On this special episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast — Interview Series, host Daniel Newman welcomes Bill Boswell, Vice President of Marketing at the Siemens Digital Industries Software, to discuss digital transformation in the age of COVID-19 and what companies across all industries are facing.
It’s Not Time to Slow Down
We are in an unprecedented time right now. Companies have the opportunity to pause and look at what they’re doing across the board. How they’re operating, what technologies are being used, how employees function. This is not the time to slow down. This is the time to embrace digital transformation. Some companies understand that and are innovating and collaborating faster than ever before. Today’s products are smarter and more personalized. More data is being collected than ever before. And many companies are blurring the lines between the digital and physical worlds.
Siemens helps customers use technologies to find opportunities in their industries. Customers are using automation in their supply chain. They are making decisions with technologies like digital twins. They are using software applications that run in the cloud to manage business more efficiently.
Siemens is not just a software development company. They also have factories and manufacturing plants across the globe which gives them a unique opportunity to use the technology that their customers use. Bill pointed out that Siemens has the opportunity to be working right alongside customers, understanding their pain points, knowing what they need in order to speed up the technology of innovation.
Digital Twins Improve Production
One of the great things that Siemens offers to customers is a comprehensive digital twin. There are a lot of definitions of ‘digit twin’ out there, but the way Siemens looks at it depends on your use case and industry. There’s a digital twin of the product that is the design of the product. Everything from your customer requirements to the physical simulation, design, electrical, and mechanical. Then there’s the digital twin of production, which covers manufacturing, planning, and simulating the workstations of the entire factory as you move through the process.
The next digital twin covers performance that allows you to see how it is operating, and then you can close the loop back into your digital twin of the design or your digital twin in the production to make the whole product or the whole production better.
Industrial IoT Isn’t Your Mama’s IoT
Most of the time when we think about IoT, we think about the smart speaker in our house or maybe the wearable on our wrist. But industrial IoT covers so much more than that. It could be a smart machine. It could be a smart manufacturing line, smart robots. It could be smart trains. It could be wind turbines. It can be energy grids. It can be entire infrastructures for cities.
The consumer IoT products have to be manufactured somewhere. Industrial IoT goes behind the scenes. What kind of sensors do you need during the manufacturing process. What kind of smart machines do you need? And then ultimately, what do you do with the data you’re collecting.
Edge Computing or the Cloud?
These devices, whether it’s consumer IoT or industrial IoT, create a lot of data and we have a lot of choices of where we are going to store and interact with that data. There are some analytics that you want to do as close to where the sensors are as possible, and that may be because you want to have reduced latency or no delay for health and safety kinds of things.
You may also want to do some edge computing because you can only transfer data around so fast. You need to be able to do the stream process close to where the device is to possibly optimize how much data is being sent to the cloud. Companies today are learning to put their compute resources in the right spot and it’s usually a hybrid combination.
Companies, especially manufacturers are using the edge and computing closer to the device in order to make decisions almost instantly. They are able to realize the power of real-time analytics. But then going a step further, Bill noted that companies are able to take this data and analytics and connect it with their other systems like CRM or ERP systems that help the company operate.
IoT as a Service Working with the Cloud
Customers today face the dilemma of being an IoT company and building the sensors and services they need themselves or buying an off the shelf solution that might not fit all of their needs. Siemens realized there was a middle ground. Companies could buy IoT as a Service on top of their cloud to get the best of both worlds. Siemens isn’t reinventing the wheel, they’re enhancing it to fit what customers need.
If you’d like to learn more about Siemens, their offerings and partnerships check out their website and be sure to listen to the whole episode, too. While you’re at it, hit the subscribe button so you never miss an episode.
Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast, the Interview Series. I’m Daniel Newman and I’ll be your host today. I am joined today by Bill Boswell, Vice President of Marketing at the Siemens Digital Industries Software.
Bill Boswell, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast.
Bill Boswell: Thanks, Daniel. It’s great to be here virtually.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. I’m so excited to be here. Virtually it is and virtually it will be for the next little while. It’s late March, what, the 27th today. And for everyone out there, with these podcasts, hopefully you listen to them, you subscribe to them, and you get them right away. But depending on the time that you actually end up downloading this one, we are in the middle of a really interesting time in the world right now. It is March of 2020. Globally, we are in a pandemic right now. COVID-19, the coronavirus, has sort of changed our lives.
It’s changed the way we’ve worked. And now we are in a situation where instead of Bill and I being at an event together, like we were not that long ago breaking bread in Milan, we were sort of forced because of shelter-in-place orders and because of our desire to social distance and flatten the curve of this crazy pandemic to do a lot of things online. And I only share that for you because, like I said, if it’s August of 2020 and hopefully we’re past this and you’re listening to this, you get a little context of where we are today.
Let’s just start off here, Bill, how are you doing? I mean we’re excited to have these podcasts. We’re excited to talk about what’s going on with Siemens Digital Industries Software, but we’re also, I want to be cognizant of this really interesting time. Checking in, how are you feeling?
Bill Boswell: Yeah. We’re doing great, Daniel. Everybody in my family and on our team, we’ve been checking in from around the world and everybody so far is doing fine. It’s really interesting because we work in a very virtual world today. We’re helping our customers work in a very virtual world, which we’ll talk about a little bit later in the podcast.
It’s an odd time, right, with everybody working from home. The tools are there to do it. We sort of think about it about collaboration tools now with like we’re using to record this podcast, but really we’re going to talk about the manufacturing industry today. And the tools to do digital transformation are really what we’re going to focus on in general. COVID just brings the focus on it.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. I mean first and foremost, it’s great to hear, Bill, that you’re okay, your team’s okay, that your cohorts in Germany are doing fine. Obviously, that’s not the case for everybody right now. First and foremost, I think in this time it’s really important that we show an extra level of empathy and compassion to people because these times are unprecedented. Probably if I did a drinking game or if I did a got a quarter every time someone said unprecedented right now, but there really isn’t another word.
There’s just not another word that describes what’s going on, the oddities of seeing drones fly over New York City at 2:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and having no cars on the road. Just that sort of just different feeling. You wake up every day and you feel a little bit like you’re in the apocalypse. But I really do think things will turn. I think things will get better, and there’s so much interesting stuff going on.
For instance, this is such a great opportunity for businesses that are fortunate enough like Siemens and Siemens Digital Industries Software to take this as a reflection point, to look at their own transformation and their customers’ transformation and just slow down a little. Because that is the one thing I think a lot of us can really say, the ability to be at home a little more, be in front of our computers, not be on the road, not moving so fast does give us a good point to reflect, don’t you think, Bill?
Bill Boswell: Yeah. I think absolutely, although I have to say there’s this other phenomena that as everybody really learns to collaborate and work from home and with all the virtual meetings, it really becomes a kind of interesting challenge to always have your work computers and your work life right there in your face while you’re in your home life. So you have to work really hard to create the boundaries for people on the teams and keep in mind time zones. Everything that we do every day from work is just a little bit more focused in these times.
Daniel Newman: And yourself, right? You balance yourself. My office is about 14 feet away from my kitchen, so there’s two things I’m doing a lot more. I’m working more and I’m eating more. Let me jump in here, Bill. I want everybody out there, Siemens is pretty much a household name, huge company, tons and tons of visibility for every industry, for manufacturing, for healthcare, but not everybody necessarily knows Siemens in every part of it. Your part, for instance, Siemens Digital Industries Software, tell me a little bit about it.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. Well, I’ll start by making this a little bit more interesting rather than talking about it as a blurb that you could just read at the bottom of a press release. I’ll tell you how we view our customers and where they’re headed. But to put it in context just since you mentioned the sizes, Siemens has about 385,000 employees around the world, and Digital Industries group that we’re part of, which the software business has over 71,000. Siemens is actually one of the largest software companies in the world when you look at the number of engineers that we have and the number of people that are working on software and digital transformation kind of projects.
Really, we think about it that way because Siemens not only manufactures things, but we build software tools that help companies of all sizes start to make that transformation journey. Despite the kind of changes that are forcing collaboration, we see that the industrial world is really already in the midst of a transformation and the pace of innovation is faster, I think, than I’ve ever seen it in my career. Today’s products are becoming smarter, more personalized. They’re more intricate systems of systems. There’s just a challenge to harness all those layers and complexity and data, and that begins to blur the boundaries between the physical and the digital domains.
We’re helping companies to become these digital enterprises every day. As we’ve seen in these times, the companies who do that better are able to survive situations like this better but, in general, are able to respond more quickly to any changes and to produce smarter products with smarter plants and do great things.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. I’ve been saying, Bill, throughout this there’s a lot of, like I mentioned earlier, reasons to slow down, take pause and reflect. But this is also not the time to necessarily slow down a digital transformation for a business. That to some extent I’ve had that question asked and I’ve talked to a lot of executive leaders over the last month. We’ve done a lot more podcasting and it’s been great to have these discussions.
One of the scariest things I’ve come across has been businesses that are sort of freezing, businesses that are looking at this moment and kind of stopping. Now, I’m not saying companies that really cannot function due to changes. I’m just talking about businesses that are sort of freezing sales, freezing marketing, freezing IT investments and spend right now. Because I think if there’s anything we’re going to learn from this coming out of the back, Bill, it’s going to be that the more transformed companies were the most prepared that are going to be in the best position when this world event is abated.
Let’s talk about cloud for a minute. I mean cloud is playing a huge role. It’s in many enterprises in many spaces. But your focus and a lot of your focus is spent on manufacturing and a few other specific industries at Siemens, very dialed in on. Talk to me about the role the cloud is playing.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. When we talk about digital transformation as a whole and what we do in Digital Industries Software, we talk about where today meets tomorrow and really taking the technologies that are out there for people to have all kinds of opportunity for automation at every point in their system, for across their value chain, their supply chain, making smart decisions through things like comprehensive digital twins, which we’ll talk about more I think today. Really, we have a full portfolio of software solutions that help you do that, but the cloud is becoming an ever more increasing portion of that in our customer bases.
As companies in manufacturing, as companies in other kinds of industrial heavy application areas are starting to make that transformation, we’re doing that right alongside them and helping to lead them through our tools. I sort of think about it when today meets tomorrow in the cloud, and we know a lot about it. We’re not just a software development company. We have real factories. We’re using our real products every day across multiple industries.
We want to be there every step of the way for our customers, and that means helping companies to make that transition. They can go at their pace, but we have the industrial knowledge to help them get there.
We’ve got the software applications that run in the cloud to do that. We’ve got the Mendix Low-Code Application Platform that can help develop applications that are personalized and adaptable 10 times faster, 70% less resources, and you don’t have to be a software engineer to extend these applications. All those kind of things that help that technology speed of innovation go fast, we’re right there with their back to help them get there.
Then of course, with the IoT piece of that sprinkled in, with MindSphere it really is an exciting time for us and for our customers, I think. I agree with you a hundred percent, it’s not the time to slow down. It’s the time to put these technologies to use so you can go faster even with less resources.
Daniel Newman: You alluded to something, so I’m going to keep the momentum and the ball over in your court there, Bill. You alluded to the importance of digital twins. This is something Siemens is focused on. Talk about the Siemens approach to digital twins and the role that IoT plays.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. That’s perfect, Daniel. I think about it this way. There’s a lot of different definitions of digital twins, digital threads floating out there, depending on your perspective. But when we talk about it, you heard me use the word comprehensive digital twin. What I mean by that is that we sort of think of it as a digital twin with many views into that depending on the business case and use case you’re working in.
For example, there’s a digital twin of the product that is the design of the product. Everything from your customer requirements to the physical CAD/CAM, CAE, simulation, design, electrical, mechanical, all that kind of design to then the digital twin of production, which is your manufacturing, planning, right down to simulating the lines and the robots and the workstations of your entire factory and your plants as you’re moving through that process. Then you get into what I’ll call the digital twin of performance when you’re really looking at connecting feedback from whether it’s connected products or connected plants, how the stuff is operating, and be able to close the loop back into your digital twin of the design or your digital twin in the production to make the whole product or the whole production better.
That’s really been an exciting kind of change in the last five to 10 years, and the cloud’s just accelerating that faster and faster. IoT is now putting that in reach for doing it now only in your own single location but across every one of your manufacturing facilities around the world or in every one of your customer products wherever they’re running in the world.
Daniel Newman: I imagine Siemens is seeing a real uptake within manufacturing and in certain fields. I’m thinking probably health care would be an example of this digital twin is being embraced. Because it’s kind of like one of those things you hear about, but it’s starting to become something, Bill, that you guys are really seeing the adoption starting to pick up.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. But it’s every business. Maybe a good way to talk about that, Daniel, is to sort of think about what’s different about industrial IoT versus IoT you hear about in general. It really becomes the kind of assets you’re connecting to and that you’re working with. Typical industrial IoT might be things that are smart assets. It could be a smart machine for a CNC type machine. It could be a smart manufacturing line, smart robots. It could be smart trains. It could be wind turbines. It can be energy grids. It can be entire infrastructures for cities.
Those kinds of industrial assets and industrial verticals that you work with, the kinds of analytics and knowledge you need to use, it’s not just about connecting the data. It’s putting that IoT data in context and doing something smart with it that makes the difference. I think that’s, if you think about how those kinds of things are designed and those kinds of things are manufactured and how we use them every day in our lives, it’s a whole different level of complexity. We’re seeing across the board this digital transformation in all the industry verticals that we work with, so health care, energy, manufacturing, smart infrastructure, you name it.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. Those are some great examples. When I wrote the book Future Proof along with my co-author, Olivier Blanchard, we actually looked very close at digital twins. Some of the examples you gave, windmills. We saw it in industries like bicycles and cycling where it was being used really effectively to manufacture and develop products. We saw it in automobiles, automotive, which I’m sure you guys are deeply entrenched in that particular space. We saw it in many great use cases creating efficiency, increasing innovation, shortening time to market. Of course, the data just lets companies become so much more precise as they are choosing their products, developing, improving, enhancing.
Let’s jump in though. I want to take a little bit of a step kind of sideways. I won’t call it back, but we’ve been throwing IoT out there. I think IoT for the world, depending on the role you sit in, if you’re in your world, Bill, IoT is industrial IoT. IoT is industry 4.0. But if you’re a lot of people even in tech and consumer, you’re thinking about IoT as the smart speaker in your house or the wearable sitting on your wrist. Talk a little bit about how industrial IoT is different and, of course, in some ways the same, but mostly focus on the differences.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a great question, Daniel. In the end they’re things. They’re connected things. Some of connected things will be consumer product kind of things. You’ve got them on your desktop. I’ve got them on my desktop, maybe even on your wrist. In some cases those are going to be things that are used in making those things or hauling those things or providing the energy for those things. I think about it this way. The consumer product kinds of devices that we’re used to, our smart speakers, our Fitbits, those kinds of things, are manufactured somewhere, right, and somehow. And the concept of the sensors that have to be embedded into those and designed into that through the design process have to be planned and designed.
Industrial IoT starts with that whole kind of digital twin notion behind the scenes of what kinds of sensors do I need in there. How do I put them in? How do I design them and then how do I manufacture that stuff? Then how do I connect it all back in the field? It’s really things are things, but what we do with the data, the kind of analytics we do on it are different.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. It’s a great point. The actual manufacturing of the devices that do the sensing is really interesting as well. I remember I had the chance years ago to see the process of the Disney MagicBand. The point isn’t all that specific. It’s kind of a combination of an industrial and a consumer IoT piece because what it’s being used for is very industrious by a company like Disney, but what it is, is it’s a thing that actually becomes a sensing device for so many different activities, Bill, that people are going through.
The point is there’s a lot of thought that goes into that. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the data they collect. There’s a lot of thought that goes into how it’s going to ergonomically be fit, where it goes, where the devices in the parks would have to be. It’s just very interesting to think about that.
Bill Boswell: Well, let me stretch that with just a fun example that sometimes you’re a thing in the IoT of things as well, right. I use an example, my youngest daughter runs triathlons and Ironman.
Daniel Newman: Wow.
Bill Boswell: When we watch her race and do those things, she’s got her tracking on and we see all the sensors and the heart rate and things. Days like that you may be a thing on the IoT of things.
Daniel Newman: That’s funny.
Bill Boswell: It’s an interesting kind of extension of that.
Daniel Newman: Nobody’s ever called me a thing before, Bill, so thank you. I’m just kidding. No, I actually agree with that though. I think we are a constant moving data-creating machine. And all these industrial things depend on us as consumer things. Because you think about smart grids, smart cities. You think about connected factories. There is a combination of that human element. It’s the device, our phones and devices that we’re wearing are putting off. It’s sometimes something a wearable is putting off. It’s sometimes something an augmented headset or reality device in a factory might be connecting to a computer that puts off so much data.
Speaking of putting off data and computing in a factory, what about edge computing? That’s got to be playing a pretty big role. It’s making a big role in analytics. What kind of role do you see edge computing playing?
Bill Boswell: Yeah. Edge is a really important topic for us as a company. I think of it this way, or I try and frame it up as we talk to customers. Where you do the analytics, and we started by talking about cloud earlier today, you have a lot of choices about when and where you do analytics, let alone the kind of analytics you’re doing on a problem.
There are some analytics that you want to do as close to where the sensors are as possible, and that may be because you want to have better latency or no kind of delay in it and, of course, for health and safety kinds of things.
But there’s also practical things, and that is you may want to do the analytics closer to the edge. And all the edge is, is to say close to where your devices are on local resources rather than infrastructure that’s in the cloud. But you may want to do some edge computing because of the laws of physics. You can only transfer data around so fast, so you need to do the stream process close to where it is. But you may also want to do it because of optimizing how much data that you send into the cloud and only sending the data that’s changed or the data that’s necessary or the data that you want to combine with other sources in the cloud to make decisions with IoT data in context. It’s putting your compute resources and your analytics in the right spot and it’s usually going to be in some kind of a hybrid combination.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I think the edge is certainly expanding fast. The need to be able to process data closer to where it’s created is going to be big for a lot of those examples we talked about but in manufacturing in the manufacturing plant, in the smart grids and smart cities. Those are a couple examples. In retail when we get back to doing retail normally, having that edge data is going to be extremely important to expedite.
Then again, like I said, also companies as data proliferates, Bill, and costs of data creation scale so fast, companies need to be able to say, this data’s not important enough to put back to the cloud because it’s expensive. I mean moving data from point to point, companies are going to have to make decisions because we’re putting off this exponential volume of data. What gets processed? What goes back to the cloud, and then what do we expunge and get rid of because it’s not necessary? Obviously, it’s a luxury to be able to have all your data available all the time, but companies are going to have to be making those decisions, right?
I mean and having the edge set up is going to expedite important decisions on the factory floor, right. It’s going to help you get that up time. Because those are the simple examples, but it’s that up time on those machines, making a quick decision, ordering a part, having it replaced proactively during a downtime period before it brings down the factory for a period of time. These are those really simple examples that you give, but this is where having that instant compute and real time analytics be done very close is going to be so important.
Bill Boswell: Yeah. I think there’s another interesting phenomena there, Daniel, is when we started out making decisions about do you do analytics on the edge or do you do analytics in the cloud, one of the factors was oh, my storage is expensive or it was expensive for me to get data there. We talked about things like the law of physics with latency and things. But there’s another kind of change coming that I think that’s equally as important and that’s that data’s getting cheap. The cost of storage, the cost of transferring around 5G, data and moving data is always going to, for some period of time at least, going to decrease in cost. But that means the data flood or the data tsunami, right.
Having too much data is as bad as not having the data where you want it. So you have to very smartly decide, what kind of data do you need to make the decisions you want for things like predictive learning, to do predictive maintenance or looking at efficiency of your operations across multiple plants or multiple factories. Or as you get out into these consumer examples that we talked about, we’ve got millions or billions of products that are running out there. What do you do with the flood of data and the kinds of analytics you want to do or need to do outweigh the amount of data as it gets cheaper.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. That’s a fluid conversation. I mean obviously, that’s sort of the counterpoint because like you said, the idea is the more data you have, the better. Because there’s almost no data that has no value, right? So expunging, getting rid of data is somewhat problematic. And per petabyte, you’re seeing a decrease in cost of transport, a decrease in cost of storage, but it’s also we’re seeing that tsunami or that exponential growth in the volume. So yes, it’s less per petabyte, but you’re getting way more petabytes. It’s sort of businesses are really having to balance all those things together, so it’s a really great challenge. It’s something companies need to think about.
Speaking of challenges and things companies need to be thinking about though, Bill, there’s a lot of approaches that companies can take to implementing IoT. For instance, what is Siemens Digital Industries Software advising that customers and potential customers think about when it comes to making versus buying and when it comes to their IoT software?
Bill Boswell: Right. IoT is obviously one of the drivers of that, but as we talk about the other kinds of systems that we work with, when we talk about it, it’s really about the idea of using that IoT or that time series data in context with other things. It could be with your POM system or your ERP system or your CRM system or your supply chain systems. Having all that data and the ability to easily connect and personalize applications to be able to do that analytics in context as well, they’re to provide the user the ability to answer a question they want. It can be a daunting task to say, okay, how do I get there as a company? So we typically see companies that we work with wrestling with how much do I buy and how much do I make?
We all know that there are stretched IT resources in a lot of companies. We’ve seen it with the pivot to work from home and how a lot of companies have had to work to get that stuff in this kind of time of crisis. But really, there’s two things that we talk about here in the cloud. One is that if you do decide to work with the hyperscale cloud providers and build your own systems, then you’re all in on that. You have to have the people to not only build it but to support it and maintain it. Then there’s the other extreme where you have people that are buying something that’s off the shelf that maybe doesn’t meet all their needs.
What we think about with our partners like AWS or Microsoft and Alibaba Cloud is that you get the best of both worlds with that from an approach that we take. We provide the industrial IoT services over top of the hyperscale cloud providers in an environment where you get both. You can ride the innovation speed wave of the hyperscale cloud providers. You can use our industrial analytics, or you can combine that with the analytics of the underlying platform all in an environment that we help you build and extend on top of them with low-code as well to do it. But it’s not like you have to go out and buy all the individual pieces and have the relationships with the individual companies. You’re buying IoT as a service or industrial IoT as a service from us, but you get the advantages of working with both.
We just did a webinar with Microsoft, and there’s a white paper out there that we’ve done together on buy versus make decisions. It’s really customers have to think about do they want to become an IoT company themselves and have to have all that knowledge and build all those things from all the services, or do they want to have an IoT as a service on top of the cloud providers that gets the best of both.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. A little bit like the way we’ve seen hybrid cloud become the emerging force of the infrastructure data center world for enterprise, I think we’re seeing SaaS and platform becoming the ideal marriage for most enterprises. That there’s that platform to build on, but the SaaS layer provides a lot of that foundation that companies need to get started. Then they can use platform capabilities to plug in specific modules and use prebuilt code or use low-code, no-code capabilities like you do with Mendix to enhance capabilities, to customize, but not necessarily reinvent the wheel, which a lot of companies…
Bill Boswell: Exactly.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. That’s great, Bill. I want to say, thank you so much. We’ve come to the end of our time here on the Futurum Tech Podcast. You’ve been a great guest. It’s great to learn about the industrial IoT space, manufacturing, the way software’s being deployed in industry 4.0, really across all the industries, digital twins, IoT, edge compute, cloud. This is a force of every industry, not just tech. It’s really going to make a difference. And I think with what’s going on in the world right now, as we started this conversation, tech will become the catalyst to helping us through events like this, to helping businesses and the economy to restart and move quickly after this is abated, and let’s hope so, Bill. Let’s hope it is abated really soon.
I want to say thank you to Siemens Digital Industries Software for being a partner on this Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series. Bill, you’ve been a great guest. For everyone out there, check out the show notes. Inside of it there’ll be some resources to learn more about Siemens Industries Digital Software, Siemens Digital Industries Software, flip that around. I’m going to get better at that. But overall, everybody out there, stay safe. We hope that you enjoyed this show. Hit that subscribe button and we’ll see you really soon. Bye-bye now.
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