AiThority Interview With Laura Anderson, Head of Controls and Digitalization at Siemens Energy
Please tell us about your current role and team / technology you handle at Siemens Energy. What inspired you to be part of a Global Energy management company?
For two years now, I have had the pleasure of heading a global team of highly dedicated men and women who contribute daily to energize societies. We automate power plants and other large industrial applications and unlock the power of the data they have to optimize their performance, along KPIs like power output, operating cost and emissions. I take great pride in being in a position to help our global customer base navigate the challenges of the ongoing energy transition while still providing power to billions of people.
Siemens Energy products are responsible for a sixth of the world’s energy production, and still about 850 million people are without electricity. Having worked for several years in developing countries, I have seen first hand the positive impact access to electricity can have. I wanted to work for a company whose aspirations addressed people’s most basic needs and electricity is fundamental to today’s society. The current challenge of increasing access to electricity while simultaneously decreasing emissions is one of the most critical challenges of our time. And I don’t believe in working for causes you don’t believe in!
Tell us what digital worker journey feels like at Siemens Energy. Which technologies currently make this possible for the workers, especially those involved in frontline tasks?
Internally, we rely on our fantastic IT staff to scout for the best possible solutions, and I can share that within a couple of weeks only, thousands of people could flawlessly work from home. Externally, we have also come a long way in a short time. One of the technologies we have started embracing is the Connected Worker – a hardware-agnostic solution that runs on any device our staff or customers feel comfortable working with.
Let me focus on our workforce at customers’ sites worldwide. We strive to make their life as easy as possible. This is why we selected and developed several solutions to enable a “hands-free experience.” This way, the field workers can safely perform their tasks and leverage the potential of digital support while having both hands available to manipulate a turbine blade or install a new controls system. We also implemented an enhanced video feed transmission and specifically designed inspection hardware that enables technicians to maneuver inside confined spaces while still being able to communicate with the engineer experts guiding them.
Here’s how it works: The technician makes their selection of preferred Connected Worker Hardware, based on the scope of their task at hand. After suiting up, he or she uses the camera to scan a barcode on the faulty asset to access information, schematics, or IOT readings on the specific piece of machinery. Then, they move through a step-by-step workflow to safely troubleshoot the issue. With augmented reality, notifications are displayed on the technician’s glasses to provide guided instructions at the point of work. The technician can also connect to an online diagnostician so they can communicate in real time about an issue.
If additional support is needed, other specialists or supervisors may also securely connect for conference-style calling and screen sharing. The end-to-end solution offers data analytics for continuous improvement initiatives, while minimizing risk and liability. After the issue is resolved, the technician electronically signs off on the event and the shift supervisor immediately received a report for review. The entire video call is automatically tagged to optimize asset recognition and search, and archived for knowledge retention and future reference.
How have remote workplace standards evolved in the last 6 months? Did you plan these in advance as part of your business transformation goals?
Our tools have been forced to evolve very quickly because of the situation with COVID-19. Almost all our traditional office workers were forced to do their job from home stressing our VPN and collaboration solutions. To assist with this challenge, we added two additional products for our users so that we had twice as much remote connectivity and even more ways to successfully collaborate, conduct virtual meetings, share information, virtually whiteboard, etc. We also had to address the challenge of remotly supporting these workers since coming into the office was not a reality.
What is the most unique aspect of your recent collaboration with Librestream? Which features were you specifically looking in an Augmented Intelligence platform to meet your remote workplace standards?
As I said when we publicly announced our partnership, Librestream has many years of remote collaboration experience as well as a similar understanding of security requirements as we do. Both are aspects we wanted to leverage for our Connected Worker solution. Siemens Energy as Original Equipment Manufacturer brings decades of experience in operating heavy metal and fleetwide data analytics paired with machine learning to the table. Librestream offers tools for our field workers, to enable quality live video with low bandwidth focus, live view annotation, and document and screen sharing. As a team, we managed to upscale our Connected Worker, which now achieves a virtual presence and rapid response time that was not possible previously. Jointly, we can assure that our workforce now operates more safely and efficiently. This is a significant benefit also for our customers who place great value in safe operations.
As the head of digitalization at Siemens Energy, what are the major challenges you faced and overcame at your workplace?
My responsibility is to support our global customer base to handle the energy transition. Internal digitalization is very competently handled by my colleagues in IT. At the onset of the pandemic, the biggest challenge was to assure a flawless continuation of the business even though a considerable portion of our workforce suddenly exclusively worked from home. They rose to the challenge in a matter of just a couple of weeks.
How did you make life easier for your customers?
Our customers are mainly concerned about their assets’ reliability and availability, safe operation, manageable operation, and maintenance costs. The energy industry is part of the global critical infrastructure and needs to be kept running at all times. We have many levers at our disposal to serve our customers and make life easier for them: Hardware upgrades that make turbines operate more efficiently, thus lowering emissions, state of the art control systems like SPPA-T3000 that help power plant operators safeguard their business success, or digital solutions like Connected Worker that empowers customers on oil ridges, in paper mills or power plants to capture the knowledge of the retiring workforce, quickly close the skills gap with new employees, and provide rapid response to customer issues for reliable operations.
How easy or difficult is it today to handle worker safety despite ensuring procedures and policies are in place at all levels?
At Siemens Energy, we deeply care about each other’s health and safety and have always done so. Caring is actually one of Siemens Energy’s values. All our bigger staff meetings or all employees’ townhalls start with a safety moment. Even though Health and Safety is very much a part of our DNA and company’s culture, it’s still not an easy task to manage. As you can imagine new, unexpected challenges constantly arise – like COVID-19. We are luckily set-up in a way to react fast. In the upper management, we had daily task force meetings to ensure all our staff was given the best possible option to stay healthy. Globally, where possible, we sent most of our white-collar employees home, and changed process flows for our factory workers to allow for more social distancing, and implemented measures for our staff that continued servicing customers’ sites. #Keepthelightson while being safe was a huge task for all of us, and I was so proud to see how committed my team was and continues to be. One topic I continue to be concerned about personally is mental health. Many of us have very meaningful relationships at work, which the pandemic is putting a lot of strain on. I encourage my team to frequently check in with each other and allow space to discuss personal topics, not just work-related tasks. Our EHS departments also took this topic to heart. They developed guides for leaders to make them aware of early signs of mental stress. We addressed this topic in our internal communications and quickly embraced our software landscape’s nice perks – like switching on cameras during meetings. By now, I have met many of my colleagues’ spouses, kids or dogs, have had virtual coffee breaks, and got a glimpse into my staff’s private life. I feel this is enriching and I also believe the social distancing somehow brought us closer together. Still, I continue watching out for signs of mental stress, especially now when restrictions are being tightened again in many countries we operate in.
Which tools and technologies currently make up your remote work stack?
In the past, our remote workforce was primarily our Field Service, but now we have a much broader and diverse remote workforce. While there is a lot already in the cloud which makes remote work easier, we needed to consider a much larger set of tools all users might need from anywhere they could be working to remain safe. This required us to enable tools such as Microsoft Teams, Office 365 Mobile Apps, ZScaler, Virtual Whiteboard as part of MS Office365 in addition to the current tools: Circuit, Pulse Secure, Syncplicity, SharePoint, Citrix & Remote Desktop, and the aforementioned Librestream.
We are witnessing new emerging technologies such as AI ML, Industrial IoT, and Computer Vision receiving huge backing from global manufacturing and energy management companies. What are your thoughts on planning the adoption of these technologies for superior workflow management?
Siemens Energy is not only planning to adopt these technologies, we are already using them. In many areas we are the forerunner in our industry. We are using IoT technologies to optimize our own production facilities and manufacture intelligently. In addition, we support our customers in optimizing their workflows using technologies like AI, Industrial IoT or Augmented Reality. To give but one example, in our Guanajuato, Mexico factory the use of idustrial IOT aids in the curing process of cast-resin Transformers. We have increased maintenance response speed by 50% and at the same time have considerably reduced the energy consumption by the ovens.
Other examples are the implementation of a predictive model in the biding process to be more accurate and successful in project acquisition, or AI for offer process as text analytics. In our factories, we are already using Additive Manufacturing and 3D-modelling for smaller parts like burner tips that frequently need to be replaced. So I would say, we have already adopted new technologies in all areas of the business are are reaping the many benefits.
Hear it from the pro- A piece of advice for all companies who are yet to invest in a workplace digitalization suite?
Make sure you don’t overwhelm your staff, but factor in time for everyone to get adjusted to the change. Some colleagues need to warm up to new solutions because they fear they are not up to learning something new or that the new solution might make their previously manual tasks redundant. So it is super important to accompany your workforce with training, frequent communication, and early adopters’ support. The best technology is only as good as the people who operate it. The same goes for partnering with customers. You cannot expect a company to invest millions in a digital solution they don’t trust because it is totally foreign to their proven way of running the business. It is our job to consult, co-develop, and provide all support needed to pave the way for new and potentially disruptive solutions.
Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to see here:
A few weeks ago, I led a panel with several very inspiring speakers who discussed the benefits and challenges of digitalizing the energy industry. I would be curious to hear more from Abed Benaichouche, the CTO of Group 42 on Artificial Intelligence.
Thank you, Laura! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
Laura Anderson is the Global Head of the Controls and Digitalization business segment for Siemens Gas and Power. She joined Siemens in 2010, bringing with her a broad strategy and general management background and the ability to link long-term market trends and the strategies needed to capitalize on them. Laura graduated with her Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009 after graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2000 with a Bachelor’s in Global Studies.
Her unique ability to navigate gray areas and uncomplicate the complex allows her not only to understand and address the big picture, but also the details.
She has worked across multiple sectors including renewable and conventional energy, building automation, government and NGO. Having lived and worked on three continents, she is a believer in the power of diversity and the role it plays in helping our people and our company grow. She knows that empowering people to think for themselves and engage their unique talents inspires the highest levels of performance.”
Siemens Energy Global GmbH & Co KG is one of the world’s leading energy technology companies. The company works with its customers and partners on energy systems for the future, thus supporting the transition to a more sustainable world. With its portfolio of products, solutions and services, Siemens Energy covers almost the entire energy value chain – from power generation and transmission to storage. The portfolio includes conventional and renewable energy technology, such as gas and steam turbines, hybrid power plants operated with hydrogen, and power generators and transformers. More than 50 percent of the portfolio has already been decarbonized.
A majority stake in the listed company Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) makes Siemens Energy a global market leader for renewable energies. An estimated one-sixth of the electricity generated worldwide is based on technologies from Siemens Energy.