Schneider Electric; illustration: Bill Szilagyi
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What Schneider Electric Brings to the Industrial Internet

Nov. 9, 2015
Schneider Electric North American head Laurent Vernerey dives into the company's recent Industrial Internet efforts, its plans for the future and how the technology is more collaborative than anything we've seen in at least a decade.

In late September, Schneider Electric announced a new strategy focused on the challenges of urbanization, digitization and industrialization called Life Is On. For Schneider, those three words blend the Industrial Internet business and the shop floor with the Internet of Things of everyday life and, according the company, relies “on optimization of automation and control, advanced remote management and predictive maintained to drive informed decision making.”

Laurent Vernerey, the company's executive vice president of North American operations, recently talked with IndustryWeek about Life Is On, the company’s Industrial Internet plans moving forward (including its Industrial Internet Consortium work with AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel) and some of his favorite technologies around the Internet of Things, which is still projected to grow to $10 trillion within the next decade.

IndustryWeek: This is a big time for you, for Schneider Electric and for the Industrial Internet. What has the last year or so been like?

Laurent Vernerey: When you look at what we have done with the Industrial Internet of Things, it’s interesting. It’s almost like it’s a turning point for us — and we know it’s a turning point for the industry. We came from industrial control, from devices, we moved into systems, and we now have full solutions and software. At the same time, we assembled this portfolio, of course, the emergence of cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things are coming together, and we have a role to play.

Our mission is connectivity as an enabler. The outcome we’re looking for with the Internet of Things, aside from the big words that are going to be used, is all about reliability and efficiency. Just like with cloud 15 years ago, it’s important for us to contribute to the progress in the industry, and that’s why we’ve joined the Industrial Internet of Things consortium. When you look at the mix of the different participants — between AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, Intel and us — it’s the coming together of IT and IoT.

IW: As a turning point, how does it change what the company does and what it will do?

LV: First, recognizing that what has changed has enabled us to have data available in quantities we have never imagined before. It’s about being able to manage the data and provide a service to our customers. We believe greatly that this is the start of a new era that will allow companies and individuals to use data differently.

It’s about life, too, because at the end of day, we want to ask ourselves, How do we improve people’s lives?

IW: In terms of the Life Is On campaign, it still seems — and maybe it will for a while — that IoT is better suited for industry in general than everyday life. What was the direction in making this brand, this campaign and turning it back to everyday life in addition to business and industry?

LV: The idea behind the campaign is recognizing that we will no longer see a division between Industrial Internet of Things and a personal environment. We’re seeing it in some ways today through how our smartphones operate, our TV, our fridge. All of that, for us, is part of this Internet of Things. We have been an industrial company and we are transitioning into a technology company. With that comes what we consider the specific purpose of having an impact in the world. We specialized in energy management and automation, and we think now you can’t isolate yourself.

IW: There’s a whole list of services circling the Life Is On campaign: operational intelligence, optimized automation and control, remote management, analytics. If it’s really well applied, what do you see it doing for mid-sized to larger manufacturers improving daily processes and evolving the floor?

LV: In the coming years, we’re going to see the merging of the application with remote access and reduced downtime. Recently, I was with a very large petroleum, oil and gas company, Total, and they were telling me they’ve implemented a remote management predictive maintenance system and they’ve reduced the downtime of all their equipment by 20 to 30%. In an industrial world, that’s where the biggest effect of IoT will come.

Surely, we’re going to see new architectures, how you go about the process automation in different industries. I think everybody is looking for central ways of really monitoring the operation — but first and foremost, how do you make your equipment and process more reliable by anticipating downtime? We’re going to see a lot of services. First, again, improvement in machine downtime improvement; then, second, in efficiency of processes; the third area is a totally new way of thinking about operations: We want to allow users to make more decisions, blending information with the environment.

IW: The company recently formed a research consortium with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to advance IoT solutions and adoption. What are the ultimate goals with that partnership?

LV: No one company is going to figure this out by itself. We don’t believe industry itself can come up with the solution, so we recognize that embedding ourselves with universities — we recently moved our headquarters to Boston after 25 years in Chicago — and being in the middle of where ideas are generated is important. Our relationship with MIT dates back many years and we’ve worked with them on specific programs over the years. We want to bridge two different parts of the world and this can be done only by partnering with strong organizations. There will be some focus on smart cities and transportation connectivity, some focus (will be) technical in nature on preventative maintenance.

IW: Regarding no one company controlling IoT: Going back through generations of technologies, have you seen something that has seemed to be this collaborative, this much of a communal effort to bring things up to speed as quickly as IoT has been the last few years?

LV: The one recent example I can give is around the topic of data centers and cloud computing. Data centers, if you think of it, 10 years ago, there was a level of optimization, automation and efficiency that had not been taken into account. Some of the same companies (that are now involved in the Industrial Internet Consortium) decided to form an alliance. That’s the example that comes to mind, and it’s been a wonderful story, sharing what we know about data centers, designing standards, creating a standard way of measuring efficiency — and I think IoT has the same potential, and it can be even bigger.

Companies have really embraced the idea the last 10, 15 years that, We’re not going to invent everything.

IW: Let’s wrap with a little lightning round of sorts. I’ll rattle off some terms. Tell me either what you’re at work on, or what has you really excited. What Industrial Internet technology for business has you most excited?

LV: As far as I’m concerned, it’s allowing more efficiency.

IW: And for personal, everyday use?

LV: Making our lives simpler as we’re more and more surrounded by technology.

IW: And what is the single biggest challenge manufacturers have in implementing and executing successful IoT practices?

LV: The coming together of IT and IoT. The CIO in a company has to understand everything now — not just the applications running enterprise, but also the processes. How do you bring together IT and IOT? And how do you really take into account the new environments with cybersecurity? That’s a very big part of any conversation about IoT.

About the Author

Matt LaWell | Staff Writer

Staff writer Matt LaWell explores news in manufacturing technology, covering the trends and developments in automation, robotics, digital tools and emerging technologies. He also reports on the best practices of the most successful high tech companies, including computer, electronics, and industrial machinery and equipment manufacturers.

Matt joined IndustryWeek in 2015 after six years at newspapers and magazines in West Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, a season on the road with his wife writing about America and minor league baseball, and three years running a small business. He received his bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University.

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