This week’s show is all about managing innovation within large incumbent businesses and it comes from Copenhagen in Denmark!
I speak with Line Lyst the Director of Innovation at the large Danish AEC consultancy with over 15,000 employees!
In this episode, we’ll be answering some big question.
- Why does Ramboll monitor over 1000 startups in the AEC industries?
- How is innovation managed in this large, incumbent engineering consultancy with more than 15000 employees?
- How does the Innovation Accelerator ensure that good ideas earn revenue from real clients as early as possible?
Thanks a lot to Line for her time and sharing her experience in managing innovation with large incumbent organisations. Hopefully there's a lot of useful takeaways for the listener - let me know if you enjoyed the episode!
Links & more information:
- More about the Ramboll Innovation Accelerator
- Book Recommendation: I'm Afraid Debbie From Marketing Has Left for the Day: How to Use Behavioural Design to Create Change in the Real World
- Also mentioned: The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you
- Line Lyst (Linkedin)
- Will Needham (LinkedIn)
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Today I'm joined by Line Lyst from Ramboll, head of innovation. Then, how are you?
I'm fine, thank you. I'm excited too.
Yeah, Yeah. Thank you very much for joining me. And I'm looking forward to hearing all about the innovation work that you've got going on at Ramboll. And if you can just start by giving us a brief overview of your career and how you ended up in this role at Ramboll?
Sure. So my passion for future transformation started within my very first job. Some years ago. I was part of a building up on online division for a Danish newspaper and taking a print newspaper and put it on line. That's really easy. But the key challenge that kept coming up and what fascinates me to this day is how can we then turn this into new revenue streams? And because of this back then, a putting content online, that one spine for for your charge, nobody would pay you for online. I have an information background, and it's the combination I think of utilizing new technologies and to drive your business that is that has to come by things over the years. I have done. You can say to some extent the same thing for other industries as the newspaper companies are in a choice company many years in healthcare industry. But really, the thing that goes through everything is how can we, as a large legacy company renew ourselves while running business as usual at the same time. Is that is, in essence, what I have done for many years and do today.
Okay, yeah, There's a lot of interesting stuff there I want to speak about, perhaps before we dive into it. Can just give a brief description of Ramboll on the work that they do for people that might not be familiar.
Yeah, sure. So Rambolll is a global design and engineering company. We are 50,000 employees across 300 offices around the world, and we do consultancy of primarily for cities and municipalities. So typically the projects were involved in our very large, so building hospitals, bridges, airports, railways wind fans, society projects like that and the challenge is that we have in Ramboll right now is that our entire business model is based on selling hours, and that means every time we utilize new technologies and to do things matter, which usually also means doing things faster. If we then continue to chat by the hour, then we should ourselves not really in the foot, but directly in the head because yeah, because then recently just make less and less money, and the smarter you get. And that's why we need innovation. We need to make new business partners.
Great. Yeah, I completely understand what you mean. I like your analogy of not shooting yourself in the foot, but in the head there's a very blunt way of putting it, but I like it. OK, great. So before we dive into that, maybe you could just You've spent a lot of your career outside of the world of construction and engineering and these city scale projects. From an innovation perspective, what are the differences that you've noticed between your previous roles and companies. Or maybe what are some of the biggest challenges that you've come across so far?
So I would say to allow to extend the challenge is the same. And maybe that's also because I have been at least 99% of my time in these large legacy companies, because that really is the challenge of having a business where you have done the same thing for 20 30 50 even 100 years. And then all of a sudden having to saying completely differently about the market, about your company, about how we make money as a company. And that simply is the challenge. The challenge. I would say so that's singular. But if there's a difference between the different industries It's more, around what kind of existing business they have.
So, for instance, in Ramboll where I am today, we are doing consultancy, So we don't have a a product that we sell again and again we basically go by project by project. So that means a big challenge that we have is we're not used to having a head corner that developed something, and we then wrote that out on a global scale and sell it so we don't have sale zones, for instance, wherein the previous companies I've been they're used to having a global centralized unit that produce all the products. So they have a link mean in a selling machine to get all the products out. But then I would say, the tech capabilities are much slower than what I see at Ramboll , for instance, because here we have a lot of engineers and I can assure you that they are innovative and tech heavy. So I think those are probably the biggest difference is.
Okay, great. And you're from reading about the work that you're doing in Ramboll. Sounds like you already well, on your way, moving from just a consultancy business to maybe a more products lead business.
Through things like the Innovation Accelerator, for example, I think for this conversation to be really interesting, to maybe walk through an innovation or on innovative idea from its inception all the way through. And then we can kind of learn a bit more about the process. Does that sound like a good idea?
Perfect. So that's what we have on Innovation accelerator, which is essentially a five months program.
So just before we, before we start on this, can we maybe start even earlier about the disruption radar, I'm really interested in the tour that you've developed to find out where the markets are moving and what the future strategic directions should be for Ramboll. So can you just briefly explain the disruption radar and what it is?
Yeah, So that and that's a good thing. That's the destruction Radar is the start. It's a touring where we have mapped more than 1000 startups . And if you imagine a circle that is sliced like a pizza into 16 pieces and each slide from sense a specific topic that match our industry, that could be energy designed tools, mobility for German's take, it's ever. And then within these 16 slices of the circle, we have flooded in more than 1000 standards, and they are met of course within each of these topics. But then that dot that you see on the radar is in a different shape and size based on how much funding they have received and also the year they have received it. So that basically gives us a circle with a lot of dots from the inner circle, which is like 10 years ago unto the outer rim of the circle, which is today. And of course, It may sound a bit overwhelming with all these thoughts in a circle. But if you zoom out and it's been and you look at it, then you will see that there are specific areas in the circle when there's high concentration of dots meaning that concentration of status that I received a lot of funding, and if it's heading that way may basically get signals, a signal that at these a lot of other people in the market, all the investors, they believe that the start-ups are onto something, and that gives us a hint of where the market is hitting and we use that as a tool to look at.
So where's the market heading and where do we want to play in the future? I think too many, especially large legacy companies. They continue to compare themselves against the competitors they have had for the past 20 30 years. And they completely missed looking at what's happening out there in the market. Because really, if you ask me and distraction is not coming from your peers in the market, the other old legacy ones, it's coming from the saddles. And there you need to be ahead of the game because if you just wait and see until you enter an see it happening in the market, it's already too late, and that's what the radar can be used fot. To to you can see basically look a bit like a crystal ball into the future of what is coming and then give you a head start. So where you want to to play in the future and we use that Radar. So then map out. So what are the strategic opportunities that we want to push you. And then then that feeds into the direction of the ideas that we're looking for when we start our invasion accelerator.
Great. Okay, so yet you map out the future strategic direction of the industry as a whole, using the existing startups that you're seeing and how they're being funded. And then you use that as the guide for the high level areas in which you want to focus your innovation effort. Is that about right?
Exactly. That's absolutely correct.
Okay, And let's assume in our fictional innovation idea that we're walking through here, let's assume that you've got you've highlighted a strategic direction that you want to focus on. There's lots of investment going into that space. Can we talk about the early idea formation and what the process is to collect these ideas, who's submitting them and how they assess?
So we invite all 15,000 employees in the company to come up with ideas. So this is not for the few. This is for everybody. And we pick three of those strategic options that we found in the Radar to guide people of what kinds of ideas are we looking for? And we also specifically say when we're not looking for. So for instance, we're not looking for what I would call optimization slash automation ideas. We have a whole department doing that. We're looking for new business models. So we first of so there's uhm these three areas within we we want to see ideas. We have an underlying platform where they can submit the idea. But the thing is, with ideas, right? People are usually thinking of ideas. As you know, post it notes, you have a brainstorm, probably pop up with ideas in you, and jots something down on post note. We want people to work on that idea. If all its appeal it. And when I say work on the idea, I mean to make it come true or the bill of it. But simply, work on the actual idea and to help them for use in that we have made them. We call it a Ramboll J. Fox, which is our own version of the Adobe kickbox. And if anyone is curious about the work that is, you can just go to Adobe Kickbox.com and it's a free of charge so can just download. And we just made our own. We "Rambolized" is as we usually say. It's a bit our company. So we added some, took something out and then but that that's really taking you through how to work on the idea, talk to her, calling about it, or think about what is the value proposition and what is really the problem I'm trying to solve. Yeah, And then they submit the idea within this online platform that we have and you should be, we get around 250 ideas
Okay. Like 250 ideas were over. What period is that? Is that like a year or?
Ah, no, this is actually this year we pushed the admit of quite because they had one man to do it. So no, we don't have a year for that. Then there we need to move fast. But they did complain of it that they needed more time. But I think if we gave them too much time, they will still just sit at the very end and submit last minute.
Yeah, okay. Interesting. And so you've got all these ideas in the pot. How and who goes about analyzing these and finding the real ones with potential?
So here we have a selection committee, which is a 12 people selected from different business units. So we have water building, transport, energy and also represents the system from our key markets. And we do that in the first round individually, so we cannot influence each other in certain directions. So we individually look at these 250 ideas, and luckily, we can go over them within this tool. The first year we did it in Excel. I cannot recommend that. And that's a bit serious. And meaning can evaluate them within the tool and in the first phase, when we are on this stage where we're just getting you and to say the raw ideas, we look for is the actually a target treatment.
What is the problem we're trying to solve? And what is it they deliver to solve that problem. At this stage, we don't ask for any financials, any business cases or anything. It's purely for most around, what is the problem they're trying to solve? But we do look for a vision for the idea. So what could this idea develop into? Maybe by now this is the target treatment. But is there some sort of vision for what it could become, how it could be stated. So I guess, basically the criteria in the first stage. So we rate individually in the tool and then we select 25 out of these 250 ideas into our accelerator and what we did very low, practically really basically took the top 10. So when we are all 12 people graded 250 ideas that top 10 went straight through. And then we debated the next 25 and pick 15 out of those to to go through.
Okay. Interesting. So you get a wide spectrum of views on the selection committee on these. I'm assuming experts in different sectors are different parts of the business, and then they make the decision. Okay, It was interesting you mentioned there that not really worried about the business case right up front. It's more about the demand on the potential for scaling. I do want to bring in there. I know I've seen your views on social media in some of your articles. You talk a lot about the importance of early validation of these ideas with that your customers, which is actually, very important with innovation generally or too often we hear companies that develop things for six months and then put it in front of a customer, and they're not very happy. So perhaps you can talk a little bit about your approach to early validation with actual customers. And when this comes in, our these 25 ideas then put in front of customers or how does it work from that point onwards?
So this is where they're the 25 ideas into inside of our accelerator and the accelerator is five ones program, and the fundamental key paying in the accelerator is the validation with customers. And Yes to your question. We do ask them to approach customers directly and talk to them, and and this is almost a science and itself was not a science, but the worst thing you can do is to go out and ask your customer. I have this idea. Do you think it's a good idea? Because then everybody would say, Oh, it's a fantastic idea. Because we are all very kind people, right? So we actually teach them in the accelerator how to go out and talk to customers. How to ask questions so you don't get endless feelings ends up, and we spend the whole week just teaching that specific topic. And then we sent them out and asked them to to go out and talk to kinds and really, what it's about, it's about this thing. What are the problems they're facing today and more and more you need. Because you can't get carried away when you hear about that problem and you sing in your head, ohh this is exactly my idea is solving and then it's so tempting. So then, what about the idea? But you still have to post and say, Okay, so how do you deal with the problem today? And then you may realize, even though the customers painted a big picture of a big problem, then in reality, they have made a small work around so It's actually, you know, and big of a problem and have be in right now. And that's also why we don't ask for the financials up front. Because none of the ideas that go into the accelerator comes out at the other end except same idea. They are only treated in substance. Of course, they are completely different. But none of them come in exactly with that idea at the very end. Because once they talk to customers, they realize they need to focus more on something. And this is something else.
Okay. Okay. It reminds me of a book called The Mom Test or Mom's.
Yes, We use that.
Yeah, Yeah, everything you said they reminded me of that book. So if you haven't read that book, go and read, it tells you exactly how to talk with customers and listen to them. So, yeah, that was interesting. I got a quick side question just from what you mentioned there. In my experience, a lot of the best ideas come from people in consultancies that maybe the busiest. So how do you segregate their time in this to allow them to develop these ideas when they're probably also delivering projects and have lots of other things to worry about?
Yeah, and here you are, touching upon a very concrete and specific. It's true because it is difficult because, as you say this in place that come into the accelerator, they are already high performance in the day job. And, of course, they're like and manager is not that keen on them, missing a highly value image for both the time of the accelerator about potentially also afterwards. Because if a team progress all the way in the accelerator, they don't come back to the job they had before. So it is a not easy. We do support the specific business unit, so it's a 50 50, split you can see in terms of funding. And yes, I'm sure a lot of line managers would still prefer to have the employee in his or her department. But this is also a strategic, important project with the company, a large and our CEO is banging this up. So that's also I would say, for those tapes that went all the way the first year they have also been heavily profile within the company, so that's also a carrot at the other end, if they go all the way.
Okay, you know it makes sense. I think if you have that supports from the people really high up in the business, then it's for the best of the company, right to try and develop these or it's critical for the future of the company. So these ideas have to be developed. Okay, Interesting. I'd like to move on again to mention something that I've heard you speak about a lot and you mentioned at the beginning of the show today, and it's about the importance of showing revenue as early as possible. Can you talk about maybe how these ideas go from well established ideas to revenue making products.
Yes, and there's specifically two areas within this topic that I want to highlight. So the 1st one is, again has part of the validation with customers and part of experimenting within the accelerator. If a customer is so excited about your idea that they're in fact willing to pay for the idea to be developed or at least co pay, all the ideas to be developed that is the best custom of elevation you can get in the world. I bet you really know that there is a market for your idea. So that is one area of why you can say the revenue is important because it's just the best proof in the world. And if you, when you go at the end of the accelerator and pitch your idea to our executive board and if you can then say we already made revenue, we already already have a paying customer. I can tell you the willingness to fund and invest in this idea is a lot higher than if you don't. So that was one part of this speaking to revenue that it has become my, my mantra.
Second part That is afterwards. So when when they're out of the accelerator. And now they're into the new set of team where they have to make this idea come alive and institutional way of working with ideas. Normally, you have these order for model space start making against charitable milestones you need and then we all know that an idea completely take one two or maybe even three years before it's ever being launched. And this is where we and why we use experimentation all along. But also why we use to be in style of methodology to make sure that they get out there in the market as fast as possible. And here, the reason why I've always speaks at revenue is remote for internal purpose is really because it is, and especially in a company like Ramboll, where we are concerned and see on a project by project based model, as we had today. This thing about investing in something that have a return on investment in even in 18 months, which in my world is a fairly fast. That is in Ramboll term. There's so so speeds revenue gives us the license to operate. The sooner we can show that these projects actually do make money. The easier it is to continue, have support. If the CEO engaged and continue investment in innovation in the company. And then you're absolutely right, because that's the whole purpose of the accelerator in the first place. That is to as fast as possible, go out and validate your idea, experiment, and they could experiment for five months, and it's all about as fast as possible. See if there is a potential for this idea so we can also kill it if there isn't. So we're not investing in 25 ideas up front and hoping that maybe two three five of them will make it. We rather test and experiment extremely fast. And kill the 20 of them really fast.
Interesting. Yeah, that's another very important point is the killing ideas that people might be really passionate about. How do you go about telling someone that's worked on their idea for six months that we won't actually going to carry on with this idea?
And this is where it's made clear up front that when you enter the accelerator. We have two stage gauged in between the these five months, and they know up front, they're 25 intern. But after the first stage gauge, more than half of them cannot go through, and it's not necessarily because it's a bad idea, but it's simply we can only pick the best ones to go though and then the same thing again. So we end up with five teams at the end, so they kind of know that we have to even so, it's not that necessary bad idea. But we can only take X amount through to the next round, and some of them do continue in business as usual, you can say, and we can also see that if they do, it's a lot slower pace, but they do continue. And also it's not to pumping enough because, of course, they need to do it on the side of their day job where the accelerator teams that go all the way, they have the luxury of having 100% type of dedicated to the idea, but also when they leave the accelerator.
Okay, great yeah, that makes sense. And I think it's important to be open about on this. At least if they know, then that's good. Okay, so we've talked a lot about the innovation process so far. So from the instruction radar and also forming an idea and evaluating these ideas and then incubating them or accelerating them to become revenue earning products. Perhaps, and I think you've talked about this a little bit, but like to ask about what the end goal is for Ramboll. Are you looking to create products and subsidiary companies from these products and do you have any examples of innovations that I've got all the way through and in now really successful when making the company money?
Yeah, so as I mentioned in the beginning today, we are project based company where it's kind of one of projects that we do and all accelerated teams, all ideas that go through our based on new business models. They are simply not allowed to get into the accelerator if it's based on the existing business model. So some of the teams that they have made it through all the way up doing some processors. I mean, it's all really based on , and I would say there Artificial intelligence in this kind of take enabled services. That is not completely out of what we're doing today, but it's just a completely different way of doing it. And it's a completely different way of making money because we're not charged by the hour. It may be small payments or license free of your subscription or too many customs, or we're selling the same service thousand times instead of sending it only one time. So they are all different business models, and when you ask, what I want is the end goal for Ramboll, it has not really been to, you can see make a lot of money by in coming up with great ideas and and selling them off again. It's actually to transform the existing company. It is to enable Ramboll, as it is today, to embark a new business model to embark on new ways of working and expand the services that we have today. So we're very focused on not doing something that is completely different, even though that may be a big potential that we really want to should do it for their for the department, you can say so. It's more about transformation than about making big box in itself.
Okay, Yeah. So, now, I completely understand. Yeah. So it's more about future proofing the existing business because potentially in the future, when other companies, maybe your competitors are also innovating in this way and changing their business models. You don't want to be left behind, I guess. Okay. Interesting. So that was interesting overview for me, I really enjoyed learning more about your innovation process. I think it would be interesting for people listening who are perhaps thinking about starting their own accelerator within the internal companies. Maybe can just give the key lessons learned that you've learned over the last two years since you've been running this 18 months. And what are the some of the lessons that you've learned? Maybe things that went really well, a lot better than expected, and some that maybe you would do differently?
Yeah, And, uh and you just have to stop me when the the time is out . I could probably full podcast on that top of it alone. But if that would say, I could at least start. If we start with the what has turned out to be maybe better than I thought. And there's this saying that timing is everything. And I would say every with probably extremely locking the first time you did the accelerator because it ended right before we had our yearly leadership conference with 1000 leaders. And that meant that the teams that came came out of the first accelerator, were all new, it wasn't new story, right? So they taught us well. Even though they only got five minutes each on stage at this feet of cheap conference. But having these teams on stage talking about completely new ways of working new technologies, new business for Ramboll and seeing the passion. And I think people were, I mean, flabbergasted about how far they had come in in these five months, and you can see how much they managed to even make revenue during this exploration and development face.
It simply meant that there were quite a few leaders is sitting there thinking, why isn't it my team standing up there so that paved the way from us for the next round and where, all of a sudden we saw a big pool in the organization where usually when you do these kind of efforts, we kind of feel at least that you have to push it down. People starts in the beginning, and this was really, excellent timing for us. And I have to say it was more love and there and something we thought about. But on that note, what I would recommend to others is to really think about if you are to do a five months program, really think about when you do it so you don't do it in the middle of the yearly strategy budget phase where everybody is running madly around to do that, ask right, So think about it. It's a good time in the year to do this. So it doesn't maybe disturb too many other things, so that would be my recommendation. And, of course, again, this this pizza revenue is also I have personally been surprised by how fast and how much revenue we have achieved within the first year for the first batch of teams, and that really makes all the difference. So do have focus on that part I would say. See if there was something I should do differently and know if I should say what is really, what is really the difficult part. Because running an accelerator, and here, of course, we also get help from the outside. I mean, that is actually very easy. I mean, it's like a machine. We have a detailed program up front. Of course, we have made some. It's weeks here and there from the first year to the second year, but overall, the actual program is this all is the same, and it really works. But the challenges are all the things outside of the accelerator, all the things within the existing business, and the more you can take that into account of front, the better and just to give some examples of what am I talking about.
For instance, funding how should then seems be funded and then accelerate. But also afterwards and and Ramboll we're not used to scale projects across countries who gets the money if this problem is sold in another country and internal trade and we'll have you? Big, big mess. What are the KP eyes for the teams? How do you secure the temas? It seems if they go all the way, don't end up after a couple of months later thinking I could say this idea and go outside and make it a lot faster than sitting in this old company, that is, everything is running quite slow, and especially when they've been through the accelerate that they really realize how soon will become anyways when they get out. So how did it secure that people don't leave with the idea how to make sure even if they stay, that they get the can continue with this feet they need but ride this glamor that surrounds it. How to ensure because now we have extra in team sitting around in the organization. All doing self-reassurance and how it's cheaper that you have the all the legal compliance and all these things that we we're not used to as a company to think about, because we don't do products in our daily business. So there are a lot of things that when you do new business models a a lot of things that you need to take into account, how that doesn't fit and just again, a tiny example. But actually quite big , our economy system. So when we do invoices today, we cannot handle online payments. We cannot handle to have 1000 customers on a monthly subscription basis, right? And so we have to find ways to handle these things. And this is where the problems starts and and I can say we haven't named all of these yet, if I have to be honest, yes. So your story, that's the hardwork and the more you can take about some of it, at least on front, the better. But I also think that's a lot of it you cannot really foresee before you start.
Wow, yeah, they're really good advice, and I think they will ring true with a lot of people who are in similar positions. They're common but very important lessons learned. So that's interesting that you also mentioned those about funding and about changing business models to assess model. On how do you actually get money from people in assess model? If you'll see your ERM system isn't actually set up to do that.
Very, very interesting. Thank thanks for sharing that.
And never underestimate communication. You think you have communicated. And even though you think now I have communicated about this three five times, you're still have to communicate. And people who still function and say, I haven't heard about this stuff really do a lot of communication. Y
Yeah, That's an interesting point, actually. How do you ensure that your ideas are from a really diverse like geographically and also sectorally based distribution of people in the company? Because perhaps maybe you don't want 95% of your ideas coming from Denmark, for example. I know it's a global company. How do you ensure that you're getting the best ideas no matter where they're from in the world?
Yeah, This sounds actually not been an issue at all. I mean everybody's invited to come up with ideas And when they did the evaluation, this time around where we had done it individually first, and look at it afterwards. Then when we had found our 25 selected ideas really sent to ourselves, Okay, it should be just double check where they're coming from. Are they all coming from one country? And it just turned out that we had a very diverse representation both across markets, across business units and across everything. Really. So it hasn't been a problem.
Okay, we're slowly running out of time here. I just like to finish with the quick fire around. So we'll talk through three last questions and if you could just give me your first impressions with each in 30 seconds or less. So what are your goals for Ramboll, and the innovation team and the accelerator for the next three years?
The goals are really to, and it sounds maybe a bit too ambitious, but transform the company, at least because I don't think we can transform the existing company in three years. But if we can make the new business as we do it now, more business as usual too. Then I think we have come a long way and really shown the potential of the new business. And also, if we stop doing business as usual in new ways that it is there, that is what I would like to see.
Are you a reader? And if so, what book do you think that everyone should be reading?
The first book that comes to our mind? I'm wonder what it's called in English, to be honest, but in the Danish, it's a "I am afraid Debbie from Marketing has left for today", and I think the English version is "Standing or something else for Marketing has left for today. It's about nothing and design thinking and extremely intrigued by why people make the decisions that they do, how the brain works, the system one and two and how you can noch people. And because a lot of my job , I would say still to this day, I feel that I'm trying to persuade senior leaders to do things differently, right? But in reality, what you should do and what I should know much more is to focus on what it is they should do differently than just trying to persuade them. And that I find very intriguing.
That sounds really interesting, and I'll definitely be including that in the show nights for people. If they want to read. And the the last question today, as you know, I'm traveling around different places to try and meet the most innovative people working in the AEC Industries. Who do you think is the most innovative person you know? It could be anywhere in the world that you think I should go and meet, then go and speak to?
The first person that comes to my mind is my previous boss from _ from where I was before. He taught me a lot lessons. He's really an entrepreneur. That even though he's working a big company, he's not doing the same as I am. He's not really driving innovation in that sense in the company right now. He did it useful. But he is a big time entrepreneur, and so you know, he has a lot of things going on, and he's just very inspiring to talk to.
Great. Okay, well, thank you so much for your time today. I've really enjoyed learning more about the innovation process that Ramboll and the awesome stuff that you're continuing to develop. And I look forward to seeing some of the ideas.
Yeah, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.