” at the present moment.
Our common vision is to create a sustainable technical strategy, train sustainability engineers, and assist companies to draft sustainability statements. The common sustainability training programs have already been started.
We also know that common standards in the industry will lead to enhanced resource efficiency, greater personal security, higher availability, greater reliability, and consequently greater sustainability. These standards facilitate both internal benchmarking for continued efficiency measures, as well as the choice of the best possible sustainable solutions in terms of purchasing and procurement. Our standards are raising demands and our development partnerships with suppliers. In other words, they are a vital stop on the road necessary to achieve greater sustainability.
How do you define your company’s culture? How do you choose employees and what are the qualities that you value the most in your employees?
I would like to describe SSG as an organisation that is out on a constant uplifting journey towards the goal of being a conscious company; a conscious company is a business that succeeds in reflecting on its own operations.
You can work on change and development processes indefinitely, but you will not help the company survive and remain competitive in the long term if you will not also have good control of, and can respond to, the changes taking place – both internally and externally. Therefore, a conscious company is attentive and is constantly working to find the best equation for the interface between the internal and external environments.
Skills development is also essential in a conscious company. The organisation is permeated here by a holistic mindset. Each individual is unique, with different motivations and each individual needs various support factors and incentives as the starting point in order to work in a team and to work in the right direction. Conscious companies utilise the motivations of individuals. This will result in employees’ greater understanding of how it affects the company, division or department – which indirectly leads to a greater sense of participation and an understanding of the strategic perspective.
Consciousness also involves a continuous organisational learning process, which is based on the demonstration of humility in the face of a complex outside world and an active learning process when encountering new knowledge. This creates better preparedness for the company’s important journey towards an unknown future.
For SSG, this is particularly significant, as skills development is also a genuine and intrinsic part of SSG’s offering and services portfolio.
In order to achieve the optimum organisation that best supports the company’s strategic business objectives, there must be a balance between the structure and the company’s internal culture.
The biggest threat to the structural change of a company is its corporate culture. We are endeavouring to create an organisation that is as homogeneous as possible, with a common vision and set of values, which will provide the best support to the company’s various business processes.
SSG has been consistently evolving its product portfolios and service scope. What are the next business areas you are looking to get into, or what are the service/product innovations that you are working on?
We will continue to develop our offering in skills development, especially when it comes to instructor-led and online-based training courses in the fields of engineering, procurement, logistics, health, environment, and safety. All experience shows that a focused effort to strengthen the safety culture can not only lead to a happier, healthier and more engaged staff, but also to improved productivity and ultimate profitability. Safety is not a station you arrive at, but more a way of traveling. It is actually about mitigating and avoiding all the incidents and accidents that occur at our industrial workplaces, to protect the health and safety of our employees, and to save lives.
We are also striving to develop more services to facilitate efficient purchasing. With a more extensive and advanced overall cost perspective, which also involves a closer relationship with suppliers, the purchasing process can be considerably streamlined which will save a lot of money for the companies.
We are even actively involved in working to develop new standards for sustainability and productivity within the framework of ISO 55000.
Together with our customers, SSG will also be heavily involved in the process of using IoT to draft new guidelines and methodology for developing significantly more efficient supply chains.
What are the key trends in the international process industry? What do you think should be the priorities of SSG if it is to remain influential in 2025?
With the increase in digitisation, we are now rapidly moving into what many term as the fourth industrial revolution – the “Industry 4.0.”
The goal is self-organising production facilities where each product carries information about how and for whom it is being manufactured. The aim is also to achieve shorter set-up and lead times, fewer mistakes, more flexibility and no time-consuming programming.
Organisationally, this means a paradigm shift for business. The products, production, service, and maintenance are becoming increasingly integrated. Human knowledge is central and freedom of action has been expanded. This is an effort in organising and controlling the entire value chain and the life cycle of products.
The common aspects for success in the industrial Internet are the connection of machines and sensors, the link between suppliers and customers across the entire value chain, along with the ability to analyse large amounts of data.
Digitisation is a requirement for survival for European industry. A smart factory with autonomous production provides sustainable processes, higher levels of productivity, lower costs, and greater flexibility. We enjoy an increased tempo and speed in being able to deliver value when the company achieves a closer association with customers and their installations.
We have achieved a faster time-to-market process and an efficient division of labour along the value chain. However, we also enjoy financial benefits, such as an improved cash flow – where less volatile inventory levels and less “work in progress” collapses the amount of capital employed.
Even the maintenance will be affected. Future maintenance is becoming more of a preventive nature. No one can afford downtime. This requires maintenance where the machines both talk to each other and to the operator. It is about completely new production environments, where groups of machines communicate with each other and share the necessary data in order to optimise the manufacturing process.
However, there are multiple challenges. The collection and analysis of large amounts of information require new skills, which is likely to be in short supply in the future. Companies need to create new digitally customised business models. Achieving success also requires companies interacting in more advanced ecosystems with their partners and suppliers. Having well-functioning collaborative environments generates a win-win situation for everybody.
SSG’s strong focus on skills development and our unique partnership concept can be of great benefit here. SSG and the Swedish model have the strength in that we are inclined to change as we are trend-sensitive and have flat organisations along with the ability to provide informal collaborations.
Jonas Berggren is the CEO of SSG Standard Solutions Group AB since 2004. Prior to this, he held several managerial positions at companies including SCA AB and Dalkia Facility Management. He holds an MSc in Civil Engineering and a BSc in Business Administration, Strategy from Lunds University. He lives in a Villa in Sundsvall with his wife and four sons.