Siemens: prioritising innovation amidst a digital transformation

Siemens: prioritising innovation amidst a digital transformation

“My dear, here in Wonderland, we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that,” wrote Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.

While to many, it’s simply a quotation from a children’s novel, to Gia Thi Nguyen, Head of Operational Excellence at Siemens Digital Industries, it’s a powerful mantra for technological change. Thi sees the true value of the words in Carroll’s famous book and believes it accurately defines digital transformation as a whole. “Digital transformation is about agility, speed and even more importantly, it’s just 1% digital and 99% human,” affirms Thi. “This means that the human-centric approach is really key when we look at digital transformation.” Having worked at Siemens for 17 years in a variety of different positions from IT, Finance or Project Management, Thi moved into his current role as Head of Operational Excellence at Siemens Digital Industries’ Headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany, in January 2016. Thi’s career with the firm has seen him work in five different countries including the UK, Czech Republic, Vietnam, Spain and Germany. “I’m very pleased that Siemens was my first and is still my only employer to date,” he says. “I believe the opportunity to work in such a range of different countries in various environments such as manufacturing operations, regional sales, corporate functions and global responsibilities has definitely enabled me to develop a very specific skill set that allows me to evaluate processes in a holistic way.”

With the philosophy of operating with a human-centric approach that focuses on attributes that define us as such – compassion, empathy, curiosity and creativity – Thi affirms that unlocking digital transformation means unlocking the human touch. “You need to have a human-centric approach because we should ensure we empower, and are empowered by, technology,” explains Thi. “That’s why it’s vital we focus on the traits that define humans which will allow us to unlock creativity and ensure digital transformation becomes a positive story.” Due to the speed at which technology is evolving, there is the concern from some industries that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) could replace people one day. However, Thi believes the more pressing issue is ensuring that humans don’t become robots themselves. “A big concern of mine is that humans are becoming addicted to mobile phones and are reliant on technology in order to function from day to day. When I talk about rediscovering humanity by the use of technology, it is really about how can we make use of the transformative power of technology to be able to focus on what humans do best.” Although the acceleration of AI and Big Data is primarily considered a positive to the industry, Thi acknowledges why people might be reluctant to embrace change. “The biggest challenge digital transformation faces is fear. People are afraid they might lose their jobs or are unsure how their job might be impacted. However, fear is just an emotion and I can work with that,” he explains. “I would be much more worried if I were dealing with people who are apathetic. I believe you need to be very honest and recognise that you just don't have all the answers, but you can offer an inclusive approach that says ‘Let's find the answers together’.”

Siemens Digital Industries is the leader in automation and digitalisation and has a unique portfolio and position when it comes to solutions like the Digital Twin or Mindsphere, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). Since its establishment over 170 years ago, Siemens has become a powerhouse in the electrical industry and operates 289 major production and manufacturing plants worldwide. Thi points out that his company’s success is due, in part, to the mentality of adapting to all situations. “There are so many things in life we can't control. I don't know if it's going to rain or whether the sun is going to shine tomorrow, but what I can control is whether I want to get wet or not,” he explains. “My advice would be to bring an umbrella: if I bring one but the sun is shining, at least then I have an umbrella for sun protection. It’s about making the most out of every situation life throws at you.” With his positive analogies allowing people unfamiliar with the industry to relate to his messages, Thi affirms that although a clear vision of the potential outcome is important to enable perspective, the ability of adapting to change consistently is how success can ultimately be measured. “We have a really clear strategy of where we want to be, but we also have the confidence and the understanding that it’s OK not to have all the answers before we begin the journey,” explains Thi. “At Siemens, our leadership has the courage to provide this level of trust to really allow us to co-create, learn together, fail together and really drive impact on a global scale. I believe this trust also pays off because we are much faster with the implementation of our activities. This is what I call the magic of the middle ground when a Top-Down and Bottom-up approach are taken at the same time, but with different focus. Top-Down is only concerned with providing the context, while Bottom-up is delivering the content.”

Thi believes digitalisation has stood Siemens’ customers, employees and stakeholders in good stead on its digital journey so far and affirms that there is true value in building personal relationships with partners in order to enable mutual success. In a bid to accelerate its interests, Siemens has established key strategic relationships with SAP Germany, Flowfactory, Pega, Capgemini, Celonis and GetAccept as the firm seeks to drive its ‘Offer to Cash’ operations globally. “Partnerships is the key word. We’re not looking at just vendors or consultants; it’s about partners,” he says. “It is also important to note that we’re not just dealing with a partner one by one, but inviting all of them to understand their own part in the bigger picture. Whereas, Celonis brings in the digital processes through its process mining technology, Pega allows us to drive digital collaboration on a global scale engaging with our internal and external stakeholders alike. SAP brings in the foundation of all transactional and master data, while Flowfactory unleashes our creativity by their unlimited flexibility their low-code based approach provides to us. Finally, GetAccept focuses on helping us close the deal with customers in a richer and more engaging way than we’ve ever been able to before and Capgemini is the sparring partner with extensive knowledge of Siemens and our industry.”

“Thus, it’s really important to bring our partners together. For this reason, we are going to get together this summer with some partners for a hackathon to address topics that go beyond our normal business. This is why we, blessed with an abundance of domain and technological know-how, are going to support the Plastic Bank, an organisation founded by David Katz that aims to alleviate poverty and marine pollution by recognising the true value of plastic. Therefore, a good partnership also means helping other people - together.”

In order to provide customers with best in class services, Siemens’ employees must be empowered to work with best internal processes. This can take many forms: automated workflows for seamless collaboration internally and externally, absolute transparency using process visualization on a global scale or developing business processes at record speed. “One of our key learnings in making change stick and having basically the power of a movement behind us, is that we need to have people with real domain know-how and not just general experience or having had many different titles throughout their careers,” explains Thi. “These often unsung heroes are the agents of positive change. These are the people we need to identify and support by having the courage to follow them. A hero can come from anywhere but not everyone can be a hero. Recognising and adopting this mindset and following through is real leadership.”

As crystalised by its renowned company slogan ‘Ingenuity for Life’, Siemens values the importance of differentiating itself from rivals in the field and ensuring it leads the market. “We really focus on ensuring that we ask the right questions, and from that we actually understand that the answers often lie somewhere in the question itself. I feel that the biggest thing that makes us different goes back to our company slogan — ‘Ingenuity for Life’. It isn’t just about innovation or business here; we’re not called ‘Innovation for Business’. It’s important to remember the mentality of ingenuity for life because it includes everyone as well as our environment too.”

With the future in mind, Thi has clear ambitions of where he hopes the firm will be over the upcoming years and beyond. “In terms of the future, we have to continue to build success and it’s really important to understand what the perspective is when we talk about the future,” notes Thi. “It isn’t about predicting how tomorrow will be, but it is about what we’re doing today so that regardless of the future, we’re better off overall. It's easy for me to look into the past and look at what I could have done differently but there’s no point in worrying about what you can’t change. I only think about what I’m going to do differently today and then it’s up to other people to decide whether it’s successful or not. It’s not my place to say.”

David Fritz