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Industrials Insight Interview: Schneider Electric

We recently had the opportunity to engage with Bassem Ammouri, director of Energy Management Software, North America for Schneider Electric, on their journey to transform from an electrical and industrial automation equipment manufacturer to a software-led organization.

Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and industrial automation. They provide digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability to customers across many segments including smart buildings, data centers, industrials and transportation. The organization was founded over 150 years ago in the first industrial revolution making steel and industrial products. For the past 100 years or so, Schneider Electric has focused on energy. They are at the heart of what they coin “electricity 4.0″—the connection of digital and energy allowing customers to make the most of their energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability.

During the discussion, Bassem shared insights on Schneider Electric’s digital transformation from a product-centric to a digital-first organization. From new customer engagement practices to changes in sales and support roles, he provided learnings and advice for those undertaking a similar transformational journey.

John: You mentioned that with electricity 4.0, the emergence and drive towards software and data are leading that discussion. How is that changing the conversation with your customers?

Bassem: The new way that our digital solutions has opened up for us is to communicate and transact with customers around proactivity. We’re joining forces with the customer much earlier in their journey. Rather than waiting for the design documents to come and hit our email inbox to then provide a proposal, now we’re right there with the customer during that design process. We’re helping them through our design software to create the most efficient, the most optimized, electrical design solutions.

John: So you’re leading towards more of a consultative discussion earlier in the process. How are your existing roles changing to support that?

Bassem: We joke about Schneider Electric being a big grey box company. Historically, we’ve supplied leading electrical equipment and industrial automation equipment that control and turn on and off power. Now we are 100% a software-led company. We definitely still supply the equipment, that’s a critical part of our business, and it will be. But now it’s all about connecting that equipment, gathering data from the equipment, trending that data to make better-informed decisions for how we will operate that equipment. So for new roles, sellers at Schneider Electric are digital sellers. That’s number one. Number two is the way that we recruit talent is changing, as is the way that we manage talent. We used to pool from traditional hardware organizations for example. Now we’re looking at graduates with majors like computer science. We’re looking at firms in the Silicon Valley. Those are the types of folks that we’re pooling into the company. And also through the adoption of the agile framework which we’re learning from the software partnerships that we’re making. We’re applying that agile methodology to different parts of our business, which creates scrum opportunities for folks to get a quick 4- to 6-month type experience, add value, pull out that experience and the lessons learned from that experience, and then take it to their next role. The way that we manage talent is completely different, and I think it’s really attracting a lot of the top talent to our company.

John: So it’s changing where you look for talent compared to maybe some of your traditional competitors also and how you facilitate and manage that talent. What are some of the new roles that you’ve created to support the digital transformation?

Bassem: We have the methodology that everyone is a digital seller. But of course, not every seller at Schneider Electric can be an expert on the vast array of digital solutions that we provide. The team that I look after is actually an overlay commercial team which acts as that software expert. We are the subject matter expert that can be pulled in by the front-line sales team to help transform the conversation that they’re having with their customers. Again, to the solution-focus and digital-first conversation. This has been an opportunity for folks who really have an interest in software and digital to come and join a team where they get to really focus and become an expert on that.

The other one is the idea of customer success. We are partnering and becoming a solution provider for our customers. The customer success manager is someone who manages the relationship with the customer before, during and long after that implementation of a solution, be it software or services. The idea is that this person exists as a single point of contact to drive the implementation, provide ongoing service, and then grow the scope of our relationship with that customer.

John: More software added roles. The emergence of customer success, something that we at Alexander Group are seeing as well. What are some of the learnings and advice that you have around digital transformation?

Bassem: Digital transformation is one of those buzzwords. You need to start by defining exactly what it means within the context of your business. At Schneider Electric, this meant transforming from a product-centric organization to a digital-first organization. For us, the two learnings and advice that I’d speak to are patience and people. This does not happen overnight. You have to take it slow, you’ve got to plan and then hit those key milestones along the way. For the people aspect, you’ve got those folks that have been with the organization for decades, and they’ve got a wealth of knowledge that can be used to lead a more successful transformation. Identify those risks early, see around those corners, harness those people as thought leaders and drivers to your transformation and take it slow. While you’re taking it slow, though, you’ve got to be deliberate and loud. What I mean is identify what the transformation looks like for your business, communicate it very simply in as many places as you can through your internal message boards, through your top executives and their communications internally and externally. And when I say loud, communicate those successes. Wherever you have a success, broadcast it. Recognize those who are driving the success so you can drive replication throughout the organization.

John: Where do you see the industry going from here as it relates to the emergence of the digital transformation and the industrial Internet of Things, electricity 4.0?

Bassem: We’re at a super exciting point in this industry. We don’t know exactly what the future will hold, but we know some of the trends. I think the first one as I mentioned before is electricity 4.0. The connection of digital and electrical to unlock the digital twin. Another buzzword. Getting that data from the built environment, using that data—digital twin. Automation of processes, the idea that we can improve the lives of those doing manual work today, whether it be in the architectural space, the engineering space or the general contractor space, and then into operating an environment. The automation of processes through technologies like BIM and generative design and augmented reality, all of that will continue to rise in popularity and accessibility as it becomes more perfected as a technology. And then finally, lifecycle software. It’s the idea that all of these tools used by different players along the value chain will allow for communication with one another. Those who are successful in creating software that drives transformation are going to be the ones who create software that is interoperable with other software already in the market, being used by folks in the industry. That’s what is going to drive the transformation that we’re all looking forward to.

Watch the full interview.

Industrials Insight

For more information on best practices for digital transformation, please contact an Alexander Group manufacturing practice lead.

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