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  • Writer's pictureThe NTWK

How to Create Phygital Hubs

Speakers: Alexander Phimister, Ramon Lopez Roldan, Albert Torruella Torres & Juan Francisco Garcia

In the most recent years, the creation of hubs seems to be a trend, especially in big cities with a strong technological background. Alexander Phimister, Juanfran García and Albert Torruella attempt to answer questions in an open discussion.

Several companies, public administrations or consulting firms are dedicating considerable efforts in the creation of those places, be it physically or online, where interaction and collective innovation is possible. Why does this trend exist? Is it just a temporary fashion or will hubs stay? What is the value of a hub? Physical or digital?

1. Why create a Hub?

According to the speakers, from a corporate perspective, companies currently need to promote innovation. However, many cannot do so on their own. That is why collaboration, especially with startups - which generally work faster and use new and disruptive technologies - is so important. The creation of hubs allows for a space where learning and collective innovation ultimately make for a better solution to common problems or challenges as well as an improvement of the market itself.

This collaboration would not be solely within the same sector, but with different stakeholders and actors. Projects like Spanish “Operation Innovation Centres” mean the creation of a circular economy that includes corporations, but media partners, technological and pharmaceutical partners, etc. as well. Ultimately, those are facing the same challenges: how to improve their sustainability, and waste management.

Such ecosystems not necessarily mean, however, that the traditional physical model of a hub can no longer survive on its own and needs an online presence.

2. Physical or digital?

Especially during the past two years, because of the global pandemic derived from Covid-19, this paradigm has changed in a drastic manner. Commuting became a problem for many workers and digitalization brought companies to see that working 100% remotely was possible in many areas or lines of work. In said context, digital hubs make the most sense.

However, the speakers highlight that it would very much depend on the industry. Taking for example the robotics or pharmaceutical sectors, which necessarily imply the handling and use of specific components, devices or items, physical hubs are still the only way.

Adding to that, there is also a difference between hubs that are based on a geographical location - which allow people to travel and meet physically, something not all stakeholders can afford - and hubs built around a specific topic - which do not necessarily need that interaction. Certainly, physical hubs also have to do - and more so in the future - with where the workers ultimately want to work. As mentioned by the speakers, Barcelona is one of the best-rated cities in that sense, which is why more physical hubs are growing in the area.

Seeing both sides of the spectrum, there is a consensus that a combination of the two, a hybrid experience, a phygital hub, is the best balance. Nevertheless, an important factor for the good performance of hubs is the generation of engagement.

Notably, the relationship between participants is undoubtedly different when it takes place face to face or through the net. While online meetings or digital hubs would be more suitable for straight-to-the-point or follow-up work situations, when it comes to first encounters, networking and establishing new relations, physicality is a more valuable option. That is why companies such as Airbnb or Shopify have become disruptive in the online world, for all that does not necessarily imply a direct company is happening online.

On the same line, the evolution of metaverse spaces and VR technology could mean an in-between place, the closest thing possible to being in the same place physically, yet in a digital way.

3. Can the impact of Hubs on companies be measured?

When talking about the return on investment, it might seem that the creation of a hub and putting efforts in the engagement within a community could mean a “waste” of money. However, that is not necessarily true but we should find different indicators to calculate the resulting benefits.

The speakers agree that the purpose of a hub is a matter to take into account in that process. On one hand, the success of challenge or problem-solving-focused hubs can be measured by the amount of launched projects or prototypes, as well as their potential to become a line of business in the company or a foreseeable revenue in the future. An example of those would be e-commerce, social networks or the digital side of big corporations. Whereas on the other hand, innovation or R+D laboratories should be observed as long-term investments. These would not necessarily provide tangible KPIs, but deriving opportunities should be regarded as a return themselves.

4. What does the future hold?

After the discussion, there seems to be a positive view of the future from the participants. Hubs, according to the professionals, are definitely a good strategy and interesting initiatives, destined to stay. Nevertheless, the way they are conceptualized, organized and managed will necessarily go through an evolution.

What is clear, however, is that the existence of these places - be it online or physically - to interact, learn and co-create is a question of both present and future.

Written by: Gisela Giralt


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