Rajesh Ramachandran Chief Digital Officer for Industrial Automation
AR Many thanks for talking to us today, Rajesh. To start, you could perhaps tell us something about your background and how you came to be the ABB CDO.
RR I’d be delighted to. My childhood days were spent in small towns in India and I was highly focused on academic achievements. I topped off my degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering with a Master’s in Computer Science from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Over the three decades of my career, I drove technology and innovation in the organizations I was part of. I started my career in operational technologies with Siemens global R&D, in Germany, before moving to Oracle in 1998, where I led Oracle’s Fusion middleware and Fusion cloud platform R&D for 12 years. In 2010, I moved into big data, heading R&D for platforms for eBay and PayPal. Two years later, I joined Rolta and was given the entrepreneurial freedom to build and develop their digital industrial analytics business by combining the power of OT, IT, engineering, geospatial and Big Data.
I joined ABB in February 2019 as the CDO for Industrial Automation and I am proud of what we have achieved so far in the digital area and excited to be a part of driving ABB’s digital strategy, platform, solution innovations and business growth.
AR That is the focus of your role in ABB?
RR Yes. In ABB’s Industrial Automation, I am responsible for driving the digital vision, strategy, thought leadership, platform and solutions portfolio. Our aim is to move up in the customer value chain as a trusted partner for digitalization to deliver the true value of digitalization while evolving toward safer, smarter and more autonomous operations. I take pride in the digital team we have managed to build and, together, we are confident we can drive exponential business growth!
AR How is digitalization changing how companies operate, adopt technology and manage risk?
RR That is a short question with a very long answer! But I’ll try to give a brief response.
In today’s highly competitive landscape, industries strive for operational excellence that enables output of the highest quality, maximized asset performance and top reliability. And all done in the most productive, cost-effective, safe and sustainable manner. The key to achieving these aims is digital transformation, but many companies struggle to leverage its potential.
The core issue, as well as the solution, is data. Data drives digitalization. Today, an average plant uses less than 20 percent of the data it generates. Successful companies will be those that can transform this data into actionable insights at the right time and thus optimize performance and reduce costs.
To gain deeper insights into a plant, a platform-driven approach is necessary to integrate and contextualize data coming from a variety of systems such as operational, information and engineering technology – what we call OT, IT and ET. Furthermore, to unlock the true value of the data, we need to aggregate it across the enterprise, covering all units and plants. In order to produce meaningful, actionable insights, we need to automate the integration and data contextualization before applying artificial intelligence – AI – and analytics.
AR And ABB can supply the technology for such a transformation?
RR Definitely, yes. In fact, ABB is probably uniquely placed to provide certain digital solutions for some of the complex problems in the industries. This is due to our strength in data-domain technology capabilities →01. ABB is able to address the spectrum from smart digital assets and equipment to integrated digital systems →02. We have hundreds of digital solutions powered by the ABB Ability™ platform. Also, we recently launched the ABB Ability™ Genix Industrial Analytics and AI Suite, which combines the company’s industrial automation and deep-domain expertise with Internet of Things technology and advanced analytics investments to help customers realize a safer and more productive and profitable future.
AR What digital transformation programs have you been involved with at ABB and what impact have they had for the customer?
RR As you might expect, these activities are many and varied. During the last year, for example, we implemented strategic initiatives to strengthen our capabilities. As part of this move to accelerate digitalization growth, a new ABB Industrial Automation business-level digital startup called IA Digital was set up. This new team introduces strong skills in industrial analytics, AI platform development, digital product and portfolio management, industrial value engineering and solution engineering for enterprise-scale integrated systems. Additionally, the ABB Industrial Automation Process Control Platform Team was set up to innovate next-generation automation and OT digitalization capabilities. As I mentioned above, we also recently launched the ABB Ability™ Genix Industrial Analytics and AI Suite, which unlocks the power of contextualized data coming from operational, IT and engineering systems, together with domain expertise and advanced analytics to accelerate Industry 4.0 digital transformation.
AR Do you have an example of a digital transformation that is making a big impact?
RR Again, there are many. One that has a significant customer impact is ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations →03. With this, we are helping our customers to transform as well as improve the way we serve them, with 24/7 access to experts. Through this offering, we are now connected to over 900 industrial plants, 1,200-plus marine vessels and more than 40 mines – helping them achieve increased productivity, higher uptime and safety, lower maintenance costs, improved operational performance and reduced energy and fuel costs.
AR Are there any other factors speeding the digital transformation?
RR In order to accelerate our digital journey, we have defined a strategic framework built on six pillars. These cover the enrichment of our digital offering, strengthening go-to-market and sales capabilities, innovation in the digital business models that are aligned to customer buying patterns, development of a rich and modular digital solution platform, investment in people’s digital capabilities and enhancement of digital maturity and culture.
AR What struggles do companies have with the digitalization agenda?
RR The main struggle is that some have a hard time dealing with change. But we can help our customers to change and change always starts with doing something differently. Everyone agrees that digital is the way forward and many enterprises have transformation programs ongoing. Companies across industry strive to be cost-competitive, achieve greater customer intimacy and provide better products and value-added services. On the other hand, they have pressures to be flexible and agile, sustainable and resource-efficient, while ensuring their assets can run in a safe and reliable manner. Achieving a few of these objectives is a challenge, but achieving all at the same time would truly differentiate them.
AR And data can help them out?
RR A recent report suggests that 80 percent of data in an enterprise remains unutilized and up to a 40 percent productivity gain can be achieved by harnessing this data through analytics and AI. However, the greatest challenge is the effort involved in properly integrating and contextualizing the data for it to be meaningfully analyzed. Organizations have spent millions of dollars to create large data warehouses and data lakes but have failed to create a noticeable business impact. Creating a well-defined digital transformation journey so that data can be turned into actionable insights requires a fine blend of technology and data knowledge, and deep industry-specific domain expertise.
AR Do industrial businesses understand the value that can be gained from digitalization and automation?
RR Most businesses see the advantages right away, especially when we outline how they can digitally reinvent themselves and transform their business for the better.
AR How should companies ensure their employees engage with the process? People might be worried that more automation might mean fewer jobs?
RR This question often comes up. Each successive innovation causes a job evolution – and this process continues today. Digitalization is clearly a must for organizations that want to gain a competitive advantage. It is critical to show how data and insights empower every role to excel. In the end, increased productivity will make jobs more secure and more valuable.
AR How should companies go about finding the right automation partner to help them with the process?
RR Well, I’d recommend they call ABB! With our vast experience – built up over a period of 130-plus years – and pioneer work in the four industrial revolutions, we deliver the integrated systems that uniquely combine the power of electrification, motion, automation and digital to drive safe, smart and sustainable operations in a variety of industries. ABB is clearly well placed to embark on such digital journeys with its customers through its unique value proposition of data, domain knowledge, scalable platforms and technologies, proven solutions and strong capabilities to drive large transformation programs.
AR Sustainability is a very important topic. How can automation processes help customers on their journey toward more sustainable operations in terms of environmental sustainability as well as safety and business continuity?
RR Safety and sustainability are indeed high priorities for ABB. Today, close to 60 percent of ABB's revenues are generated with products that have a positive impact on energy efficiency. ABB advanced analyzers and automation products facilitate energy optimization, emission control, renewable energy and CO₂ reduction.
AR The digital landscape seems to be developing at an unprecedented speed. Do you have any closing words for us as to what the future holds, Rajesh?
RR There is no doubt that everything that can be digitalized, will be digitalized. We need to find new growth pockets and complement what we are already doing well with innovative approaches that are dramatically different to drive disruptive value to our customers. We have a well-defined digital strategy, unique value propositions and differentiated domain-rich offerings and are poised to write the digital future together with our customers!
AR Thank you for the interview, Rajesh.