Siemens’s Gary O’Callaghan: ‘There is enormous value in data’

7 Dec 2018

Siemens Ireland CEO Gary O’Callaghan. Image: Connor McKenna

Siemens Ireland CEO Gary O’Callaghan talks about digitalisation, the data economy, the real impact of the fourth industrial revolution and the future smart grid.

Gary O’Callaghan has been CEO of Siemens in Ireland since 2015 and had been managing the Siemens energy portfolio since 2008. He previously held management roles in the power transmission and distribution business, and enterprise communications group.

He has a certified diploma in accountancy and finance, and a master’s in executive leadership. His thesis, for which he received a distinction, was on the subject of leadership and culture, a topic he enjoys and believes is critical in business today.

‘Once a company has realised they have data and there is value in it, then they can build a new business model around it’

O’Callaghan is a former director and board member of the Irish Wind Energy Association, and has experience working with FIT Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation focused on building job-related training programmes for long-term disadvantaged and unemployed young people.

We spoke to O’Callaghan recently about how Siemens’s traditional leadership in the field of automation is evolving to encompass digitalisation and the internet of things (IoT), otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution (industry 4.0). This will be a world where more than 50bn connected devices, allied with vast amounts of data, automation and digitalisation, will revolutionise how businesses are run and how customers make decisions.

He believes the adoption of industry 4.0 is a global challenge and that Ireland can play an important role thanks to the Irish Government’s endeavours, including the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund. Indeed, Ireland can adopt a living lab ecosystem around the fourth industrial revolution.

O’Callaghan is equally passionate about the development of the energy grid in the context of decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation, and how microgrids in industrial parks and residential areas could inform the future shape, sharing and consumption of energy.

What are the tech trends that are defining the road ahead for Siemens?

As many people know, today Siemens works in the worlds of electrification and automation but now we are looking at the evolution of the fourth industrial revolution, and this will bring an overlay of digitalisation and the internet of things to our business. We will continue to do our traditional business in the way that we do it, designing and engineering our traditional products. However, our customers are moving into an area where they are beginning to realise that there is value in data.

By Siemens working with our experience and knowledge, and marrying that to what we know in terms of the value of the customers’ data we are going to work with, our customers extract new value from that data.

How is the Irish economy taking digital transformation aboard and what are the gains that the country can make?

Firstly, there is enormous value in data and for this reason, there is an enormous thirst for data. However, what we are seeing is some companies already in Ireland have clearly realised the value of that data and now they are starting to build their digital enterprise around it. Siemens can help with this.

There are some companies, however, who have not only not realised the value of their data, some of them don’t even realise they have data. Once a company has realised they have data and there is value in it, then they can build a new business model around it.

What role can Ireland play in industry 4.0 and a landscape defined by industrial IoT?

Siemens made a decision some time ago to fund industry 4.0 projects across the globe. 36 projects were selected for funding. Siemens Ireland secured two of those projects and one of them, I believe, is extremely interesting. It is what we call our biopharmaceutical MindSphere Applications Center (MAC). Siemens Ireland is working hand in hand with the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research (NIBRT) to use digital analytics, data and science to try and improve the efficacy of the biopharmaceutical manufacturing process.

We believe part of the reason Siemens Ireland was successful in securing funding for this project is simply the fact that the top 10 biopharma companies are here in Ireland, and Ireland needs to keep doing what it is doing to attract more of these big companies into Ireland.

Where is Ireland at in terms of creating the energy grid of the future?

Siemens has been in existence for 173 years and our purpose then is the same as our purpose today: we make real what matters. And that’s what we’ve been doing since 1874 when Siemens came to Ireland to lay the first transatlantic cable.

The iconic project we were involved in was the Shannon Scheme, which involved the power station at Ardnacrusha and the transmission system associated with that. So, we built the first grid and we will have an influence on the grid development as we go forward. That development is going to be around the three Ds: decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation.

We all know why we have to take carbon out of our electricity production. We believe in climate change as a reality and it is something that we as a responsible company want to address.

In terms of decentralisation, the concept of having long power lines across the country delivering power – I think that’s going to be dated and you are going to see more and more microgrids developing in campuses, industrial parks and even communities, where communities will have a greater say in the cost of the electricity that they buy.

How can we ensure we field the right graduates – male and female – to keep the country relevant for the industries of tomorrow?

There is a global shortage of engineers. We have got to make the concepts around engineering more attractive because we need it to be more diverse and we need to see more women engineers.

I think you are going to see a convergence of data science, data and engineering. We need to see data and data analytics coming into the syllabus straight away. I think at a stage in the future we will see a convergence that will take away the image of engineering that it is all about hard hats and high-vis vests, and that in itself [will help] by attracting more women into engineering and increasing the diversity.

Traditionally it has been about creativity, curiosity and problem-solving. And the problems it has set out to solve have been, up until now, pretty hard, technical problems where we know what the outcome is going to be before we start.

But I think, in this new, digitalised world, we are going to see more adaptive problems coming up. These are problems where we don’t know what the final answer is going to look like. Also, in some cases, we don’t even know if there is a business case, and this will be new for our engineering community – I think that they need to become more comfortable in this problem-solving world.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years