‘People get so caught up in digital they lose sight of the transformation’

22 Aug 2019

Image: Joan Mulvihill

Long-time digitalisation advocate Joan Mulvihill has brought her skills in driving transformation in business to her new role at Siemens.

Joan Mulvihill joined Siemens in February this year as the company’s digitalisation lead. A known figure on the Irish tech scene, Mulvihill comes to this role a few years after her seven-year stint at the helm of the Irish Internet Association, during which she passionately promoted the benefits of businesses adapting to new technology.

She described the new role as “pretty all-encompassing” as she continues to do what she is well-known for: advocating for the opportunities and value that digital transformation can bring.

“It’s been a natural progression for me,” said Mulvihill. “Most people know me from my time as the CEO of the Irish Internet Association and centre director at IC4, where I was charged with encouraging and enabling businesses to adopt digital in the form of e-commerce, digital marketing and cloud computing.”

Now, she brings that same kind of precise, data-driven decision-making and delivery of effective user-experience solutions to Siemens’ client list. “I get to work as a catalyst with business leaders to achieve their business goals for quality, efficiency, flexibility and speed,” she said.

I spoke further with Mulvihill about her work with Siemens and digital transformation as a business trend.

‘People are undoubtedly the transformers. Without vision and commitment, projects fail’

Digital transformation is a huge trend now in business. What does it mean to you?

Digital transformation as a term can be confounding. People get so caught on the digital and they lose sight of the transformation. Implementing the latest technology cannot be an end in itself. It is the outcomes, the transformation that matters.

At Siemens, we are committed to transforming our customers’ businesses so that their employees, customers, shareholders, stakeholders benefit from better, faster, safer processes, products and services. This is the conversation we are having with customers; it’s a conversation about transforming their business.

For sure, we have the technology to deploy for the gamut of industry and infrastructure customers, but an enduring partnership between supplier and customer is based on understanding and focusing on the customer’s needs – by understanding and focusing on what will truly transform their business.

So what does digital transformation mean to me? It is business transformation through digital, not transformation to digital.

Where does Siemens fit into the digital transformation landscape?

Unlike newer providers born in the digital age, Siemens has been transforming businesses for over a century. I don’t want to play on our tradition, this is about our experience. Siemens people have arguably the deepest well of understanding and the broadest catalogue of customisable solutions to serve the unique transformation goals of our customers. It is for these reasons that Siemens has been front and centre leading industrial and infrastructural transformation through technology.

Can you tell us the details of any particular digital transformation projects Siemens was involved in?

I am really excited by the work we are currently doing with NIBRT (the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training) where researchers and engineers are using artificial intelligence and data analytics to improve the understanding of manufacturing processes using data, with the goal to improving efficiency in drug production.

We also work closely with brilliantly innovative Irish SMEs. One such example is Killarney-based StraightLine Energy Solutions, who are using data to deliver quite dramatic reductions in energy usage. The company’s EscoPod system is a thermal technology for the production of hot water for manufacturing facilities. Their gas turbine-powered hybrid heat pump system leads to savings of around 80pc compared to conventional methods of producing heat.

StraightLine uses Siemens’ cloud-based monitoring system to monitor the performance of the EscoPod system. Using conventional systems, half the fuel purchased is being dumped because of the lack of baseline data. The results are really astounding and it’s a super example of how data can power meaningful change for the business and the environment. It’s all about outcomes.

What are the greatest hurdles you encounter in transformation projects?

The greatest hurdle to any transformation project is the fact that change isn’t easy and most people don’t like it. Leadership, culture, capability – people are undoubtedly the transformers. Without vision and commitment, projects fail.

Technology is objective. It will do what it was designed to do. It will capture the data, run algorithms, automate processes and execute tasks all the while immune to our dislikes, fears and resistance. Technology works but for businesses to be transformed and better outcomes achieved the people leading must provide the vision and commitment to ensure the team is energised, empowered and enabled in the first instance.

I’m not saying that there are no technology hurdles but they can always be overcome. We have worked our way through seemingly incommunicative and disparate systems, and skilfully reached in and made those connections. We have encountered opaque and muddied data swamps and painstakingly cleansed them to allow for effective data-driven decision-making.

The job is to deliver positive business outcomes – that is our shared measure of success. Those outcomes include direct savings, reduced energy consumption, improved product quality and consistency, greater process speed, flexibility and security.

How has Siemens itself transformed through digitalisation?

We definitely practice what we preach. There are lots of companies who can advise you on how to deploy technology in a manufacturing environment but few others have the actual manufacturing credentials of Siemens. In designing solutions for our customers, we are designing solutions that we use ourselves.

But, like I said, this is not just about the technology, it’s about leadership and culture. We led the way on electrification and then on automation, now its digitalisation. Transformation through technology is in our DNA.

What do you think are the most exciting opportunities in digitalisation, both right now and in the near future? 

How we live in our communities and interact within our surroundings is exciting, and seeing businesses succeed and grow is exciting. The digitalisation of spaces such as the workplace and public spaces to achieve better life and business outcomes is what matters.

Our mission, to make real what matters, is what I find inspiring. The reason I love being the digitalisation lead for Siemens is that I get to work on these challenges. The opportunities for digitalisation are limited only by the ambition and imagination of the people who want to make a change. On that basis, everything excites me.

I know I should be telling you about the cool opportunities presented by artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and machine learning. I could be talking to you about smart cities, intelligent buildings and smart grids, but that would be to talk about our solutions. I’m just excited about listening to the answer when I ask the question, ‘What matters to you?’

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.