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To make sure things work

This is the story behind the global, invisible safety net managed from a beautiful fjord-side setting outside Oslo.

“Things that work the way they are supposed to attract very little attention,” says Rune Torhaug in DNV. “It’s only when something goes wrong that people take notice and get involved. What’s forgotten is the constant battle behind the scenes to make sure things work as they should.”

Thus, most people give little thought to those behind the scenes – making sure that ships float, oil platforms stand firm, and wind turbines can cope with wind and waves. Torhaug has had a long career in different parts of DNV and is currently directing the company's government and public affairs work with the EU. “You could say that DNV is an invisible safety net for large parts of society and the business community. If you haven’t heard of us, it means we have done our job!” says Rune.

“Our mission quite simply is to make sure things are safe and that they function properly as determined by individual businesses, industries and society at large. Our purpose has remained firm for 155 years - to safeguard life, property and the environment,” he says. This purpose originally applied just for ships but is now harnessed for an astonishing range of physical assets – rigs, pipelines, electricity grids, solar parks – as well as digital systems, and for processes associated for example with the food, automotive and health sectors.  

Independent role

DNV’s headquarters at Høvik, just outside Oslo, hold a unique place in Norwegian business history. What started in 1864 as a scheme to make ships owned by Norwegian shipowners insurable is today the world's leading company for the classification of ships, platforms and rigs. While the maritime sector is still an important pillar of DNV’s business, the company now also plays a similar role in the energy sector – cross-purposing and growing its technical expertise in tandem with the specular development in the North Sea oil and gas business since the late 1960s.

Two decades ago, DNV branched further into the energy sector, and is now the leading supplier of assurance and expertise to the power and renewable sector. It also boasts an unmatched integrated knowledge of the entire energy sector that is the envy of many energy companies seeking to broaden their portfolios.  When big things go wrong in big ways, it is not unusual for DNV to be called in to provide the final word. This was the case, for example, with the Deepwater Horizon accident on the US shelf in 2010

“Although we don't make any products, we create trust. To create trust, one must be trustworthy, and to be trustworthy one must be reliable and honest, but one must also have knowledge. You must possess substantial knowledge and expertise,” says Torhaug.

You will find almost all disciplines represented in the company, from psychologists to data scientists. New employees are, however, mostly drawn from engineering disciplines, and some degree courses at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), such as marine technology, have a long-standing reputation for creating both yesterday’s and tomorrow’s “Veritas” ambassadors.

System key

Torhaug has taken this path himself, and came to DNV in 1988 when, as a young engineer, he joined the research department to work on maritime structure reliability. Since then, he has led the certification activity in Europe as well as strategic research and is now responsible for government relations with the EU.

“Initially, it was my interest in the subject that drove me, being able to make calculations and contribute on the most challenging projects that our customers brought to us. Then I also began to take an interest in how everything is connected, and then more clearly our role in both getting big systems to work and maintaining confidence in them.”

This is the essence of a systematic understanding of risk management, which is a cornerstone of DNV, according to Torhaug. “To understand risk, we need to understand not only how, for example, a ship is a system in itself – composed of different parts – but also how the ship is a piece in the system that we call international shipping,” he says.

Is it necessary to hold a system view in order to work in DNV? “Not necessarily. Our strengths lie both in the solid domain knowledge of our professional departments, where one can be ‘a pure engineer’, and in the role we have towards customers and authorities where one can work in a more system-oriented way,” says Torhaug.

Trust and risk

One thing that does, however, unite all DNV employees, irrespective of department or business area, is the management of risk. “To assess what is safe, or safe enough, we must understand risk. In other words, that means both the probability that something may fail, and the consequence of that failure. Within this area, we are in possession of broad experience from our core competence in the energy and maritime areas. However, we can also bring our system thinking and understanding of how to handle risk into new areas,” says Torhaug.

For a company that has been doing this for 155 years, Torhaug believes it is obvious that a similar role as a carrier of trust can be built within completely new markets. Examples of this could be the healthcare and food industries. “We enable our customers to benefit from new technology. But with new technology comes new vulnerabilities that we enable them to manage. From time to time, we see this issue within the area of digitalization,” says Torhaug.

From DNV’s point of view, there are currently two global and top-level risks that apply in addition to those that are industry-specific: one of them is climate risk, the other is about cyber security.  “At the same time, there is a global megatrend towards less cooperation and increased isolationism. It’s a paradox that this is happening at a time when the world needs cooperation more than ever to solve the challenges related to climate change and the social consequences of increased digitalization," adds Torhaug.

“There is a lot at stake, and it makes sense that we as a company consider what role we can and should play in this context. DNV has many opportunities to bring its experience from the energy and maritime sectors into new areas. Our role, which is about building trust, setting standards and enabling things to work as they should, will be increasingly important and demanding in the years ahead.”

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