Conversation with Eva Schönleitner
Good day, and welcome to the addition 137 of our Digital Industry Leadership Series. Today I’m very pleased to welcome Eva Schönleitner, CEO of Crate.io the leading global database for industry IoT and machine data. Crate is one of our Momenta portfolio companies.
Eva has over 20 years of international experience in technology and industries. She was most recently Head of Digital Partnerships at the global industrial company ABB, based in Switzerland. Prior she held senior management positions over 20 years in the US in sales, marketing, and product management roles in global technology companies, such as Microsoft and VMWare, as well as management consulting roles with Deloitte and IBM. Eva is an Austrian native having studied chemistry and mathematics at the Kepler University in Linz and holds an MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Eva, welcome to our Digital Industry Leadership podcast.
Thank you so much for having me, it’s really exciting to be here today.
It’s really exciting to have you as well. I certainly wanted to do this earlier in your time with Crate.io, but I thought it would be really interesting to get a perspective now that you’ve got a good eight months in the role as their new CEO.
I always like to book-end a question starting off to get a sense of the person and their digital industry leadership journey, what would you consider to be the red thread of your leadership journey?
I’ve been always looking for roles that I find really challenging, that bring new opportunities in terms of creating something new, changing something of a larger nature, being very often on the leading edge almost bleeding edge technologies. Something where I don’t just take over a role and just manage and have a .5 percent improvement over my last three successors. That’s not the kind of roles I’m looking for, and you will see this when we talk a bit of my background, of how each role really moved and captured that criteria. And that’s where I succeeded quite well over the years.
So, coming out of a chemical and mathematics degree you jumped right into consulting with IBM and later with Deloitte, leading e-business service initiative which I must say was one of my starts as well back in the day, you might even call it one of the first digital transformation initiatives, at least relative to the enterprise. What inspired you to jump consulting from this background, and what lessons do you think we learned from that e-business wave?
Well, you’re totally dating us now, you know this. Thank goodness it’s a podcast and not one with pictures where one could maybe see my grey hair here! What happened is basically I did a technical master's degree in Austria, and then very quickly throughout realized that I want to be on the business side of things. It's great if you have a technical degree but were really missing finance, accounting, and some other strategic directions. I moved to the US, went to Emory, and got my MBA after just a very few years of work experience. After I graduated, I thought, well I am in the US, isn’t this a great opportunity to gain a bit more work experience there, and so I started moving into business consulting there and very quickly moved into technology consulting at IBM for several years.
My industry background is consumer package good and retail, and so that’s where I was in the days. Moved very quickly from what one did in the days, process improvements and things like that, into technology consulting. I’m also one of these many people that implemented SAP and other technology solutions for these kinds of customers, consumer package goods, retail services, and so on. That’s really where I got my grounding there and my first global large company experience. I loved it because that practice even in the day was very innovative, was at the leading edge of technology in what they applied. I did think after three years I’d come back, and I don’t know what’s happened, but I was in the US for 20 years, and just recently came back again in 2017. So, a slight delay on that one!
But certainly, well placed in the companies and the geographies you were at. You and I might have actually overlapped, I’m thinking Emory University and CPG, I was a co-command so headquartered there in Atlanta, and certainly very strong CPG initiatives, and yes, SAP!
Coming from Austria, you know the Central European kind of moderate climate, and also having strong seasons, so I’m an outdoor person. In Atlanta it was just too hot and humid for me, so I figured out okay, I don’t want to stay there in terms of living, but I found the Pacific North West very similar to the central Europe climate, and so my husband and I moved to Seattle in the days. Unfortunately, IBM didn’t have a deep presence there, so that’s when I moved to a regional practice in Deloitte. It was the same kind of focus, very retail distribution, consumer package, goods focus, but also technology consulting, IT consulting. I had a wonderful time there, so it was an excellent experience.
I can imagine. Having lived through a number of summers, i.e., July and August in Atlanta, I can appreciate it’s not much of an outdoor sport there unless you happen to find some water somewhere!
So, I know you help progress digital leadership roles over 11 years a Microsoft, of course, Pacific North West, and I’d say what was probably a relatively formative time for that company. Then you went on to do similar roles for VMware and Sage; what were some of the highlights of your time at these companies, and how did this help shape your perspective of Digital industry?
Very much so, when you really think about it, when you’re in consulting and anybody that has been in consulting knows this, usually you need to figure out, whether you want to move up the partner track? And I at the time decided as I was building out an e-business practice, a builder formed a lot of partnerships with technology companies, and like the SAPs of the world, and then Oracles and so-on, and realized wow this partnership building is really something I have passion for, and in fact, I would love to work for a software company, the technology company itself actually doing exactly that, and this is how I came to Microsoft. In the days Microsoft was just expanding into the enterprise, and obviously from what I’ve just said I was in the enterprise at the time and knew how to manage partnerships, so that’s how I got started there managing large partnerships, global ones.
And like many large technology companies, where many employees switch roles every two to three years, and so I was in the various partnership roles for four to five years. My old manager then basically sat me down one day and said, ‘You need to decide what you want to do, you can stay in a role like this, it’s basically enterprise-wide, it’s a global role, its sales-focused, but if you really want to make your move up through more senior levels you need to get more experience and broaden your skill-set.’
And in Microsoft I think it’s still the same today, you absolutely had to get regional experience, get out that the tower of corporate, and be very close to a product. I thought about it and said, ‘Yes, I want to do this, I want to broaden my experience. I’m young enough, why shouldn’t I do this.’ And so, in the days one of the roles I moved over to was quite a radical move, I was moved to the Windows Business Group, Windows Client in this case for desktops, not the server-side, and to the US subsidiary. Okay anybody who knows Microsoft knows the difference between the US subsidiary which is in one town of Seattle, and their corporate headquarters is by car maybe 10 minutes away, 15 if there’s traffic, but it still made a difference.
My role changed quite significantly. First the number two over there for this Windows Business Group, where I launched Windows 7 in the US, I had really exciting times, oversaw different market segments, everything from consumer to small business, mid-market, and the enterprise, worked with partners again where I came from, so it’s a great experience. But then I thought, to the point of 10 minutes away, shouldn’t I really take the opportunity to go into – I wouldn’t say a real region, but a more distant region. At the time I’d already been in the US for 15+ years, and it’s like wouldn’t this be the opportunity to jump back into Europe, and be closer also to my family, there were private reasons for that too, but really into a region, one that’s quite far away. So, I did, I had the opportunity to move to Munich and become the number one of the Windows Business Group for Central and Eastern Europe, which is 30+ counties, including Russia, Poland, and so on, all the ‘stans’.
At the time then I launched the first cloud service, Windows Intune, into several countries there and it was just a natural progression, but it was an excellent experience because 1) One is truly in countries and regions, and also from a career step-up obviously, I did make a ladder step-up as I took over the whole business group, versus just pretty much half of it.
Well, some great steps and I hadn’t realized the size of the region you were running out of Munich, that’s quite impressive across there. Impressive enough that in 2017 you joined ABB as Group Vice President of Digital Partnerships for ABB. Shortly after Guido Jouret whom this podcast knows very well because we’ve featured him several times, became Chief Digital Officer, so what was your mandate at ABB and what were some of the wins in that role?
Totally. After four years in Germany, my husband and I moved back to Seattle again, I was looking for my next role, I was like, ‘What do I do, and where is my core interest in terms of a match between skillset and interest?’ At the time I was already actually looking and thinking start-up. But then at the time, you would not believe it, my old boss from Deloitte & Touche from a very long time ago called me up; we had coffee every once or twice a year or so, and said ‘Wow, I’ve just joined this really cool company, it's totally in our skill set. It is traditional but not typical for a software person, it’s called ABB,’ and I said, ‘ A what!’ GE is a known name in the US, so, ‘That is a competitor of GE, it’s awesome!’ This OT company, basically an industrial company is trying to recruit technical people coming out of the software industry, to really accelerate the digitalization initiatives they are undertaking.
I was so fascinated; I flew down to California and met with Guido Jouret (CDO). We had a wonderful talk with him and the rest of the leadership team, and I was like, ‘Well, this really is the next generation (in terms of business opportunities) and an iteration to the next level, where somebody like me coming out of the software industry could really make a huge impact,’ and that’s exactly what I did. As they were interviewing they realized, ‘Oh, you’re from Austria and you speak German, and in Switzerland, they speak German too…’ very hard to understand though with the accent! ‘Shouldn’t you move to Switzerland, you will be at the Corporate Headquarters and be the extension of this digital group,’ which was located in California. I spoke to my husband, ‘Are we up for this again?’ We were just in Germany for four years; we had a good time there. And so, we decided, we’re going to go for it, we’re adventurous. We packed up our cats, we sold everything in the US and moved over, and what did I really do? I went back to my roots. I actually was instrumental in the development of the digital partner ecosystem there.
Because as you know, with digitalization nobody can do it alone, you need to build a good ecosystem and to have these partnerships, to really accelerate. So, you have the components to then accelerate and build your digital solutions and that’s exactly what I did. So, very much from eons ago, what I did at Deloitte and Touche, then what I did at Microsoft, I basically applied to today’s technologies, of course, to really accelerate these things on digitalization.
So, the partnerships I’m talking about, so sometimes you have an idea, and obviously, the underlying one was Microsoft, because the company had decided even before I came to build digital solutions on the Azure platform, and then basically built an ecosystem around that; everything from consulting firms to other technology companies, one of them being also Create.io.
And thus, brings us to the present. I actually remember having a debrief with Christian Lutz, who was the founder and then CEO of Create.io, at the Zurich Train Station, and it must have been right after the meeting he was telling me about all the great work going on with ABB and speaking very highly of the participants at the meeting, yourself included. What was it about Create.io that compelled you to have them partner with ABB, and ultimately to join them?
The partnering, I basically built up governance in how one evaluates a partner. ABB like many industrial companies is very process-driven, they are coming from a long history of engineering. And so basically it was a deep technical evaluation, it was not just any feel-good kind of thing. If you look at basically the Azure ecosystem to see what kind of key technologies are needed, and one of those key technologies was a super-robust highly scalable database for machine data, which is exactly what ABB was building, digital solutions using machine data. So, a deep assessment came about with the technical teams, and after that ABB and various stakeholders agreed, that Crate.io should be one of the partners, and in this case, the application is the database.
ABB's strategy was a best of breed strategy, and is today also, so you don’t just say, ‘We’re going to take this database, this database, and this database, and five more and everybody can pick,’ no, because its underlying technology you want to select just one of each, and then utilize these technologies to very rapidly skill your people on that, and build these digital solutions that you see in the market today.
So that’s how this came about. I’ve of course met Christian (Lutz, then CEO) and the rest of the leadership team at the time, and when several months later I got a special call saying, ‘Eva, we want to talk to you about something very private, not related to ABB. Can we do this? I was like, ‘We can always have a private talk,’ and that is when Christian came to me and said he was looking for a successor for himself. ‘A CEO to move in the company to the next level, and through the next rounds of venture funding, would you be interested in doing this?’ That’s how this came about.
Excellent, because it really brought together so many aspects of your career, your background, your aspirations. As you said, looking at start-ups earlier as well. As I calculate, you’ve actually been there about nine months now, I think you joined in September of 2020. What have been your largest lessons taking the helm at a hot start-up?
Yes, I cannot believe it, it feels like eons already, but I’m sure I have more wrinkles on my face today. No, just kidding! It’s been awesome, it’s been very much what I expected to move into a start-up of this size. Today Crate has about 60 team members, so quite a difference obviously from the large corporations I’ve been at. But the dynamics, the agility the very fast speed that happens in a start-up, and I’ve been dealing with many over the years, is exactly what is super-attractive, I think not just for me but also the team members.
When I look today attitude is number one, do you want to be in this company, do you want to make a contribution and go above and beyond? I see this in every one of the team members today that we have, so this is really an exciting journey. Because it’s a deep tech company let’s make no mistake here, it's technology-driven, and that was very important for me to join. I said I wanted to be leading the bleeding edge type groups, solutions, companies; and personally, the Crate.io technologies are really leading edge, for use cases that are machine data, digitalization kind of use cases when one needs a super-robust, extremely highly scalable database.
So of course, what we need to do is to ensure that database is top-notch and stays top-notch and is the leading edge in terms of meaning it works really well, hits the spot of the need of the customers, and the target market. That’s what our development team is driving very aggressively, and this year I am super-pleased because earlier this year about two months ago we had a big announcement of our core database for developers, and as you know it’s an opensource product, and we opened it up completely and everybody can try this out on GitHub.
Just yesterday at the HMI Conference, the Hannover Messe, we announced the next generation, a completely new extension of an edge extension, so on top of the cloud now we have an edge extension, its commercially available, and this really hits the spot with all kinds of OT, or industrial companies, they’re looking to really go into the digitalization and scale it out. So, I’m very happy that the company is very technology-driven, we’re driving the roadmap very hard. We’re delivering based on the plan, and that’s exactly what our customers and of course the investors want to see.
Yes, I can vouch for that as an investor ourselves! But I love the way you and the team have positioned the company right at the intersection of the industrial IoT because of course we in Doc Industry 4.0 and AI. And now I could add into that, edge as well, which we’ve had a very strong thesis on edge at the beginning of Momenta, all collectively what I’ll just generally call digital industry. What are some of Crate.io’s key use cases, and wins?
Crate.io started out of consumer-packaged goods, and you know the very depth background of expertise in that vertical. But I think one of the customers and DACH kind of audience, I’m sure they know them as Alpla. Alpha is a plastic bottle manufacturer for let’s say Coca-Cola, and many other soaps and other things we can find in the grocery aisle, the various aisles in a grocery store. And for example, what do we do there? It’s in production, you take numerous senso data from machines that produce these bottles, and then in real-time capture, the data, analyze the data, and immediately then affect how the machines land to optimize the production. What does mean optimized production? In this case, the companies trying to use as little plastic as possible, for sustainability reasons as well as obviously cost, but also ensure that the quality is very high.
What we built there at Alpla is exactly that kind of use case, so the database captures the data, there’s analytics for that, and on top of this, if something runs away in terms of machines get adjusted wrong or move in the wrong direction, it immediately alerts the workers in the plant via a notification system, realtime, ‘Please go over to… line three, machine four, and ensure that you will give it a watch. This has huge OEE benefits, the combination of lower product needed, and raw materials, lower bag-damaged products, and also the worker's side, so a clear OE case. You can’t imagine this, this runs today 16 plants, it’s all realtime, all real-time analytics, it uses the cloud.
Let’s say Alpla has 180 plants, what we realized, and this is some of the learning is, today everything is 100 percent cloud-based and it works perfectly fine. But there are limitations to this when you think some of the plants are in countries where the internet is slow, and with having a real-time production environment where they can’t wait five seconds, for the internet comes back again or catches up with itself, so having an edge compute is extremely critical here.
Also, when you think about… I’ve just mentioned one use case, we actually have two use cases, another one, by joining a smart factory there are dozens of use cases where you want a lot of data, and if you send all this to the cloud it becomes prohibitively expensive, because you know how cloud pricing works on any of the hyperscalers it’s based on consumption, so the more you send the more it costs. So, what you really want to do is have a cloud and edge strategy on this, this is the next generation.
I know I’ve diverged maybe a bit, but I hope that gives a bit of an idea of what is typical or maybe one of the use cases could be.
If you don’t mind, I’ll go off a little bit on that, just because I think you’re on a really good track. For those who aren’t familiar with Create.io particularly, why couldn’t I use something from the hyperscalers, or a standard database provider in this? What is the strong advantage that Create.io has in that?
Well, I wouldn’t say you couldn’t, you can, it depends on what the use case is. So, the benefit of why you can’t use the standard one, kind of a traditional database, is very clear. In the Crate.io database, you can actually combine the structure of data that you normally have coming out of ERP systems with unstructured data. Unstructured is the sensor data, it could be images from cameras taking car door pictures to make sure there are no dents in it, no scratches, or the paint was applied correctly. In Crate, you can combine this all-in-one database and you don’t need multiple databases and trying to consolidate this, and all that.
Also, it’s meant specifically for the types of combination of data, very huge amounts of data, so billions of rows of data, and also to be able to analyze they’re not in this database in real-time. So, when you’re talking about industrial scale, what you really have is digitalization use cases then create exactly the database that you want. The hyperscalers have databases too, and I’m not saying I’m pooh-poohing them at all, actually, this is maybe a good starting point, what we find is customers come to us when it becomes highly scalable, and that’s when the Crate database really shines, I would say.
I could certainly see that, and of course, you’re… I’ll call, high-speed packaging CPG background by definition generates a lot of data and requires a very high response time, so I can see that DNA has positioned you well.
Going back to your, as you say, leading/bleeding edge experience in Digital industry, I’m curious, what do you see as some of the key trends and opportunities in Digital industry over the next decade?
We’ve been seeing, and I’ve been seeing especially in my days in ABB, a lot of industrial companies have been in the pilot stage of digitalization initiatives, building digital solutions and utilizing the new technology-isms, but really, it’s here to stay now. And why am I saying this? When you look at the most recent ICC research for just this year, they calculate that this year AI and machine learning revenues will be over $300-billion, and in 2024 $400-500 billion, that’s significant. So, we’re not talking little pilots anymore, we’re talking now maturing technologies that are coming out so you can really build these digitalization initiatives at scale.
But when you look at technologies, I see technologies emerging and evolving; to your point why would somebody just not use a typical… I won’t name it, traditional software? Because it’s not made for that, and what we’re seeing is that there are new applications at every part of the stack coming out, really meant for digitalization. So, think of the hyperscalers, like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and so-on, connectivity options, 5G opens up a lot of new opportunities of digitalization projects one can do. The Database layer like ours is specifically made for machine data, that’s exactly what it’s made for and not for something else.
AI tools are springing up left and right, machine learning tools where you don’t have to be the super-scientist, but you can have applications that guide you through, and you actually can ramp up very quickly on this. We’re seeing AI software platforms coming out that offer a whole stack of that. And of course, when you think, ‘Great, what am I (At Carte) doing with those?’ ensuring that we’re embedding ourselves so that our pieces in there as part of the highly scalable database.
I really see the technologies are coming out, they are here, they’re maturing, we haven’t quite seen a consolidation yet when you think about the many IoT platforms we have out there today, this will probably be the next step. But it's mature enough that every company can get started, and more than get started, move things into production, that’s what we’re seeing right now. The idea of moving from trying it out, you move into a pilot, you move this pilot into production and then you scale it out, so I am thinking one location to multiple locations, one application to multiple applications, that’s totally the way to do it because you want to make sure it's stable and it’s all true and tested, but now you can accelerate this much-much more.
You see it across every industry out there. I’ve just given one example of this great manufacturing; process manufacturing, oil, and gas, very deep digitalization going on, new energies, renewables, smart buildings, smart cities. Think of concepts like smart farming and smart fishing, the word smart I know it’s widely used but it means there’s typically some kind of digital solution applying cloud base and Edge-based technologies, to have new services and offerings. Transportation and logistics, shipping, planes, retail, pharma, MedTech; you see it in every vertical and I think that’s why these numbers are so high, it clearly is here to stay and this is now the time to broadly implement and move out of the pilot stages.
Along the same lines in terms of the digital industry adoption and, I’ll call it the pilot purgatory as many people like to call it, I’m always fascinated by people’s opinions around success and where companies are really positioned for that. How do you know when a company is ready for Create.io as an example, and what best practices have you seen in driving adoption success there?
So, like I just said, the digitalization initiatives go pretty much across every industrial industry that I can see, or segment I can see, and it's widespread already. Two years ago, I saw research from Capgemini, at the time it was 69 percent of German companies were working on piloting at least one machine learning AI-type digital application. That was two years ago, now it’s much higher already, so we’re not talking, oh this is a unique thing and I have to have this done in companies. The typical groups you find you just ask is there a Chief Digital Officer, or who heads-up digitalization initiatives, or who is the Head of Data Analytics? If you ask these questions and you point to a person, then you know you’ve found your person and they are actually truly working on these initiatives. So, it’s very easy to find and every company that I’ve encountered, from very large to I would say mid-size, is working on this right now in terms of the various segments.
Finally, we always like to end this where we started with the focus on your leadership journey. Maybe a more personal question, where do you find your inspiration, and I’ll say insatiable energy?
That is good! Well, it's two things, one on the private side, I love being outdoors and that’s why I live in Switzerland. It’s just wonderful, and during the day I’m connected 24/7 on various tools and I just love doing that. But you’ve got to turn it off sometime, and on the weekends, you’ll find me out in the mountains enjoying the wonderful nature we have here. So that really gives me some time to pause and to think stuff through, and to really reflect on what’s going on and come up with new ideas.
From a work level, I really find the energy when I see that the team members and the extended team members when I look at partners that we collaborate with, with customers, when they get excited when they’re motivated when they’re really gung-ho about where the direction is going and seeing the many opportunities, their enthusiasm brings me enthusiasm and they kind of balance it going forward. So, very technology-driven really, and leading edge-driven. When a solution or a larger solution with partners brings definite value, either OEE or time to market, or revenue increases, or in these days lots of sustainability or workers safety, areas like that, it just drives my energy out when we really provide something that has a benefit.
The last component I have to say is I’m people-driven. Networking is very important for me, also fostering other people’s careers. I stay in contact with many of my team members, with many of my bosses over the years, and I refer to a few, you even find new jobs through them but that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to see how careers develop, how can we help each other over the years, can I support them in any way or fashion in their career, personally through some networking, and it just makes me truly happy. It gives me the energy to see that team member that was on my team years ago now are wildly successful in some other areas, moving up through the ranks or just happy in their jobs. That’s what really drives me.
We share an awful lot in common beyond our Atlanta background. Certainly, the least of which is not the love for Switzerland; I live in Engelberg and absolutely love the outdoors as well.
So, Eva, thank you so much for spending this time with us today.
I really appreciate it, and please – I have to plug this in; if anybody wants to know more about the database, please just call me or send me an email!
Absolutely, it's Crate.io! So, this has been Eva Schönleitner CEO of Create.io and if I can add, a perpetual explorer of the bleeding flash leading edge.