Anyone who thinks that Ferrovial is just an ordinary construction company is someone who is stuck in the past, and certainly not someone who has not been following the company’s developments. It is not only a construction company, Ferrovial today is infrastructures, airports, smart cities, drones, wearables,… and people who together with state-of-the-art gadgets use innovation to be more efficient, faster and safer.
Since 2008, the CIIO leading the Information Technology and Innovation Department at Ferrovial has been Federico Flórez who, after studying naval engineering, has devoted a lifetime to IT as CIO of prestigious companies such as IBM, Alcatel, Telefónica Data and the Bank of Spain.
Federico Flórez has set the innovation strategy for the four lines of business in the international company, not only aiming for the best technology, but also acknowledging the importance of research, trial and error and investing in a new generation of companies, or those better known as startups.
Coinciding with the South Summit event in the capital, we snuck into the office of Ferrovial’s CIIO so he could share his opinions with us on entrepreneurs, technology and the digital world.
Interview with Federico Flórez, CIIO of Ferrovial
- What does it mean for a company like Ferrovial to invest in innovation and new technology?
It is very important for Ferrovial because innovation- as we see it- is a way of differentiating ourselves from our competitors by searching for ideas that can add value to the business. By focusing on innovation we can identify new opportunities that give us a competitive edge. Technology is usually the lever for innovation, a tool that can have a big impact.
- What technology do you use? We have seen that some of the projects that Ferrovial is involved in include the use of drones, wearables (bracelets, Google Glass…) what are their advantages?
We are looking at many different technologies related to infrastructure. For example, drones allows us to control a site, take pictures or measurements. We have teams working in the street who can do a better job with devices on their clothes, such as Google Glass. We are also interested in things related to the Internet Of Things (IOT), our workers and operators use sensors that warn them when they are in vulnerable situations.Technology is a driver, not an end. Ultimately, what we want is to manage our assets better or make our management more efficient (both of people and of the assets themselves).
- In the future will wearables be included in all projects?
I don’t think in all of them, but it’s clear that use of this technology is growing, and will continue to grow because the price of sensors is dropping, as is the price of devices to store data, total connectivity is possible and the cloud allows you to use technology in the easiest way possible. Citizens using our infrastructures are connected and they express their opinions. And all of this makes the use of technology spread across society and grow very much. How far will wearables go? I don’t know, but the truth is they are going to be highly used by our team as well as in citizens’ everyday life.
- And do you use wearables?
(Laughing) I only use the Apple Watch for sports and to do certain things since it’s very convenient and useful. I still haven’t used it for work, but I don’t rule out the possibility.
- Now that we are in the week of the South Summit South Summit event, why does Ferrovial support startups when they have a big team devoted to R&D+i all over the world?
Our model of innovation is “open”, this means we have to consider all stakeholders involved in innovation to help or contribute ideas to Ferrovial. The influence of startups is very important because they often come up with ground-breaking ideas which would be difficult to generate in our company. We are interested in finding startups that have something to do with our business to make it more efficient and profitable and to introduce more groundbreaking technology.
- Do you think that participating in events such as South Summit is a good opportunity for entrepreneurs?
Of course, it gives them visibility. It is a chance to make contact with investors since they need financing. They also need advice from people with experience and it gives them the opportunity to make contacts with companies or people that can guide them. After all, a startup is a small company that needs to grow and it needs financing, and I think they can find that here. Also, I think it is important because they can see other startups and look at how they manage their business, and do lots of networking and create contacts… entrepreneurs have a very important take on what is happening and what is coming.
- After collaborating with the South Summit for several years you must have seen some interesting projects. Could you tell us which you found most interesting, curious, surprising?
There are many. Every year we are interested in about 20 of the startups there, and we have been participating for several years … All the projects are very interesting. This year, something that caught my attention were the startups created by children aged 10 to 11 through the Foundation Créate (Fundación Créate) which we collaborate with. These children have presented very innovative and groundbreaking projects and startups.
- What would you highlight about the entrepreneurs?
They are relatively young, between 25 and 40, and what is most impressive is the amount of ideas they have. They have a very different vision of the world. And then they are so excited about their companies, which have such a pleasant atmosphere, so fresh. And this carries over to their relationships, which are so laidback.
The South Summit is the number one event in the South of Europe, and for Ferrovial it is an opportunity and a pleasure to participate in it since it gives us many ideas for the future.
- Do you think entrepreneurs have a common denominator?
I am not a psychologist nor do I have any training in this field, but I do believe they are enthusiastic about fulfilling their ideas, about setting up their own business. They are perseverant, because many fail, but they still believe in their companies. So they have the traits of continuity, courage, they are intelligent people and I would also highlight their enthusiasm. They love their day-to-day work. And all this despite the fact that some of them succeed but many more never make it …
- What makes a company successful whilst others never make it?
I wish I had the answer… I think many companies are started up properly: they study their sector, the business, they get good advice on the financial environment they need… Of course backed by a good idea that has sales potential or a niche market.
- We know you are very active on Twitter (@FedericoFlorezG). Do you think there has been a change in social networks?
Well, I’ve only been active on Twitter for the last 4 months. But I can tell you something, I have been a firm believer in social networks since they were born. Totally. And furthermore I believe they are a fantastic form of communication, an extraordinary way to share knowledge and something that technology gives us. Using them properly is certainly necessary, because they can be misused, but I think social networks have created a completely different culture for communication, they have popularised communication at all levels, they have opened it to everyone, and I think that is good. We mustn’t reject them because they help us communicate and learn. For me they are knowledge.
- What would you highlight about Twitter? What do you like most about it?
I think it is a good way to communicate, but it does take time. It is not free. It is something more you do every day and if you want to make the most of it, you have to spend time on it. Every day I see many opinions from different people whom I like to follow, and I think it is a good medium to learn. But I am still very new at this. As I said, I’ve only been at it 4 months!