18 March 2020

Digi Booster – How Process Industries Will Survive Digital Disruption

Every process industries company is setting out on its personal quest for the holy grail of digitalization, which might save them from falling behind in global competitiveness. As the Grail legend tells us, fighting the barking beast is often a lost cause, and in the end it is not so much about finding the holy grail, but about how the knights of the round table are changed and transformed along the way. It is in this sense, that I’d like to tell the story of the Digi Booster, our own grail adventure at Siemens, and how it has changed the way we work and conduct business in the wake of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation.

How might a digitized world of Industry 4.0 change the way products are developed and projects are managed and executed?

Adapt to changing customer requests

In the traditional set-up you have the sales guys on the one side and the product developers and engineers on the other side. I have always sought the middle ground, that rich area of conflict between what the customers need and look for and what kind of solutions Siemens already has to offer. Bearing with the tension that sometimes takes reign between the two often becomes the most powerful driver of innovation leading to new customized product solutions or that rare breed of innovations which create their own demand.

Constantly re-evaluating my own and my organization’s modus operandi to adapt to changing market environments and customer requests has become my second nature. So, when I was offered the chance to help map out a strategy for digital transformation of the process automation sector in 2016, I was very enthusiastic.

There were a lot of open questions and a great degree of uncertainty on both sides. Customers and plant manufacturers alike were unsure about what they should do next and what specific steps needed to be taken. How will process industries take that unavoidable leap into the fully digitized world of Industry 4.0? And how might it change the way products are developed and projects are managed and executed?

We need more immediate and continuous feedback cycles and agile product development.

So far, in process industries you would have a commission from a customer, which spawned a major product development project over a long period of time. After years we would reach finalization and the product would be delivered to the customer. In a fully digitized eco-system of customers, software developers, suppliers, facility operators and facility builders, it doesn’t work this way anymore. We need more immediate and continuous feedback cycles and agile product development.

This is how the Digital Enterprise Booster, or short Digi Booster, came into being. It was contrived as an internal start-up and laboratory for digital transformation within the Siemens corporation. Its goal is to set up small customized cross-functional teams to partner up with customers and additional stakeholders in an agile co-creation process, find and effectuate specific solutions quickly and supplement Siemens’ traditional role as a technology supplier with effective ways to tackle digital transformation projects and serve as a host to the stakeholder eco-systems of Industry 4.0.

Have we found the holy grail that solves all problems of digital disruption for the process industries? It is an ongoing challenge to realize and implement the agile and lean principles of software start-ups within the traditional organizational structures of a major corporations and an industry so heavily rooted in hardware and complex large-scale facilities as process industries.

Develop the necessary trust to embark on the digital journey

The main advantage I see is, that it is very hard to tackle digital disruption in this sector without the engineering expertise, the financial backing and reliability of a global player like Siemens. Many of our pilot customers have confirmed that it was not until Siemens entered the game of digital disruption that they actually began to develop the necessary trust to embark on their own journeys towards a digital enterprise.

For the Digital Enterprise Booster we have actively integrated digital natives into a team of experienced engineers, marketers and business developers. There are data analysts, AI experts, full stack developers, perl scripters, UX and graphical interface designers and even psychologists who work on holistically optimizing user journeys.

Finding entirely new and even more enduring solutions

Before the Digi Booster, in the field of process automation, Siemens solely acted as a technology supplier for its customers. Today, the customers are our partners and we set up little cross-functional teams of 10-12 employees including representatives from the customers themselves. Product and software releases happen on an iterative, mostly monthly basis. It is an open co-creative work culture, which treats occasional failures or dead ends within the developmental process as learnings and welcome opportunities for finding entirely new and even more enduring solutions.

The three greatest benefits the Digi Booster’s agile start-up culture brings to our clients are:

  • much quicker feedback about what we are doing and how the project evolves
  • faster effectuation and product modifications to generate more effect
  • earlier monetization

But let’s look at a recent use case for process digitization, which was executed with an agile co-creative approach. We took a look at solenoid valve pumps implemented for process control. Their performance varies over time through false operation and wear, eventually leading to outages and costly down-times of entire processes. Depending on the number of valves it becomes more and more costly and unfeasible to replace all valves within a maintenance interval. By implementing an AI-aided system for predictive valve monitoring based on performance data we could determine which valves were likely to fail next and should be replaced in the next maintenance interval. Like this, it was possible to eliminate unexpected down-times altogether.

The Digital Enterprise Booster aims to create solutions the customers can easily put into effect with their given level of expertise and personnel resources, e.g. by creating an app with a sleek user interface.

Depending on the size of their operations many customers might not want to hire their own data specialists and software developers. So the Digital Enterprise Booster aims to create solutions the customers can easily put into effect with their given level of expertise and personnel resources. So, in effect, you will want to create an app with a sleek user interface, by which the predictive maintenance task can be monitored and controlled easily from a digital device like a tablet or smart phone. This is where the team’s cross-functionality steps in to create the smoothest and simplest user journey in tandem with our customers.

Since 2016 the Digi Booster has executed more than 50 customer co-creation processes, 500 on-site installations for customers and 40 major digital consulting projects. The Digi Booster can serve as a supplement to existing businesses or help realize entirely new business models. The areas of application are almost limitless, ranging from process control to electronic batch recording in pharmaceutical logistics and operational services over the entire lifecycle of factories.

Surfing the wave of digital disruption with dexterity and joy

I am eager to expand the technological portfolio of the Digi Booster, develop new service-oriented data-based business models and help bring the necessary industrial standards for IoT platforms and industrial cloud activities into being. The overall mood now is not that of anxiety, fear of the unknown and being overwhelmed, but one of surfing the wave of digital disruption with dexterity and joy.

The Digital Enterprise Booster was born when customers began asking for assistance in their digital transformation journeys in 2016. In the 3-4 years since, this has also thoroughly transformed the way we conduct business at Siemens Process Automation. It was a challenging journey of self-transformation, but we have now reached a point where we don’t need to fear the evil creature of disruption and within a shared digital eco-system of partners can sit down with software developers, start-ups, suppliers and customers as knights in shining armor at the round tables of co-creation to spur and lead our own transformative quests for the holy grail of digitalization in the process industries.

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