Schneider Electric Canada execs talk company’s digital transformation

When people think of Schneider Electric, they think of hardware: power distribution and circuit breakers and all of those other hidden devices that keep our electricity flowing. That’s something the company would like to change.

President of Schneider Electric Canada Susan Uthayakumar said that its digital transformation began over 20 years ago, and now 45 percent of its revenue comes from Internet of Things (IoT) products and analytics. And it’s time Schneider told the story to its Canadian customers and partners. That was the impetus for the company’s first Innovation Day in Canada earlier this week.

“You can’t have IoT without power,” noted Adrian Thomas, VP of buildings. “By 2030, 20 percent of electricity will be used to power IT. The current infrastructure is not designed for that.”

And just as in computing, power distribution has undergone infrastructure changes. It is moving from a centralized power grid to a decentralized edge grid, where people and cities generate the power that they tap, just as in IT there’s a shift from centralized (cloud) to edge computing. Microgrids, said Uthayakumar, are growing at 20 percent per year in Canada.

Yet although 85 percent of companies in a third party survey of energy and sustainability leaders said they were fully prepared for the new energy future, only 40 percent have a global data management strategy, 30 percent are considering advanced systems for energy storage or demand response, and 56 percent of them actually have a co-ordinated plan with energy and sustainability teams.

“We need to move faster in support of that new energy future,” said Nisa Bradley, VP of marketing and software product management. “In the end, the technology isn’t the driver, it’s the enabler of the business model that makes you able to drive more operational efficiency for your organization.”

Active energy management includes not only energy efficiency, she said, but how it’s procured and from what sources. The best prepared companies use data to connect these dots.

But Schneider Electric realizes that it can’t do everything on its own; it relies on customers and partners to co-innovate. Looking at analyst projections that by 2020 there will be ten times more connected devices than connected people, and IDC’s estimate that the worldwide spend on IoT this year will hit $772 billion (US), it has expanded its scope from merely pushing electrons to using artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and augmented reality (AR) to manage power use and to proactively detect and head off potential outages.

“Technology is technology; it’s easy to come by,” noted Michael MacKenzie, VP, EcoStruxure, whose purview is R&D. “We’re looking for the network effect with partners, universities, and customers.”

His team is building things like sensors the size of a Loonie that have a 30 year battery life. “We can put sensors anywhere, and can do AI in place,” he said. In fact, the focus now is on how to process more at the edge, using the cloud for orchestration.

And customers are profiting. At the Shedd Acquarium in Chicago, which wants to be the most sustainable attraction in the city, Schneider Electric and its partners customized its Building Management System to ensure every one of the aquarium’s 32,000 occupants has an ideal environment, collecting real time data from over 30 meters and integrating the information from third party systems, everything from water pump controls to LED lights. It then uses reports from Building Analytics’ cloud-based automated diagnostics and AI to find causes of energy waste and to proactively catch incipient issues.

In New Zealand, Schneider Electric partnered with Microsoft and startup WaterForce on a system called SCADAfarm, which runs on Schneider’s EcoStruxure platform using Microsoft Azure IoT Suite. The system not only monitors and controls irrigation devices, it ties to weather data, monitors water storage, alters watering plans, and keeps an eye on spot electricity prices, to optimize when power is drawn for pumping, and take advantage when rates are lower. Schneider Electric says the system saved the farmers 50 percent of energy costs in its first season.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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