“Everyone says digitalization is important but very few people know how to go about digitizing,” says Susan Peterson-Sturm.

Appointed digital lead of the Power Generation & Water arm of ABB’s Industrial Automation division, Peterson-Sturm is an industrial control leader with 15 years’ experience working with energy companies to scale industrial digital solutions.“Everyone says digitalization is important but very few people know how to go about digitizing,” says Susan Peterson-Sturm.

In an interview with PEi, she says that when it comes to making the change into digitalization, “it starts at the top”.

“Utilities are undergoing a cultural shift towards an information-based digital economy – where primary processes are digitalized – and moving away from the traditional business model that requires heavy investment in physical assets. In the face of this change, chief executives feel there is a real danger of getting left behind if they fail to rally their organization to the new digital order. The drive from leadership is key to the implementation of successful digital projects. It is vital that there is a clear link between any digital project and a company’s strategic priorities.”

She adds that while it is crucial to have a big-picture vision for digital, “companies that are in the lead started with small projects and pilots that quickly delivered tangible results. Results and success drive action and greater cultural adoption of digital solutions on the plant floor. With the organization on board, larger and more ambitious project are easier to execute.”

She also stresses that “it is all about people, process and technology”.

“In digitalization, we talk a lot about technology but not about people and processes.”

She explains that “without changing their business process to get the results that digital solutions offer, companies will have great technology but little else. Digitalization should not make people feel alienated or excluded from the industry’s digital future. Companies need digital programmes, projects and pilots to engage the right stakeholders, which extend beyond operations and often involve information technology, compliance and finance. In other words, remember to bring the right team along on the digital journey.”

She stresses that the so-called digital power plant – “where data meets the physical world and where new opportunities are unlocked for the customer, is not science fiction: it’s already here and able to bring benefits to operators around the world”.

“Increased complexity and flexibility, and new business models, are the new hallmarks of the power sector, which – as with other industries – is seeing changes on an unprecedented scale and pace. Complexity is increasing due to a number of factors, including in the areas of generation, infrastructure, regulations and security.”

She says the new energy landscape requires technologies able to collaborate with operators, especially in the effort to turn the unordered mass of data generated by all equipment installed onsite into meaningful and usable information.

“Within the third industrial revolution, the latest technologies of the time allowed a single operator to keep several areas of a plant under control from a central point, marking the birth of the distributed control system. Now the fourth Industrial revolution is taking automation to an ever more connected level.

“Sensing data and then analyzing it to create insights are two necessary steps of today’s plant operations,” explains Peterson-Strum. “However, realizing these insights in the physical world of a company’s operations – making them actionable, delivering solutions and ‘closing the loop’ – is the crucial third step where customer value creation occurs.”

This article is an extract from a longer exclusive interview that will appear in PEi magazine later this month. Subscribe now to be sure of receiving your issue.

Susan Peterson-Sturm is a speaker in the Artificial Intelligence arena at Electrify Europe in Vienna in June. For more details click here.