Verhaert Group helps other companies with innovation and product development. Customers from the automotive industry go there for support in the field of smart sensors, human interfaces, artificial intelligence and "controlled mapping". Interesting innovations? Lieven Claeys, business consultant at Verhaert, knows all about it. Watch the interview here!


Hello Lieven, good morning! Could you please introduce yourself and your company?

Of course, Ward. I’m with the Verhaert Group. Verhaert is an innovation and product development partner. Our services range from idea creation, enhancing service and business models to product development. We start with feasibility studies, prototypes and we follow through to new product introduction in the market or even transfer a product to mass production. But we’re not a product owner. Verhaert focuses on three domains: strategic innovation, digital innovation (smart sensors, IoT, apps, etc.) and product innovation (optics, mechanics, the physical part itself). I’m part of the digital innovation group and I support customers in their digital innovation efforts: bringing digital value to your customers or increasing operational efficiency. 

What is your company doing for the automotive industry?

We are mainly active in the field of smart sensors, human interfaces, artificial intelligence and gesture mapping. We also act as design reviewers of third party designs. We provide service and business modeling for companies and we manage innovation tracks for large companies. 

Can you give me the names of any of the companies you work for?

We can disclose a few names. We created an inertia measurement unit for Siemens, a car sharing system for Stapp.in, we worked on data valorization projects for Valeo in France, a smart mobility system for the EGIS group and developed new windshield wiper systems for Bosch and smart traffic systems for Vialis. 

That’s an impressive list. I hear you talking about innovation and new business models, new technologies, IoT and smart sensors. Where do you see the most potential for these technologies in the automotive industry?

I can’t claim to be able to answer this question in full, but a wide range of improvements could be implemented. For instance, implementing more intuitive technology in cars to improve the user experience and to decrease distractions. In the field of collective intelligence: cars could beam up data and include new services such as warnings for slippery roads. The developments in autonomous driving still have a long way to go. New innovations will continue to be developed for quite some time yet. 

Another topic I would like to discuss with you is data. Many companies and people are talking about data in the automotive sector expecting data to be used by the OEM or the Googles and Apples. How can automotive suppliers benefit from data?

Parties battle for the ownership of data. It’s not easy for suppliers to gather data to use for themselves. We do see quite a lot of initiatives where suppliers monitor their own equipment using sensors and are able to view the data on their own platform. This allows them to see how each item is used and also look into preventive maintenance options. It also allows them to develop new services to discuss with the OEM and drivers. There are also quite a lot of apps related to mobility such as Waze. Their data comes from the community and is not owned by an OEM. There are many ways to gather data from a car to use within a community to provide new services to drivers, suppliers and others. 

We already touched the topic of user experience. What trends do you see in this domain?

It has to be said that COVID-19 has initiated many new developments. We were already developing touchless interfaces. COVID-19 has exponentially accelerated the development process. Not only for the automotive industry, but also in the field of home appliances. We see an increased interest in voice control options. It’s not that well developed yet although NLP (Natural Language Processing) is gaining ground. Gesture control options are also being developed. 

My final question for you, Lieven: what are your recommendations for companies that would like to start working on digital innovation?

I won’t claim that I have all the answers. But based on our experience the first step would be understanding your business and determining it’s value for yourself and for your customers. The second step is making your problem or track concrete. Define it really well, with clear KPIs. Start small even though you can think big with regard to where you want to be. Define your problem as specifically as you can and then generate potential solution concepts (sensors, AI, etc.). Next, design it, validate it and iterate it. Keep the big picture in mind but implement changes in small steps. Validate quickly: are you still in touch with your customers? Iterate until you have the final product. The 80-20 rule: don’t wait until you have an actual final product because your market might have already changed. Stay in touch with your market.

That is really interesting. I can see you’re very passionate about this topic. Thank you for your information!

Thank you, Ward, it has been my pleasure!

Read also our other articles in this series: