ABB: IoT moves from business case to business benefits
ABB: IoT moves from business case to business benefits

ABB: IoT moves from business case to business benefits

In an exclusive interview with Internet of Business, ABB chief digital officer Guido Jouret describes a maturing IoT where business benefits and return on investment are taking centre stage. 

“Are you a technical person or a business person?”

That’s the question that ABB chief executive Ulrich Spiesshofer asked Guido Jouret back in 2016, when the latter was interviewing for the job of chief digital officer (CDO) at the $33.8 billion Swiss-Swedish company.

Guido Jouret of ABB

“I just told him ‘Yes’,” Jouret laughs, “because I see myself as both, but also because I see the IoT as needing both.”

It’s a good answer. It certainly may have helped Jouret win the job at ABB – his appointment was duly announced in September 2016. And sure enough, those dual strands of technical expertise and business savvy run not just through Jouret’s own job, but also ABB’s wider IoT strategy. 

Read more: ABB innovation challenge sees six start-ups win funding

Getting value from IoT

First, Jouret is involved in building out ABB Ability, the company’s digital offering that aims to provide a single platform for the company’s digital products and services.

Second, he’s helping to weave digital expertise across ABB’s products and services, creating ‘mini CDOs’ in each business unit, to act as local digital leaders.

Third, he says, he’s focused on helping ABB’s customers get value from their IoT investments. It’s the aspect of his job that he appears to enjoy the most – finding technical solutions to real-life business problems. 

“This is a fascinating time in the IoT’s evolution, because almost everybody ‘gets it’ now,” he says. “Customers understand the business case for IoT and they want to move ahead with quantifying the benefits and return on investment. So this is a really important strand to my job: showing them how the IoT can make their business better.”

Read more: OT meets IT with ABB, IBM industrial IoT partnership

Robotics revolution

ABB is arguably best-known for its industrial robots and the ‘robotics revolution’ offers huge scope to make businesses better, Jouret believes. That’s due, in part, to a technology evolution that is seeing a new generation of industrial robots emerge that are smaller, safer, more adaptable and more mobile than those that came before them. 

“Ten to fifteen years ago, industrial robots were engineered to perform dangerous tasks – but they are also dangerous to be around, which is why many of them live in cages on the factory floor,” says Jouret.

But today’s so-called ‘collaborative robots’ have better manners and are more amenable. They are able to sense the proximity of human colleagues, taking a different course when necessary and halting if a collision occurs. They can easily move from place to place and they be programmed to perform a wide range of different tasks.

As an example, Jouret cites ABB’s Yumi, recently seen leading famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and an orchestra in a bravura finale to a robotics festival in Pisa.

The opportunity here for ABB, according to Jouret, is to help its customers deploy and integrate these robots with their existing plant-floor machinery and their human workforces. 

Read more: Number of service robots to reach 264 million by 2026

Receive instructions, report on status

When it comes to teaching robots new tricks, ABB’s RobotStudio provides developers with a platform on which they can create the code they need to feed to robots in the form of instructions.

But these modern robots are smart, connected devices and they are just as capable of sending data as they are of receiving it. In other words, they can report on their status, condition and operations – and all that data is yet another source of insights that can help in the work of making businesses better, says Jouret.

“We can monitor robots and let the customer know that a particular robot needs a part replaced or that its motor is running slow. We also know how much energy they’re consuming and can take measures to curb that; for example, slowing them down during periods where power is expensive. And we can adjust their activities to reduce wear and tear on components, making movements smoother or slower, for example, so that robots last longer.”

But how does ABB deal with the challenge that industrial customers may be reluctant to make new investments, having invested millions in industrial machines and robots in the past, many of which are expected to remain in service for two decades or more?

Jouret says it’s a question of greenfield versus brownfield sites; that is to say, those company facilities that represent net-new opportunities for ABB, versus companies with existing investments to protect.

“The industrial world is rife with brownfields. There are very, very few greenfield sites, because most companies are established and they already have a lot of stuff,” he says. “But that’s always been something that ABB has had to deal with, it’s our daily bread to integrate with older equipment.”

“Now, we’re focusing on taking new robotics technologies and making them easier to deploy, easier to integrate with older tech and easier to fit into current processes, on a task-by-task basis, to the benefit of human employees.” 

Guido Jouret will be speaking at our Internet of Manufacturing event, taking place in Munich, Germany on 6 & 7 February 2018. Hear from him and other Industry 4.0 leaders on how IoT technologies are boosting productivity and profitability across the sector.