Microsoft and ABB partnership creates cloud synergy

March 15, 2017
Much of the digital future hinges on these corporate giants’ directions

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digitalization are driving innovation. As industry segments increasingly go digital, connecting them and their data via the cloud has quickly become a priority with benefits.

Disruptive changes are more likely to affect industries that have yet to be digitalized. Using lessons from segments ahead of the digital-implementation S-curve, Avijit Sinha, Microsoft’s director of business development for intelligent cloud and IoT, and Guido Jouret, chief digital officer for ABB, sat together for a lunchtime panel discussion, moderated by ABB president of the Americas region, Greg Scheu, at ABB Customer World this week in Houston. They discussed how the two companies’ partnership in developing the ABB Ability platform has benefited end users, as well as what the digital future has in store.

“When we look at the Industrial Internet of Things, it ties back to the mission of our company, which is to empower every person,” said Sinha. “We strive toward a higher cause. We look at hard-to-do science problems, and this space,” he said, casting about the room, “is going to have a big impact on society. The people in this room are using the technology that feeds into that—machine learning, cloud learning. We’re excited about partnering with ABB on the Ability platform.”

2% of a trillion

ABB’s Jouret sees tremendous upside in the amount of value that can be created, based on the 15 primary industries that ABB covers. “These industries can create a trillion dollars of value,” he explained. And because many of ABB’s customers are still on the knee of the implementation S-curve, Jouret believes his company can capture 2% of that value, which translates to $20 billion in revenue. The only uncertainty is how quickly things will happen.

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Adoption of new technology tends to be on the slow side, but the IIoT could be an exception, explained Sinha. “In substance, we view the speed as being different,” he said. “There’s an appetite for risk, but, in the Industrial IoT, the risk of failure and error can be manifold.”

Technologies in the consumer space—drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, for example—are crossing over into industrial applications much faster than they were before. “These technologies haven’t really taken off in the consumer area,” added Jouret, who cited augmented-reality glasses being applied in industrial applications.

One big difference between the consumer space and industrial, however, is security. Consumers see security as black and white, all or nothing. But industry takes a more nuanced view, according to Jouret. “On the industrial side, we’ll see more cloud-connectivity, but not everything will go to the cloud,” he explained. “And there won’t be a single worldwide system or standard. Customers will have local systems that connect to the cloud, and they’ll leverage connections between clouds, too.”

Intelligent thinking

While artificial intelligence (AI) and its related body of knowledge has been around for decades, the confluence of three factors is allowing for AI to be applied in an economical manner to real-world problems, including cybersecurity. “You see the number of devices taking off—billions and billions of devices,” Sinha said. “You need a system that’s capable of ingesting all of these signals. Security has been based on signatures and on protecting against viruses. Looking forward, you need a more dynamic system—one that looks at the threat landscape and uses AI capabilities.”

“As we embark on our journey to get software to the cloud, the security principles of protecting, detecting and reacting don’t change,” said Sinha. “The things you protect—identity, devices, applications, data—aren’t any different. It’s the scale, speed and sophistication of the attacks that change, that require a different set of rules. At Microsoft, we have an Intelligent Security Graph in the cloud that constantly monitors 38 regions of data centers. We spend about a billion dollars a year keeping that up to date.”

Microsoft takes data security and privacy very seriously. “We always believe the customer owns the data and decides who they share it with,” said Sinha. “We will secure the data for them. We will always be in compliance in terms of our capabilities. Our cloud has the highest number of certifications in the world. We are very transparent about what we do with data.”

New frontiers

In response to a texted question from the audience, Sinha and Jouret also touched on what it takes to get an established company to new markets. When he worked at Nokia, Jouret was part of a group that consisted of both company veterans and new recruits. “We took half from outside and half from inside the company,” he explained. “That’s how you get to new markets.”

“Starting something is easy,” Jouret added. “The problem is the medium term, three to four years out: that’s when the doubt sets in. If you’re an established company and you disappoint established customers, that’s a delicate balance. Azure is a great example of something very new that came from an established company.”

Culture eats strategy, Sinha reminded. “Without culture, a transformation won’t happen,” he said. “At Microsoft, we’ve changed the sizes of teams and gutted entire buildings. Once you get that going, the strategy kicks in because of the cultural movement. The core identity that we’ve never lost sight of is empowering people and organizations to achieve more. We’ve embraced diversity. We don’t just get rid of the old. We maintain both and let people decide.”

Azure has become a huge part of Microsoft, which expects to generate $20 billion in cloud revenue by 2018. “We’re transforming as a company and intend to be the best cloud company,” assured Sinha. Azure is powering all of it, as Microsoft continues to invest in manpower and data centers.

“We want to leverage all of the Microsoft innovations that we can,” said Jouret. “Providers like Microsoft are coming with tools, not just the cloud as a repository. We’re leveraging the platform as a service. For an increasing number of systems, they’ll be available on premise and with a cloud connection, built on Azure.”

Piloting new applications based on Azure is an essential part of ABB’s growth. But piloting requires customer participation. “It does us no good to sit in a lab and think deep thoughts,” admitted Jouret. “The customer that’s willing to pilot something is a gift. It’s the chance to shape the future and be at the leading edge. Plus, you’ll be able to take advantage of those capabilities before your competitors.”

Download the full report from ABB Customer World 2017