Data Center

The Pace of Digital Acceleration, IT-OT Convergence, and Strong Relationships: The Top Executive Insights

We created our Executive Insights videocast series so leaders from the data center and building industries could share what they had learned about how businesses are accelerating their digital journeys. We knew that with the pandemic, our customers and partners were making difficult decisions to manage this transition, just like we were at Schneider Electric. The videocast provided a unique opportunity to discover what we could all be doing better, not just in the thick of a pandemic but also in the future.

As we plan new Executive Insights episodes for 2021, I took a moment to look back at some of the key insights gleaned from our first six interviews.

Accelerating the pace of adoption – two years in two months

Julia White, CVP, Microsoft Azure, couldn’t have been more on target when she talked about the pace of tech adoption increasing dramatically in 2020, saying she’d witnessed two years of adoption in two months.

“People always ask, ‘What’s stopping cloud adoption from going faster? What’s the number one issue?’” Julia said. “And I say, the number one issue is human beings and culture – our willingness to adopt technology and change.”

In 2020, everything changed. Julia provided a spot-on example of this change with the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088, and is considered to be the oldest university in the world. When the pandemic hit Italy, this ancient University went live with 50 percent of its classes in the first week, and by the end of the second week, classes were 100 percent live, all using Microsoft Teams for nearly 9,000 students and almost 4,000 courses.

“It’s an example of how quickly people moved and the technology that had to support that,” she said.

Schneider Electric CIO Elizabeth Hackenson experienced this rapid pace of adoption first-hand as virtually overnight she started making it possible for more than 110,000 employees to work from home. On Executive Insights, Elizabeth talked about the process of tripling the company’s internet bandwidth as Schneider Electric employees went from using 20 million minutes of video calls per month to 60 million. Her team increased VPN licenses from 30,000 in January 2020 to more 90,000 in mid-March, to a whopping 113,000 in early June.

“I think there will be now an acceleration to the cloud without a doubt and companies that haven’t even put their toe in being digital and monitoring remote, they’re going to do it now,” Elizabeth said.

Expanding IT-OT convergence

We explored the growing trend of IT and OT convergence with two of my Schneider Electric colleagues: Mike Anderson, CIO, North America, and Jennifer Jacques, Vice President Global Supply Chain, Digital Transformation. This trend is happening as connected devices become more prominent within buildings and non-IT environments. Facility managers, systems integrators, and others on the manufacturing floor need a seamless exchange between these fundamental networks to ensure productivity and resiliency are maintained.

Jennifer provided a concrete example of IT-OT convergence with factory acceptance testing when customers want to be onsite to conduct tests to evaluate the equipment and verify it’s built to their requirements before moving into mass production.

“We really had to work quickly to implement a process where we could do that remotely. We were using cameras within the plants, we connected to our secure network, and it really allowed our partners and customers to leverage that video feed with Skype and be able to witness the test in real time,” Jennifer said. “And we have been able to scale that methodology across 80 of our facilities. I think since the pandemic began, we’ve done over 100 remote tests, so it allowed us to continue that supply chain process uninterrupted and keep the manufacturing and supply delivery on time.”

Mike agreed that finding new digital ways to do things is a trend that is here to stay.

“We have to be able to do everything remotely because we don’t know when we are going to be able to send someone onsite,” he said.

Guest Bob Olwig, VP of Corporate Business Development and Marketing at World Wide Technology, spoke primarily about reintegration of systems, but he also chimed in on IT-OT convergence, describing it as “a wonderful opportunity” to extend WWT’s services and capabilities.

For me, Bob summed it up perfectly when he said: “Our customers don’t draw a line between… IT and OT anymore – the operational side of things and the information technology side of things. They’re wanting a converged network.”

Maintaining strong relationships with customers and partners

One overarching theme that stood out – and we certainly experienced this at Schneider Electric – was the importance of maintaining strong relationships with customers and partners. When a crisis strikes, customers rely more heavily on providers just as companies rely more heavily on their partners. Technical Director of Datacentre UK, Paul Almond talked about how customer service has always been a major part of the company’s ethos. They typically stay in touch with customers to understand what they are doing and what they want and need to be doing, and that communication has been key to getting through the pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, customers were comfortable just to give us a call or we were already talking to them, so really it was a case of business as usual in that respect but certainly some of the requirements became more urgent so we were seeing a lot quicker turnaround on decisions for products where it might have been months or weeks, that was being done in days,” Paul said.

Hani Nofal, VP of Digital Infrastructure at Gulf Business Machines, echoed this message, saying the strong relationships the company has made played a role in differentiating them during the past year. When things are difficult and there is no time, you will turn to the company that has been supporting you over the years, the one you can rely upon for the best strategic advice and problem solving.

“We’ve been around for 30 years now and the one thing that was very clear to us was that in these difficult times, people default to their relationships that they trust the most and this made a big difference for us,” Hani said.

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I want to thank all of our guests who participated in the inaugural year of Executive Insights and shared their first-hand experiences with digital transformation. The videocasts have surpassed a million-and-a half views and I encourage you check out these episodes if you haven’t yet. And please subscribe to the series because we have more great topics and top executives coming in 2021.


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