Q&A with Ragnhild Ulvik, Vice President, Innovation

No one knows what the Equinor of tomorrow will look like, but one thing is for sure: Ragnhild Ulvik is helping us to set the direction by linking innovation closer to the corporate strategy.

Statoil employee

Name: Ragnhild Ulvik

Position: Vice President, Innovation

Employment with Equinor: Eleven years

Education: MSc and CEMS MIM, Business Analysis and Int. Management, NHH, 2006

Recreational interests: I love travelling and learning languages. So far, I speak Norwegian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Some time ago I wanted to learn something totally new, so I took a salsa class, but failing to crack the code, I decided to learn Russian instead.  

One piece of advice given to Equinor during the ‘Good advice from young minds’ debate series was to pursue alternative and radical solutions for how the company should develop. And this is just the task of Corporate Strategy and Innovation (CSI), alongside bolstering Equinor’s innovation efforts in line with the corporate strategy. Ragnhild Ulvik heads up the corporate innovation unit established in April 2017. Here, we asked her to describe how they work.

How does the corporate innovation unit differ from other innovation units at Equinor?

“Innovation efforts are under way throughout Equinor, and particularly within the technology and renewable communities. Many of our employees are pursuing large and small innovations daily, improving Statoil’s oil and gas, renewable and carbon-neutral technologies. We also have a dedicated venture fund that makes investments on behalf of the company, maturing external technology.  Corporate innovation will act as bridge builders between various communities, focusing in particular on elements that require extensive teamwork across the various disciplines internally and externally, and that go beyond Statoil’s business as we know it today.  Through innovation we will thus find new approaches for Equinor, both with regard to technology and business models.”

How exactly will you approach this task?

“We have very few clear answers as to what tomorrow’s organisation will look like. We are therefore constantly asking questions that may bring us closer to the answer. Some of the issues we explore are related to our current operations: what trends will shape the future? Can we change our business model, making it more profitable? How can we best apply our skills to solve tomorrow’s challenges, and whom should we work with in the future?”

Are you also looking for opportunities outside Equinor?

“Yes, we are always on the lookout for trends and innovation delivered by our peers, as well as companies and players in other lines of business. In addition, we keep a close eye on work being done in research and entrepreneurial communities. Spotify was not invented in the music industry, and it wasn’t the taxi industry that invented Uber. I am quite certain that changes to our business will originate externally rather than from ourselves.”

What business areas do you think will be most important to Equinor’s innovation work going forward?

“The inspiring part about innovation work: It is impossible to say that X and Y will be Equinor’s major focus areas in ten years. Technology is developing at a furious pace. We will therefore never stick to one type of innovation or innovation direction. This also means that Equinor’s strategy will be flexible and adaptable” 

How does the corporate innovation unit differ from other innovation units at Equinor?

“Innovation efforts are under way throughout Equinor, and particularly within the technology and renewable communities. Many of our employees are pursuing large and small innovations daily, improving Equinor’s oil and gas, renewable and carbon-neutral technologies. We also have a dedicated venture fund that makes investments on behalf of the company, maturing external technology. Corporate innovation will act as bridge builders between various communities, focusing in particular on elements that require extensive teamwork across the various disciplines internally and externally, and that go beyond Equinor’s business as we know it today.  Through innovation we will find new approaches for Equinor, both in terms of technology and business models.”

Why should innovation be part of Statoil’s strategy?

“Equinor has a 40-year track record of solving technological challenges. We are among the very best in the market in this area. But our industry is now facing a serious challenge, and who knows what will happen in 10, 20 or 30 years? What will the world look like then, and how should we as an energy company develop in the future?  There is increasing pressure from various quarters on all energy producers to minimise their carbon footprint. We are well on our way. A successful development, however, requires a closer link between innovation and strategy. This will enable us to quickly reset our direction, when required.”

Are employees across the company allowed to give input on how to change processes and technology in order to make them more efficient?

“Indeed, and many do so every day as a natural part of their job. We have already received several hundred emails from employees all over the company. We very much appreciate this. It reflects the employees’ workplace ownership, and their commitment and desire to help further develop Equinor.”

Is CSI a bit like Google X, the Google innovation unit, where the employees are allowed to get involved in projects referred to by the company as ”moonshots”?

“There are obvious similarities. The establishment of CSI INN is a clear signal from the corporate management that innovation and thinking far outside the box have high priority at Equinor. I don’t expect CSI to solve our biggest challenges in a short time. But I hope and believe that our presence and activity may influence the culture in the company, making innovation an integral part of it.”

Can you mention one specific challenge facing Equinor today that you think you must take an entirely new approach to solving?

“Equinor has many late-life oil and gas platforms. What should we do with these? Several specialist communities are already working on various solutions, ranging from how to use existing technology differently, to alternative reuse opportunities.”

If any employees are eager to create change, and have radical suggestions, can CSI give them and arena for exploring their ideas?

”At our Oslo office we are developing a work arena that is quite different from traditional meeting rooms. The area is intended to inspire creative workshops and brainstorming sessions.”

If you are honest now: how many of the ideas that come up will actually be realised, do you think?

“If one out of ten succeed, we will be pleased. This may not seem like much, but if we get a higher success rate, it means that we are not being sufficiently bold and innovative. The ideas will be a bit too safe and conventional. This also requires that we make sure to quickly call off unsuccessful processes. Which we are not good at now. The pace is furiously high. If an idea does not indicate a potential relatively soon, we must proceed to the next one. We will thus take a targeted approach to creating an even more innovative and future-fit Equinor.”

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