Spotlight Series: A Discussion with Momenta's Insights Partner
The Momenta Team
This series highlights the key insights and lessons from our Digital Leadership series of podcasts. We spotlight the important takeaways from our interviews in an accessible format. The following insights come from Leif Eriksen, Insights Partner for Momenta Partners. Stay tuned for the full podcast interview with Leif, in the meantime, take a look at our full library of podcasts.
Could you tell us a bit about where you started, and what had gotten you interested in digital technologies?
I started over 30 years ago as a young engineer, deploying and configuring instrumentation, automation, and advance process control systems in the petrochemical industry. We sometimes think with all the hype around the industrial Internet of Things, and AI etc. that the use of digital technology in the industrial sphere is relatively new, and nothing could be further from the truth. We were doing some very interesting things back then, obviously there was also some significant constraints, one of which was we had a lot of disconnected systems.
To give you an example of that, we would collect all our data from the sensors that we had, they were all wired up to a control system and then that data was imported to another computer, in our case it was a DEC PDP 11 minicomputer. This was the dawn of PCs and applications on PCs, and so we got to do some interesting things, but there were also again some significant challenges, one of which was, okay how do you get the data from that minicomputer to the PC, when you didn’t really have a network to do that? So what I had to do back then was, print out reams and reams of paper on a dot matrix printer from the PDP 11 of data, and then manually re-enter that data into the PC, into what was at the time a novel program called Lotus 123, that was the dawn if you will of the ubiquitous spreadsheet era, and then look to do something with it at that point.
This is when I learned my first and maybe hardest lesson on data backup, I spent a whole morning literally manually typing and entering data into the PC, the PC crashed and I hadn’t backed up the data from the 20 megabyte hard-drive, to the 5 ¼ floppy disk, and so I had to start over again. But what got me excited, what was really exciting about all that was, once you got that data into the spreadsheet you could do interesting things with that; you could look at trends, you could compare process data with events, you could even do some fairly sophisticated statistical analysis. So, the kind of insights we got into what was going on in the plant, and some of the issues we had, or how we could optimize or improve the performance of the plant was very interesting, and very exciting.
Tell us about that transition and some of your experience there from being operationally in the weeds to taking a broader view of the industry and technology.
15 years into my career as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, an opportunity came up in 1998 to settle down and do something different and joined a small analyst firm called AMR Research (Advanced Manufacturing Research). What got me excited about that is, in that role I could look at the broad scope of the use of technology across a lot of different industries and get a better understanding of what was state of the art at the time and what was coming so that was very exciting.
That transition was both challenging but interesting, and was the beginning of the next 20+ years where I’ve really dedicated my life to helping companies make sense of technology trends, and how they impact their business, and what it is that really matters. There’s a lot of hype out there in terms of the various different technologies, today of course a lot of its around AI, machine learning, blockchain, but really how relevant is that to my industry? That’s what business leaders care about, and that’s what I’ve dedicated my career to.
What are some of the most impactful shifts in technology, or even in thinking, over the last couple of decades - are there some key trends or developments over the years that you can point to, that have created real inflection points for changes or really innovative applications of technology?
In some ways a lot hasn’t changed, if you think about what engineers are doing today in plants around the world, a lot of them are taking data out of various different systems that come in from sensors etc. and analyzing it, and it’s not unusual for them to still use a spreadsheet. But they also have more sophisticated tools available to them, but really what I see as a major change that was that with the internet there were all sorts of possibilities that were opened up in terms of what you could do with the data, how you could share the data, how you could collaborate on the data, how you could analyze the data, and ultimately how you can make decisions based on that data.
Ultimately the goal for any company is to make better decisions about how they operate and maintain their assets or their equipment, any industrial company in any case. Everybody wants to get to this Nirvana if you will of the perfectly predictable operation, where they have enough data and they’ve got sophisticated enough analysis that they can say that this is what’s happening now, with a high degree of certainty, and this is what’s going to happen tomorrow, a week later, or two weeks later etc. So, we’re getting closer.
What are some of the things that get you really excited about the state of the market today, and where we might be going?
That comes down to the maturation of the cloud, and cloud tools available. A lot of that credit goes to the big consumer cloud companies, whether that’s Amazon, Facebook, Google, or to a certain extent Microsoft, which straddles both the enterprise and the consumer world, but their massive investments and their Azure infrastructure has also been a major factor. If I go way back when to when I first started, it wasn’t that unusual that you had more sophisticated technology at the office than you had at home.
Well, that has completely been flipped on its head. If you think about what we can do today with just a mobile device, and iPhone or similar, in terms of controlling our home remotely even from remotely purchasing basically anything, anytime, anywhere; this kind of capability is not quite there in a lot of enterprises. A lot of that has to do with the fact that companies still store their data in local functional silos, it might even be as local as a single plant, but even if it’s captured up at an enterprise level they’re in functional silos and the systems are hopelessly incompatible, so what gets me excited is the ability to take that data and put it in the cloud, and do all sorts of things that you couldn’t do before. But most importantly, the ability to share that data in real time with a broader ecosystem, with your partners, across your own organization.
Do you see a shift in traditional operational technologies, for instance plant floor data-management, do you anticipate new types of technologies, or new approaches evolving that will be information technology, but specifically tailored to heavy industry?
If you think about it, go back to when I talked about starting my career, and that I was able to take all this operational data, put it in a spreadsheet and analyze it, that was a very local process. Interestingly enough, that’s still true in a lot of different organizations around the world, they’re still done locally by a local engineer making that decision. The other part of it that hasn’t changed dramatically is that they’re still predominantly looking at process data, and they’re not overlaying that on top of maintenance history, or maybe some new types of data, audio data, or visual/video data.
Audio data - for example a noise that a machine is making, and of course in anything where weather is a factor. The ability to take all of that data, put it in the cloud where it’s much more efficient to manage, share, collaborate around, analyze etc., and put it together in a way that delivers context, and then ultimately overlaying machine learning, or artificial intelligence. That’s going to change everything, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to still be collecting the data the way you do today - you may or may not - depending on whether there’s a need for more data than you already have. But it means that how you look at the data, how you analyze it, and where you do that is going to change dramatically, and that’s going to have an impact on the OT vendors that we were talking about earlier, is are they going to still be providing that capability? Or, is it going to be one of the big IT vendors such as Microsoft or Amazon with AWS, or is it going to be some startups?
What are some of the key themes and areas of focus that you want to be highlighting, and areas of particular interest to you as well?
I couldn’t be more excited about joining Momenta because it’s going to give me the opportunity, and us the opportunity to be at the forefront of this transformation we’re just talking about. This is a scary and challenging time for a lot of leaders in the industrial world, and so navigating the journey from where they are today, to this brave new world is going to take a lot of vision, but it’s going to also take a lot of guidance. And so being able to rely on an organization like Momenta, to provide the kind of insights that you need to make the right decisions, both in terms of the overall strategy, but also in terms of the particular technologies you should invest in, in any given point in time, how mature they are.
Industries are very different even within the context of the industrial space; what they care about, what’s important to them is different. An asset-intensive organization like the energy industry, or mining it’s about the reliability of equipment, the ability to run that equipment 7 x 24, 365 days of the year.
It’s also about appealing to increasingly localized tastes and requirements, and so being able to do that requires a different set of tools and technology, a different strategy, so we’re going to be out there not just talking about digital transformation and digital industry in the industrial world in general, but also talking about what it means for individual companies and sub-sectors. So, that’s what gets me excited, is that we’ll be leading the way in that regard and look forward to talking to a lot of companies, a lot of Chief Digital Officers about their challenges and how we can help them.
Momenta Partners encompasses leading Strategic Advisory, Talent, and Investment practices. We’re the guiding hand behind leading industrials’ IoT strategies, over 200+ IoT leadership placements, and 25+ young IoT disruptors. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about our Connected Industry practice.