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Software which underpins all aspects of life

Software which underpins all aspects of life

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AVEVA serves 90% of leading organisations in 12 industrial sectors, spanning engineering and operations, to enable its customers to digitalise, harness data insights and leverage AI to make its customers’ business more efficient and sustainable. Rob McGreevy, Chief Product Officer, AVEVA, talks more about the impact of AI and how we are only at the beginning in terms of AI being a key asset in business. He also talks about the disruption in supply chains and the future of AVEVA.

Tell me more about AVEVA and what it offers its customers.

From our origins as a government-funded research institute that spun out of Cambridge University in the 1960s, AVEVA has grown to become a global leader in industrial software. We provide solutions used to design, operate and optimise some of the most complex processes and structures in the world, from nuclear power stations to shipyards to factories and Smart Cities.

Our solutions underpin all aspects of life, from providing the technology that protects the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to cutting decision-making from one week to 24 hours and tender response time reduced from 24 days to 24 hours for Veolia. Another example to illustrate our impact includes the local government in Pune, India, home to some two million residents. Our software improved the efficiency of the city’s IT and infrastructure. Traffic emissions have fallen by 18-22%, water leakages by 22-25%, health services have cut response times by up to an hour.

Serving 90% of leading organisations in 12 industrial sectors spanning engineering and operations, we enable our customers to digitalise, harness data insights and leverage AI to make our customers’ business more efficient and sustainable.

What are the main customer challenges AVEVA is seeing?

Many of our customers are dealing with a tsunami of industrial data, of which 50% was created in the last two years. This data ranges from tracking elements of a production line to critical instruments which track the performance of those components. Their main challenge is how to manage that data and make sense of it all.

For industries, data is the new currency because it is the key to understanding and improving business processes so that you can reduce wasted work, money and time. This is a trend that was accelerated and intensified by the pandemic and the subsequent recovery. Last year, we were set to create, capture and consume 93 zettabytes of data. And this explosion in data is not slowing down any time soon. In fact, 5G, battery technology and low-cost sensors will only speed it up.

Our native cloud platform allows our customers to consolidate data from multiple systems such as HMI, SCADA or historians, Edge devices and IoT sensors so that they can gain complete visibility of their operations – securely – anywhere, anytime, enabled to make smarter decisions.

Which advanced technologies are having a surge in popularity with businesses?

Unsurprisingly, the hot topic is AI and it is rapidly advancing. Although a big buzzword these days, AI is not one thing, but a science comprised of many technologies, some of which have been around since the 1950s. Machine Learning began entering the business world about 20 years ago and has made a huge impact over the past decade with solutions like predictive maintenance and the streamlining of business processes. Other specialised types of AI have also come into play such as Deep Learning and reinforcement learning, and they are making significant impacts on business transformation in areas such as finance, operations, medicine, forecasting, optimisation, human collaboration, personalisation, cybersecurity and much more. For the industrial world, AVEVA is infusing AI across key areas of design, build, operate, maintain and optimise.

AI-driven automation and decision-making are much more prevalent and the proliferation of IoT devices is creating a connected ecosystem enabling data sharing and automation. Meanwhile, the deployment of 5G networks will revolutionise communication, providing faster speeds and lower latency, supporting advancements in areas like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and autonomous vehicles.

It is no longer a choice of whether to embark on this journey, but how to do this efficiently and effectively. We see AI as the brains behind the Digital Twin where data is the foundational source of knowledge for anything that AI can achieve. With IoT and the proliferation of data comes much more intelligent and capable AI.

More recently generative AI concepts, where a Large Language Model (LLM) called GPT was offered for public consumption by OpenAI. New ideas for that technology surface every day as do new LLMs. This is rapidly evolving with more comprehensive models and new tools being built around it.

We see all of this evolving in stages from software being a tool assisting humans as it is today to software working alongside humans and eventually doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ while humans supervise and make the more strategic decisions. And, as things progress, fully autonomous operations will become commonplace throughout the business world. We’ve begun moving from task-based AI to objective-driven with human supervision. We see this as a huge benefit to businesses where goals can be set for AI, information can be dynamically linked in context and AI can identify problems and automatically solve them for human ‘supervisors’. We’re just at the beginning of AI being a key asset in business and have hardly scratched the surface of its capabilities.

Tell me more about your job role. As a creator of 26 patents, where do you start your thinking process?

I am the Chief Product Officer at AVEVA, leading our corporate strategy, product management and research and development teams to drive innovative software solutions across the business.

I have over 25 years of experience working in the industrial software sector with a focus on manufacturing and infrastructure. I head up innovation and R&D (Research & Development) and I’m very proud to lead these incredible teams. We have a culture of innovation, which means that all teams are encouraged to challenge the ‘normal’ approach with new ideas which can inspire beyond the status quo and deliver improvements. Ideation and creativity are key, and that’s why we build time into our product management and development process for these needs. Since this outlook is cultural, it tends to drive itself and it makes for a stimulating and more enjoyable environment for the teams. We have a keen eye for novel ideas and a healthy programme for acquiring new patents.

Why are there persistent disruptions in supply chains post-COVID?

For the supply chain service provider and its customers, the COVID-19 global pandemic heavily impacted business. Just-in-time shipping became unstable due to closed ports and a shortage of delivery personnel. Sudden shifts in consumers’ daily lives and priorities caused demand spikes, or erased demand altogether. The pandemic also caused workforce disruptions and the attrition of seasoned operators. With markets remaining volatile, with prices, demand and supply in flux, the industry adapted with a corresponding wave of digitisation across the business world. However, digitisation takes time.

How can these disruptions be addressed?

Digitalisation and diversification are key aspects of supply chain resiliency. Digitalisation enables opportunities for remote access (through secure cloud platforms), the accelerated deployment of Digital Twins, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Augmented Reality (AR). All these innovations sit at the heart of AVEVA’s business strategy.

Our work during the pandemic with the pharmaceutical industry is representative. As travel was not an option, one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines, Pfizer, asked us to help them to secure full oversight of the production processes for all their manufacturing sites. With our market-leading enterprise data solution, AVEVA PI System, the company was able to collect, enrich and analyse production data from 29 global sites to accelerate delivery of life-saving vaccines. With AVEVA PI System, Pfizer scientists from different locations were able to work from a single source of truth to identify issues, look for innovative solutions and maximise outcomes.

Diversification is also important as dependency on a single supplier can be risky, given their exposure to risks such as natural disasters and financial issues. By diversifying suppliers geographically and across industries, businesses can spread the risk across different sources and create a more robust and resilient supply chain. Another way is prioritising risk assessment and planning. By conducting a thorough assessment of risks, businesses can identify potential vulnerabilities and work on contingency plans on how to adapt and respond to disruptions. It is all about building resilience into your supply chain.

How is AI transforming decision-making processes?

We anticipate significant disruption across all industries that will continue to evolve over time. Generative AI has been around for decades, but the big recent change is the creation of massive LLMs, such as GPT, PaLM, LLaMa, etc. That’s the big difference. But that alone won’t change industries in a major way. You also need to be able to blend that ‘brain’ (where it knows nothing beyond the date it was trained) with up-to-date industrial data through additional AI to make sense of it all in context. This is the game-changer and will add massive value to almost all industries. However, this is NOT ChatGPT. This is the LLM ‘brain’ being combined with both industrial data and fit-for-purpose AI (such as a neural net) in order to provide game-changing value that can be tailored to the industrial world. This will play a significant role in helping move AI from task-based to objective-driven.

Ultimately, we see this technology driving industry toward improved industrial efficiency and sustainability. For example, AI could be given an objective to minimise a plant’s greenhouse gas emissions using any available means that are legal, ethical and safe. AI would take it from there by identifying underperforming assets, prescribing and co-ordinating maintenance and then improving the operational control of the assets. This would optimise fuel utilisation and, thus, minimise carbon and other harmful byproducts that are released into the atmosphere. All of this will initially be under human supervision, followed by a move to full autonomous. Of course, this is one of countless examples as AI continues to play a more and more critical role across all industries.

What does the future look like for AVEVA?

AVEVA is optimally placed to drive innovation and value. We’ve bought together market-leading software portfolios, acquired California-based industrial data infrastructure company, OSlsoft, and merged with the global giant, Schneider Electric, which specialises in digital automation and energy management. Our customers can now benefit from precise insights derived from different data sources – from cloud software to hardware and use these insights to make informed decisions, to design and build and optimise their operations.

This collaboration brings added value such as enhanced quality and traceability across supply chains. Arguably, the industrial sector will capitalise on the increased data insights and functionality that cloud-based solutions provide, benefitting from a reduction in energy and carbon intensity, as well as an acceleration in customer journeys of efficiency and sustainability.

Moreover, our engineering solutions provide the foundation of a Digital Twin. Giving owner operators intuitive access at any stage in their assets life cycle to all the engineering data from the design stage in a transparent, automatic, visualised, in-context way through a single platform. For example, AVEVA’s Unified Engineering in the cloud helps Aker Carbon Capture create efficient and replicable designs for carbon capture units, and AVEVA’s cloud-based software allows teams to collaborate across time zones, resulting in an increase in operational efficiency and time to market by over 50%.

Around 90% of leading companies in 12 industrial sectors from food and manufacturing to power, energy, infrastructure, marine and EPCs, rely on our solutions to help them deliver life’s essentials: safe, reliable energy, food, infrastructure, transportation and more. Our forward-looking goal is to support our customers in their endeavours to become cleaner, more efficient and ultimately more profitable.

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