ABB Discusses Transformation in the Way IT Providers Address Customer Needs

Scot Burdette - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree

Scot Burdette

VP of Global Technology Management




Israel Arroyo

Founder and President

Stealth Entry Cybersecurity Solutions


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VP of Global Technology Management for ABB, Scot Burdette, discusses transformation in the way IT providers address customer needs. 


IA: We're here today with Mr. Scot Burdette, who is the Vice President of Global Technology Management at ABB. He works within the industrial automation division. Uh, my name is Israel Arroyo, and I am with Stealth Entry Cybersecurity Solutions, and I will be your guest moderator today. So, uh, Scott, let's get started. So, emerging disruptive technologies and innovations –  in your opinion, what is one of the most exciting disruptive technologies that is beginning to impact our world or lives today?


SB: Thank you for having me today. Um, you know, technology is changing. Not only is it, uh,  changing every day, but it's changing hourly now from what we're, what we're seeing and automation, our work in the industrial automation division. And so, we're seeing a lot of automation from, uh, autonomous-type vehicles, autonomous-type equipment, and really, we're seeing more of the, of this self-driving technology take place in our industries and others.


IA: Absolutely, absolutely. Um, and it's kind of interesting because that's a really big topic right now. I mean, both, not only in security but also just in smart technologies, right? A lot of cities are trying to get those, those, uh, those self-driving cars and you know, they figured, you know, “Hey, might as well get them out there in the streets,” and, and, and make them, you know, smart cities, et cetera. So, it is pretty big. So, how do you fuel the innovation efforts on your team and organizationally? How do you fuel their creative innovation?


SB: Well, it’s been a shift. Just like we see all across IT right now. It used to be in the applications or in the software that you're developing or in the equipment, and now it's all about the data and the information and it’s about exposing the value of information. Um, and so, as you know, you hear now, that information is the gold of the, of the organization. And ABB is exactly the same way.

We have so much information about operations in, in industries and in, uh, plant environments, in our customers' environments. Well, how do we turn that into something that is going to spur innovation, but also help meet a customer need? How do we drive something for them that is an outcome that they're looking for within their own processing, or the way that they serve their customers? And so, the transformation has really been moving from the applications to the, the data and the insights that the data provides, and how do you get to a point of providing data that means something to somebody that can help them make better decisions than they were in the past?


IA: Absolutely. It just seems like right now applications are just the tool so that you can provide the data analytics behind the data to get exactly what you need for the requirements of either your customer, or even internal business processes, et cetera. So, that's pretty interesting. Um, a lot of people always do focus on the application, you're right. They always do. They don't focus on the data so much, which is a, I hate to say, but you know, a security nightmare, because the security guys are saying, “Hey, I understand you got bugs in your code, but, you know, you got to do the code, but guess what? The data analytics and the data inside, you gotta protect that too.” Especially with GDPR, you are a global company. So, that data has to be, uh, you know, in compliance within those global standards. Um, so how do you tackle that by the way?


SB: So, so first, for me as a software guy, back to your point, the transformation of moving away from software when we want to build software, and now it's not about building software, it's actually fewer lines of code. It's, it's, uh, it's about transformation from, from reducing the amount of software that we build and integrating with components and exposing the data, as you said before. Um, so today, you know, cybersecurity issues are everywhere and exposure is everywhere. And so, internally we have our own audits, we have our own processing, we have our own way of doing validation from external points, internal points. And, you know, the cost of delivering products is dramatically increased just to make sure that they're, that they're secure, that employee and customer data is, is, uh, highly protected, um, and that you're always vigilant to make sure that there's not some sort of exposure with your data, your data storage use.


IA: Outstanding. That's refreshing to hear. I mean, a lot of people, you know, not only people, but organizations, you know, they, they forget those little things, especially when they're dealing with stuff overseas, especially. So, today we have an app for so many tasks. Right? Um, what are the challenges in designing an application, speaking of software development?


SB: Well, it's, um, it's funny, because the other transformation that we're seeing is that, in the old days, you know, you would sit down, and then we would call it agile development, but it would still be, I take these requirements and I build it out. And what we're seeing more of is dropping back and really engaging the customer early, early and often – the idea of creating a proof of concept. So, we believe that we know what a customer wants, but let's validate that, and let's not spend a ton of money and wait until we're halfway through the development process before we get them involved. And so, the way that we're transforming and the way that we're building our teams now, uh, you know, I have a global team that I work with and so, you know, we're here in Westerville, Ohio, but the teams that I work with are all over Europe. I have, uh, teams in Poland and India, um, and Oslo, Norway and in, in Germany and several other places around the globe that we work with on an ongoing basis and passing code back and forth in development.

And so, to, to create that synergy across all of them. Um, and also to drive it back to a proof of concept, to deliver something early and then get with a customer, validate that the proof of concept works, and then build out a minimal viable product with customers, then move to a minimal, sellable product. You know, a lot in the, in the days past, even though we called it agile, we would go right to something that we would expect to scale, and customer needs are very different now. Their demands are very different, and they're very unique. And so, we need to, um, we, we focus by breaking the software up into small chunks and working interactively across global lines to make sure that we deliver the need.


IA: Outstanding. That is outstanding. As you said, it's kind of interesting because, you know, application development has gotten away from, you know, just building the code and “Okay, it works,” right? Now, those requirements, you know…it's interesting, I was having a conversation with somebody and the requirements were really important. But they, sometimes they don't even know what they need, right? That's the real, real tough one, right? When they are looking at the buzzword, the new buzzword on the street is either smart or blockchain or IOT or any kind of, you know, AI, robotics, etc. And they want to bring that in-house and they're like, “Okay, well how do we do it?” They begin and then, all of a sudden they realize, “Okay, it's not that simple. You got to have that requirement down pat.”

So, it's kind of interesting the way things have changed over the years from that agile development. That's pretty interesting. Um, so, can you tell us, you know, just, tell us about your equipment lifecycle management plan. I understand that you're not into the typical infrastructure, servers, devices, network devices, et cetera. I know you deal in a pretty, um, terminator, if you will, movie world, right? So, give us a little bit of information about that.


SB: Yeah, it's, uh, it's very interesting. And that's what my focus is, industrial automation is to service the equipment that we provide to customers. And so what we do is, we take robots, we take, uh, you know, any type of equipment that, that would fulfill a customer's order. And motors and drives and turbines and everything else they need, automation systems, and, and build that and provide it as a system, uh, or as a production line within their facilities. And my job, then is, after we have commissioned that software, that hardware, and that product line is to go in and provide service contracts to then maintain their equipment for them to make sure that, um, they put, you know, from a maintenance standpoint, we're moving, it used to be, uh, condition-based maintenance. So, if something happens, call me and we'll come in. Then it became preventative maintenance. And so, the idea of, these are prescribed intervals, just like your car, I need to do this at 12,000 miles and this at 36,000 miles. So, then there's a list of prescribed, uh, preventative maintenance.

Now you're getting into predictive maintenance, where you’re starting to gather analytics and understanding trends and starting to predict, you're going, you have this much time before you start the erode, um, the performance of, of a piece of equipment or a system, or you have this much time before you have a failure. Of course it's, it's not an exact science, because some things drop directly off a cliff. You know, some things trend well and some don't. And then, so there's an, um, another area that we're driving into is now, even, prescriptive maintenance.

So, that's really how we service our customers. Through our, through contracts, and we build monitors and analytics engines that allow us to tie in from anywhere, uh, that we have a presence. And so, you know, in my center here in Westerville, we have what we call our collaborative operations center, and we have multiple of these around the globe where they can monitor customer environments on a global basis. We have a ‘follow-the-sun’ model, so you know, something that they would be working in, in Westerville here, could be with a customer, you know, somewhere in Asia. And then, as the time, as the follow-the-sun model, we would pass it off to someone then, uh, in Asia or even into, um, into Europe as we need to.

So, we have these centers that pass it off. And the idea is, from a remote center I can look at the equipment and see what's happening, and even do some diagnosis from a remote center and even, maybe even some correction. And so, that's where we're really driving to because, um, getting a field engineer into a customer plant, sometimes on a timely basis, if you're talking to a pulp and paper mill in the middle of nowhere, uh, or an oil rig that’s out in the middle of the ocean – it's very difficult. But if you could do it remotely, now you're saving costs, you're becoming more effective and, and you're providing more value to the customer.


IA: Absolutely. Absolutely. That is great. I mean, that is, wow, that is some pretty, uh, pretty interesting stuff. It's actually very cool. Um, that, you know, the predictive model actually, uh, I, I would hope that a lot of people that are in SOX or EnSOX would start thinking about that as well, like the network security operation centers that are doing all this monitoring for systems. Um, because that is a great model. That is a great model to go after. So, you know, how, how has the cloud technologies, um, how have they changed the way you manage your infrastructure? Do you utilize cloud at all to do a lot of your things that you're doing out there?


SB: We do, and, uh, cloud has become ever more important. You know, we look at is three layers. We have, there's a local presence. So, if you're on a plant, there's this local presence of the equipment that's running. And then, we have what we call ‘the edge.’ And the edge is where you pull everything together within the firewall of the customer. So, you have these individual systems that are running, or equipment that's running that you’re monitoring. And then the, then the edge is where we pull that information together. So, now you have diagnostics that you have not sent to a cloud. It's still on-prem, but it's all in a consolidated way. So, you can get a view of everything that's happening in your plant, and we call that edge computing.  

And then, then you can take the, uh, you know, any, any, uh, information or insights from that edge and then promote it to the cloud. And now you can have enterprise reporting from all the different plants, uh, coming together. So, you can have a corporate view of the entire enterprise for, of a customer or, or us when we're sitting in our collaborative operation centers, they can do it by entire customer suites, you know? It's, what customer am I looking at? Uh, and so the cloud enables that. Of course, the restrictions are, can you push that data offsite, is it secure or do you have the agreements in place with the customers? And the bottom line is the value that it delivers. What type of value are you delivering to the customer through the data that you're allowing to be publicized at those, at those various levels of a presence?


IA: It kind of feeds into that predictive maintenance. So, that's the important thing is, this is where we get our maintenance, our contracts in, where we can actually see before they go down to data analytics that you can utilize for that. So, that's really, uh, that's really important right there, I can imagine. Um, so, you know, I understand that, you know, how does ABB, you know, how does your company approach end user the support through the service desk? I mean, how do you utilize that, that asset?


SB: So, we do two things that I think are different. First is, uh, the collaborative operation center that I talked about. And, um, you know, not only is the data, uh, the gold for us, but it’s our customer's data. So I want to, maybe back to that last point – I want to make sure that we do keep, um, you know, it's the security profile for our customer data very private, very secure. And so, the idea of the business value. But we do tie the, um, we do tie our product management and technology back to customer support, too. So, that's something that I think is different than others is that we tie all that together. So we have the collaborative operation centers, but also beyond that, if a customer has an issue, they can talk directly with the product owners and the product manager. So, it's not just a technology help desk. So we can take a, uh, an issue or a question or a defect and, and map it very quickly, escalate it very quickly, because time is money for customers. So, I think that makes us a little different in a way we respond with, with SLAs and everything else to ensure that their assets and their production performance is, is our responsibility, and we work with them to maintain that in an effective way.


IA: Tremendous. That’s tremendous. That's outstanding. Um, that's pretty interesting. That's very interesting, right there. Um, so, you know, I guess, thank you for your time, Scot. I want to thank you very much, um, you know, for everything you shared with us today. Outstanding. Learned a lot about robotics, you know, and, um, I'm always learning. I love to learn, and it was a pleasure meeting you. And this is Israel Arroyo and, uh, I'm here with Scot Burdette, with ABB, and to learn more about us just visit and goodbye, until next time. Thank you very much for listening.


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