CTO Sessions: Burkhard Boeckem, Hexagon AB

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “I believe future CTOs must have both business acumen and knowledge of technology and also factor in elements such as the rise of algorithms and AI, the ubiquity of data, etc. with real business insights.”

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Hexagon AB

Name: Burkhard Boeckem

Company: Hexagon AB

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: February 2020

Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Burkhard Boeckem is the CTO of Hexagon AB and has worked in the geospatial industry for over 20 years. His ongoing focus throughout his career has been on R&D, delivering innovation in digital reality and working with the latest advances in disruptive technologies, such as AI and 5D visualisation. Burkhard’s aim is to democratise technology and make complex solutions and workflows available to a broader set of sectors and users. He’s led the team that brought to life the Leica BLK series, including the award-winning Leica BLK360 imaging laser scanner which is currently being used by companies all over the world and in industries as diverse as retail and construction to media and entertainment.

What was your first job? I worked at my father's surveying company growing up. It was very much manual labour and included tasks such as digging holes for boundary markers and holding the measuring tape. Even though what I really wanted to do was study music, I agreed with my father and made sure I had a fallback career. When I became the CTO for Leica Geosystems it somehow felt like I’d come full circle and was back to my surveying roots.

Did you always want to work in IT? I actually never aspired to be involved in IT, growing up I wanted to be either a goalkeeper for a professional football team or a jazz musician. Deep down, and this is something I continue to relate to strongly today, I always wanted to be creative and to shape things, to innovate. I think this is as important for artists and musicians as it is for us in the technology world.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I completed my Master of Science in Geodesy at The University of Bonn, Germany, in 1996 and later obtained my PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) in 2001. While these achievements are part of my academic career, I’m constantly learning and educating myself through the work of others, the insights from professionals in my own and other industries, people that inspire me as well as the whirlwind of technology and innovation which continues to transform our lives.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After finishing my PhD, I joined Leica Geosystems in 2001 as a Senior Project Manager. Six years later I moved into an R&D Director role, at which point the company had already been acquired by Hexagon, the global leader in sensor, software and autonomous solutions. Since then I’ve had the privilege of being named CTO for the Hexagon Geosystems division and more recently in February 2020, CTO of the wider Hexagon AB business.

What type of CTO are you? I find that organisations generally have one of the following two CTO profiles: a radical innovator whose focus is on creating, or an extremely experienced executive R&D manager who is more focused on operations and processes. I’d describe myself as someone who stands at the intersection between the two, not accepting the status quo. I always look at how we can disrupt what we are doing but also ensure that we deliver on what we’re working on. A strong background in software and product development provides me with the underlying framework to be strategic, disruptive and transformative in my day to day work.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? It would have to be Artificial Intelligence (AI). I like the idea with AI of using all of the data that’s being collected to do something truly amazing — that we never thought would be possible. For instance, AI has completely changed the way that in some cases, we do machine visualisation and image processing. Pairing AI with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) and its ability to self-navigate, alongside smart sensors with significant processing at the edge, is helping us achieve increased autonomy. And that’s where it starts to get really cool!

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? That’s a tricky question. I might name one today but then try to use that same technology to disrupt an industry tomorrow. However, if I did have to pick one, it would probably be blockchain. I’m not an expert in this field or aware of all its potential applications but I do believe the technology itself as well as its current use cases are overhyped today.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? It’s been really exciting to work on and launch Hexagon Digital Reality (HxDR), a cloud-based digital reality visualisation, collaboration and geospatial content platform introduced at the start of 2020. In a nutshell, HxDR creates accurate digital representations of the real world through the seamless fusion of reality capture data from airborne, ground and mobile sensors, which are used to visualise and share 3D design projects and models within real-world context of the data that’s been captured. Another initiative I’m extremely proud of is the launch of our Leica BLK series, one of most recent additions to the portfolio was the Leica BLK2GO, a wireless handheld imaging laser scanner which captures 3D environments while the user is in motion, creating an instant digital representation of reality.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I’m excited to say that my main focus as CTO of Hexagon AB is supporting our customers to drive digital transformation. Empowering an autonomous future for our customers means putting our customer at the centre of our development and innovation which in turn delivers operational efficiencies as well as revenue growth.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? We’re living in an era in which digital transformation is of critical importance. In this context, we’re helping customers achieve and navigate these challenging times by providing the tools and solutions that can, for instance, help them connect to their office or help set up autonomous systems that enable them to make decisions remotely. Our goal is to remain at the forefront of autonomous innovation.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? My experience has taught me the importance of trusting your gut, especially when it comes to knowing when a market is likely to be disrupted. This translates into knowing when and what technology to bet on, if the technology is mature enough to build on, etc. Sensing when to disrupt or be disrupted, and when technology will be commoditised has been an interesting challenge throughout my career.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? No, not to date. My advice is to understand where a technology is on the maturity curve before deploying a specific technology for a product or service. If a technology is ‘out-of-date’ then it’s probably best not to use; if a technology is still immature then you have to assess the risk that comes along with mastering or maturing it in a product development environment.

What makes an effective tech strategy? As mentioned, it’s really important to understand where technology is on the maturity curve. It’s weighing-up what’s been predicted by research companies and your own observations of the technology landscape. It’s an effective strategy when, for instance, the technology is going to be commoditised, or when it’s mature enough to be used for product development and it aligns with your business objectives.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role of the CTO is becoming more important than ever before, especially since the recent surge in technology involved in our daily lives. I believe future CTOs must have both business acumen and knowledge of technology and also factor in elements such as the rise of algorithms and AI, the ubiquity of data, etc. with real business insights. It’s no longer enough to just be technically astute, you also need to have a broader sense and understanding when it comes to business. A bit of insight on marketing doesn’t hurt either.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Even though I’m quite proud of what I’ve achieved to date with the various teams that I’ve had the honor of working with, I’m still really excited by the future and hope the greatest achievement is yet to come! In the past it’s without a doubt been the launch of the Leica BLK360 imaging laser scanner, which has since revolutionised and democratised reality capture for many industries. And also, more recently, HxDR, which has taken big data visualisation to a whole new level.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Perhaps I would have chosen to focus on fewer things. I find ‘less is more’ to be a good strategy looking back on my career to date.

What are you reading now? I’m reading a novel called The Elephant by Martin Suter who’s one of my favorite Swiss writers. I’ve been reading his books since I arrived in Switzerland nearly 25 years ago.

Most people don't know that I… Didn’t intend to study geodesy in the first place — it was essentially my backup plan! After I was forced to give up a career in football due to two ACL ruptures, I wanted to study music and become a Jazz musician, but I probably wasn’t good enough.

In my spare time, I like to…Share moments with my family, ride my motorbike, watch football — my favourite team is Hamburger Sport Verein (HSV) — or play Jazz music on the piano!

Ask me to do anything but… Not to stop doing what I’m passionate about, which is coming up with new ideas and seeing them come to life.