Featured Interview – Ranbir Saini

Ranbir Saini is senior director of digital product management for GE Digital.

The following is a partial transcript of Episode 32 of the Talking Industrial Automation podcast. To hear or watch the full interview, click on the links below. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ranbir Saini, GE Digital

ADDEDThursday, October 24, 2019

  • Q
    What do you see as opportunities for integrators moving forward?
    A
    The integrators are key to this. And why do I say the integrators are key and important is because we have this vision, I believe it’s a vision of the intelligent user interface. But to make that a reality, it’s on the integrators. So, you guys are the ones that will be creating those applications. And I think that all that new data there’ll be more applications. The customer will want more. They also need guidance.
    
    Most customers don’t know how to get to where they want to be when it comes to digital transformation. You guys being the trusted adviser, you can really help them, guide them in how they get to where they want to be. I think that’s critical. And the other part of that is building those applications.
    
    Lastly, another key thing is domain expertise. I think from an integrator’s perspective, your golden ticket really comes down to domain expertise. It’s something that not a lot of people have in this space are coming externally from other areas, other industries like computer scientist, for example. And so, leveraging your domain expertise to help the customer do optimization is critical.
    
  • Q
    How does the cloud fit into your vision of the future?
    A
    I believe the future is going to be a hybrid cloud. There are certain things that you’re going to have to always do on premise. And I think in certain scenarios, they are those customers where they’re going to be air gaps. There is no connectivity to the cloud. But the cloud can provide value in multiple ways. One is reducing costs for the customer. More and more the cost for data storage will go down in the cloud versus on premise. Secondarily, it’s the IT infrastructure. You can now build your own IT infrastructure across plants, across sites to be able to have visibility across the enterprise. But that will be much easier and simpler to do by using the cloud.
    
    Once you get that data up into the cloud, you want to start then using the computing power of the cloud to start things like analytics and analysis so that you can start figuring out other ways to perform efficiencies and productivity. And then once you do that, ideally, you want to push that back down with a closed loop back into premise to make those changes within your operation.So that kind of hybrid cloud closed loop I really think is the future.
    
  • Q
    Do you think HMI/SCADAs will be irrelevant in the future?
    A
    Definitely not. Number 1 is you always will need to have something in the control network to control your assets and processes. And those must be tried-and-tested products. And that is where SCADA lives, and that’s really the core engine, real-time aspect of SCADA. So, I truly believe that will stick around.
    
    I think the other part of what we’re seeing now with IoT and this whole idea of having more visibility and more applications at different levels within your environment and for different stakeholders is the HMI tech capabilities are stretching into different roles and different users. I think that’s kind of a big change. And overall, what I think is necessary is not the HMI/SCADA is going to go away but it’s going to be modernized from a technology perspective, from a user perspective and from a data aggregation perspective.
    
  • Q
    One of the big industry changes I hear a lot about right now is the industrial internet of things and digital transformation. Can you talk a bit about that and what it means to customers?
    A
    When it comes to a digital transformation, there’s a lot discussed about what it can do and how it can do it for you quickly. But that’s not really reality. It’s not like a switch. You can’t plug-in a bunch of software and automatically get these optimizations to increase your productivity and efficiencies. It really takes time.
    
    So, the key thing I would say is that it’s a journey over time. And what that journey is about is being able to connect all the different data and sources that you have, and then being able to associate the data together with the relation that they have to each other. And from there, being able to start visualizing the information to start increasing transparency and visibility into your operations, leading eventually into analytics for optimization.
    
  • Q
    What problems and challenges are you seeing as top of mind for industrial customers?
    A
    There’s two ways to think about that. There’s first a kind of table stakes for the customer. When I say table stakes, it comes down to things like customers expect the products to be supported, stable and secure. That’s essential, right? Because in our space, they must be secure and stable.
    
    And then beyond that, they also want to make sure that their investment in whatever you’re building for them or the software will last over time because it’s very costly to replace or rip them out. So, they want it to last for multiple years. But beyond that, as we progress into the future, they’re looking at how can they reduce their total cost of ownership. And secondarily, they’re looking at, how can I increase my revenue. They want to have greater productivity, greater efficiency to increase their margins.
    
    And then lastly, the world is changing. Our industrial world is dramatically changing so they’re really looking at ways to be able to compete within that new world and looking for guidance on how to do that. 
    
  • Q
    Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you came to be with GE Digital?
    A
    Sure. I’ll start at the early days. I started at a startup. It was amazing. We [got paid] over time. So, within the first year I paid off my student loan, which was fantastic.
    
    But then, all good things come to an end. And so, at some point, I recall having this meeting. It was me and five other people from the office, and the CTO walks in. And we were probably about 60 people. And he walks in, and he says, “Sorry guys I must tell you this, but you five and myself were the only ones remaining. The venture capitalist firm has decided that they want to now sell us off, and they have to reduce the staff.”
    
    So yeah, so it was quite traumatic. It was my first job, and it was like losing a lot of friends. And then the whole tension of “I hope there’s somebody who will acquire us or we’re all going to be gone as well.” And so, luckily, what happened was, over the next few months, we had acquisition through a company called Avid. And what I found out was the acquisition happened because I was working with a customer, and they were a news agency that did news television – television for Denver. I was helping them try to build up their solution, and I saw that they had this video editing software. And they wanted to be able to try to get the video content to the web using our system. And there was no easy way to do it. So, I created this simple application, which was just a couple of command lines in a day, to push content from the video editing system into our publishing system to the web. And little did I know that that little thing would provide so much value and have the company want to acquire us. And so, early on in my career I recognized the value of integration.
    
    And from there, I went to Avid, a broadcast media television company. And you would think that Avid and what we do in an industrial space is very different. But no, they’re quite similar. Think about it, when you’re doing news, it’s 24/7. And when you’re doing news, you must do it in real time because you don’t know what’s going to happen any time and in any situation. And thirdly, generally, news stations are across the globe, so geographically dispersed solutions as well. And so, in many ways, it’s very similar to our industrial customers.