Building digital leadership for a new decade

Wednesday, November 20, 2019 12:55 pm EST


Raj Batra, President, Digital Industries

On November 8, I was honored to be named chairman of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Board of Governors for the next year. My remarks at the NEMA Annual Conference, held this year in Naples, FL, had much to do with the Association’s 2020 theme: Digital Leadership for a New Decade—a topic that I’m very passionate about driving forward. 

As I said at the Conference, this is an exciting time to be championing new technologies. Whether you are the person in your family who wants to be an early adopter of everything or the Chief Innovation Officer at your company, it’s an exciting time for people interested in technology. Personally, I’m an early adopter. I love being able to check in on my mother in Detroit via her nest video feed, whether I’m in D.C. Berlin, or a factory in the Midwest. 

It’s fascinating to see how quickly new ways of doing things are gaining traction. Smart speakers are now being used by 66 million Americans—26 percent of the U.S. population. Wearables are another example.  That market is not even 20 years old and it’s already valued at $42 billion, according to Gartner. Semi-autonomous driving, online grocery shopping—the list goes on.  What all these examples tell us is one thing: People are ready to accept more and more automation in their lives. They like the speed. They like the convenience. And above all they like the fact that it gives them more time to do the things they love.

The same is becoming true in our workplaces as well. In every sector of our economy, and every aspect of our daily lives—from transportation to buildings to healthcare to utilities—new technologies are coming online that make us more efficient. And these technologies give us the intelligence to improve by generating data—lots of data—about how we’re performing and how it could be better.  

The data gold rush is on. About 90 percent of our data was generated in the past two years. Think about that for a moment: The amount of data generated over the entire course of human history has increased ten-fold since 2017.  

Historically, it would take months and even years to collect both objective data and user knowledge about the performance of in-service equipment. Today, we can monitor real-time use and performance and even predict what happens next to a product. In many cases, we can adjust the operation of our systems remotely to improve efficiency and avoid breakdowns.

This change is happening now. Low-cost sensors, powerful computing engines, high-bandwidth wireless communication, and virtually limitless data storage are coming together to unlock heretofore unavailable insights. 

In many instances, the data, and the learning derived from the data have value that rivals the products that generate them. For example, by employing a digital twin of a product or an associated piece of equipment, system operators can better predict when a piece of equipment needs to be serviced or replaced, potentially preventing an unexpected shutdown. 

We know that this digital transformation is not limited to the equipment we make and use. Our workforce must transform as well. This comes at a time when we’re all experiencing a big crew change. But whether you grew up with slide rules or smart phones, everyone from production workers to engineers to data scientists must be open to learning new skills to thrive in the decade to come. 

The impact that digitalization will have on our industries cannot be overstated, and those of us who grasp its potential will thrive. We can do much of it collaboratively as an industry and be part of the digital tide that can raise all companies.

Editor’s Note: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has more than 300 members that generate a combined $124B per year in shipments in electrical equipment and medical imaging technology.


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