Digital Supply Chain, Industry 4.0, and IoT/Edge Computing – a chat with Elvira Wallis (aka @ElviraWallis)

On this second Digital Supply Chain podcast on the theme of Industry 4.0, I had a great chat with Elvira Wallis (@ElviraWallis on Twitter and Elvira Wallis on LinkedIn). Elvira is the Global Head of IoT at SAP, so obviously I was keen to find out her take on how Digital Supply Chain, IoT and Industry 4.0 intersect.

We had a great conversation covering Supply Chain, Internet of Things, Edge Computing, Cloud – their use cases, challenges and opportunities.

Read the full transcript of our conversation below, or listen to it using the player above.

Elvira Wallis [00:00:00] The Internet of Things is a key enabler for industry 4.0, and it is required to make industrial IoT, to make industry 4.0 possible because you need to connect to sensors, you need to connect to autonomous systems. You need to connect to CoBots. You need to connect to big data lakes and so forth.

 

Tom Raftery [00:00:21] Good morning, good afternoon or good evening. Wherever you are in the world, this is the digital supply chain podcast. And I’m your host, Tom Raftery. Hi, everyone, welcome to the supply chain podcast. This is another of the industry four-point all themed podcasts of the digital supply chain podcast. And my very special guest on the show today is Elvira Wallis. Elvira would you like to introduce yourself.

 

Elvira Wallis [00:00:48] Sure Tom. Thanks for having me on the podcast. So hello, everyone. My name is Elvira Wallace and I am running Internet of Things here at SAP.

 

Tom Raftery [00:00:58] Super. Well, that’s a great role. Can you tell me Elvira, we’re on the obviously Industry 4.0 themed podcast today, so how are we connecting Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things? Cause, you know, for a lot of people who think about Industry 4.0, they might think about maybe, you know, improvements in manufacturing and things like that. But it is just that? Is it more than that? How do you how do you see Industry 4.0 and the connection to IoT?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:01:27] Yeah. So, let me maybe start with some, you know, regional flavour here. In Europe we often like to call things industry 4.0. If you look into North America the same phenomenon, namely the phenomena of an industrial transformation using new digital technologies such as Internet of Things or Edge and cloud computing, big data lakes and so forth, is termed industrial IoT, so dependent on the region of the world, the terms industry 4.0 and industrial IoT are used interchangeably and referring to an industrial transformation using new digital technologies. And if you didn’t go to Asia, it’s called ABC Country 2025 or D E F Country 2030. In other words, we’re all talking about a phenomenon of industrial transformation which we often call Industry 4.0 in Europe. And it requires new digital technology such as the Internet of Things, edge and cloud computing, big data lakes. So, in other words, the Internet of Things is a key enabler for Industry 4.0. And it is required to make industrial IoT to make industry 4.0 possible, because you need to connect to sensors, you need to connect to autonomous systems, you need to connect to Cobots, you need to connect to big data lakes and so forth. So, you need an enabler. And the key here is, all of that data in and by itself is relatively uninteresting. Where SAP comes in… And that has to do with our rich history and also our hopefully very rich future is bringing this type of data with our technologies in the context of business processes.

 

Tom Raftery [00:03:21] OK, OK. Now, for people who may be unfamiliar… We’re obviously not a hardware company. We’re a software company. And IoT is very much a mix of hardware and software. So, where do we fall into that kind of ecosystem?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:03:37] It’s a very, very good notion that you bring up. Clearly, Industry 4.0 as well as Internet of Things is not a one person’s island. Whoever sets out with the idea of it’s me, myself, and I shall fail miserably. It is an ecosystem play that requires the OT players, it requires the hardware players. It requires some clearly various software companies and even into software realm, it’s not SAP alone, it’s us and our esteemed ecosystem. Where SAP is playing is clearly solely in the realm of software, right? Not hardware. Of course, we have a lot of hardware partners that we work very closely with so we can recommend to our customers in specific situations, specific types of hardware.

 

Elvira Wallis [00:04:23] So we’re not ignorant, we’re just not owning that space. Yet to your question, where we’re playing, we’re playing in two places if we cut it very broadly. One is the cloud where we have, of course, the applications that run in the cloud as well as the underlying technology for Internet of Things that works in conjunction with the applications and the second realm where we’re playing is edge computing. The world is moving more and more towards distributed computing. And when SAP says edge computing, we’re of course again referring to software and our software runs on various types of hardware, very close to the source of data. And as to the hardware we run on we’re agnostic, we play with many of the key industry leaders here.

 

Tom Raftery [00:05:17] OK. OK. So, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the concept of edge computing, could you just give us a 101 on that?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:05:25] Oh, definitely. And it’s one of my favourite topics. So, let’s not start with, you know, with SAP. Let’s start with the trends in the market. Right. Great. And. If we put it very, very generically, then edge computing is a new form of distributed computing, meaning not all data will be processed in the cloud. Some data will be processed at the edge. So, what is the edge? It’s basically edge computing means running data applications and business processes near the source of that generated data. So, the source of the generated data could be a factory, a plant, a mine. And it refers to the concept of running the data running the application, the business process near to the source of the data, and if people now say, oh, isn’t it very far away and do we need to deal with that today?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:06:19] Maybe some data points, Tom. If we’re if we’re looking at edge computing, it has been growing steadily in the past and if you if you listen to the analysts, Gartner, for example, predicts that by 2025, 50% of enterprise generated data would be created and processed outside a traditional centralized cloud data centre. Now, 50%, is that a lot or not? Well, that would be up from 10% in 2019. So that’s quite a big growth in the ability to, you know, extend and run business processes at the edge, meaning in the plant, in the factory close to the source of data that enables customers to automate and run their operations independently, and that’s what a lot of people want in the world of industry 4.0, in the world of industrial I.T. in order to endorse the digital transformation. They say, hey, my plant, my factory needs to run independently of the cloud. So, in order to endorse the cloud, we see a new form of distributed computing, namely the edge. And the edge addresses customer concerns with running and low latency. Right. Very often we hear that I need to run low latency, low bandwidth. And then let’s not forget in many places of the world there, specific security and regulatory requirements which says, hey, the data must be processed locally instead of in a centralized cloud. So, it can also be regulatory reasons why edge computing starts to prevail. And if you listen to some more data points and then IDC, for example, predicts that by 2023, 70 percent of IoT deployment will include edge-based decision making, right. So, the decisions will be made decentral supporting the organization’s agenda. So, meaning we can do industrial IoT. We can do industry 4.0 without it, meaning some central cloud-based system taking over. Local autonomy can happen if edge computing is involved. And if we look at the IDC saying they’re saying, OK, 70 percent of all enterprises will run varying levels of data processing at the edge. And that also means organizations will have to spend a lot on IoT edge infrastructure in that timeframe.

 

Elvira Wallis [00:08:53] So I think edge is here to increase in prominence and in relevance for our customers, and it’s a good idea to get prepared. I mean, we at SAP we’re very well positioned to run data driven business processes at the edge. We can run manufacturing processes at the edge orchestrated from the cloud, and we provide our customers the option to run applications in a hybrid approach meaning, at the edge and clouds and this hybrid cloud edge offering helps customers accelerate the transition to the cloud by addressing their need around data privacy, around security, around latency and regulatory requirements.

 

Elvira Wallis [00:09:37] Now, going back to no person is alone. It’s, of course, clear that we also in the realm of edge computing, we’re in need to be committed to a strong ecosystem. No one can do it alone. You need the hardware providers, and we have announced strategic partnerships with the hyper scalars and also in some cases regional industry specific players in IoT and edge where we leverage the strength of all the players in the ecosystem to help our customers be successful. It’s a joint digital transformation where SAP participates together with our customers and our partners.

 

Tom Raftery [00:10:14] OK, super, super for any of our customers, potential customers or just anyone who’s listening, who is interested on embarking on some kind of industry 4.0 project. How do you start something like that? Where do you kick off?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:10:35] And so it’s a very good point to raise. My first perspective would be. There is no one size fits all right? Customers are. By and large, all increasingly challenged to adapt to ever changing conditions. Now, mind you which of these conditions is the most prevalent and in which line of business is it the trade wars? Is it managing the global supply chain? Is it skills shortages? Successful customers need to embrace the digital transformation right to discover new ways to solve their business problems and to keep their customers engaged. Because this is also to do with customer experience and customer loyalty. Now, customers might start in different areas. They all centre on their customers. But whether they start with reinventing production to centre on their customers or whether it is connecting various departments in their company to overcome their own segregation of duties in a way that is hindering success. That is something that customers really will vary. In other words, SAP can help make industry 4.0 an everyday reality. Now where customers start, whether it’s with the intelligent asset and managing the overall equipment effectiveness or whether it’s the intelligent product where customers want to understand the business impact of design and engineering changes in products, or whether it’s the intelligent factory where IoT helps enterprises to be agile and deal with varying production volumes and new manufacturing technologies, or whether it is with empowering people so that people can fulfil complex tasks with a fast work-around that is really dependent on the customer need. We need to understand that it’s important to centre on the customers and connect the entire company, but it doesn’t mean you need to start everywhere at the same time with the same urgency. Our clear perspective is customers have a choice where they start and we recommend to start somewhere, where of course there is an immediate need and it can be time boxed because nothing is more convincing than initial positive results and then you can widen the exercise.

 

Tom Raftery [00:13:02] Okay, very good. What kind of challenges are companies likely to face on a journey like this? I mean, you mentioned, you know, having skilled staff there. Is it is the staffing or is it technology or is it a combination or is it something else entirely and you know, having then identified a couple of the challenges, what would be ways of overcoming them?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:13:28] It’s a very good question. And there are some interesting studies out there in the market that I enjoyed. One is by McKinsey and that study showed clearly that the success rate of these digital transformation projects are not necessarily tied to the area within which they are started. So, you couldn’t say, oh, let’s start it in production or let’s start around the asset and as it is more successful than production or, vice versa right? What they showed is it is other factors that correlate with success. In other words, the more initiatives a customer ran. So, in other words, if they addressed digital transformation in more lines of business, they were likely to be more successful than if they were just doing what I would call island exercise in one area. So, spreading wide helps clearly with the RoI. The other thing that some of the studies showed is time boxing is key, having a line of business sponsor is key. So, in other words, it doesn’t work if you have just some little IT exercise or if it’s just some innovation centre not connected to the line of business. So, sponsorship, time boxing, clear KPIs as to what do we want to achieve, and which problem do we want to solve. In other words, all that is more successful than what I would call analysis paralysis and looking for the perfect case. Or the what I would call research approach where let’s take some sensors and collect them and produce a dashboard. So, you need to have a clear proof business problem to solve, a business sponsor, time boxing, clear KPIs and ideally more than one initiative. Spreading it and seeing what are the successful front runners and building on those. Those are clearly some of the what I would call non-technology challenges in a way they are common sense that we learned from various studies, but also from working with our customers.

 

Tom Raftery [00:15:30] OK. OK. Very good. We’re coming up towards the end of the show, now Elvira. Is there any question that I haven’t asked you that you think I should have?

 

Elvira Wallis [00:15:44] It’s a very good question. I would say when we look at the type of use cases, what kind of typical use cases do we see is one question that I very often get asked and I mentioned before, yes, we have the area of intelligent asset, intelligent product, intelligent factory and empower people. Now, another dimension to look at it would be what type of goals are people pursuing? Is it about new business models? Is it about efficiency? Is it about customer experience? In other words, what type of goal do people look at? And one thing I’d point out is we see increasingly people looking at some product as a service offerings. Now, that doesn’t work for all types of offerings, but that is something that we see a shift to product as a service in the construction, transportation, hospitality, realm and insurance industries. Where we see a shift and I believe we look at new customer experience, in other words, does my digital transformation help me create a better, better customer experience is clearly something that we see where people look at their customers, but also their customers customers. And I would encourage people to take that line of sight to look in addition to the productivity gains and the overall production. Really the focus on the customers and to put that at the forefront and the centre of a digital transformation.

 

Tom Raftery [00:17:17] Superb. Elvira if people want to know more about Elvira, or IoT, or Industry 4.0, or any and all of the above where would you have me direct them and feel free to give multiple links? I’ll put them into the description of the show notes when I publish this.

 

Elvira Wallis [00:17:35] Oh definitely join me on Twitter. Join me on LinkedIn. And of course, we have our flabbergastingly great web site SAP.com/IoT. And not to forget, we’re going to run an openSAP IoT course in the near future. And I would really appreciate you joining us in that openSAP course.

 

Tom Raftery [00:17:56] Fantastic. I’ll have links to all of those in the show notes. OK, that’s been great. Elvira. Thanks a million for joining us on the show today.

Elvira Wallis [00:18:01] Thank you, Tom. It’s always great to be one of your interviewees.

And if you want to know more about any of SAP’s Digital Supply Chain solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/digitalsupplychain and if you liked this show, please don’t forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover it. Thanks.

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