Featured Interview -- Steve March of Schneider Electric

Steve March

Steve March is the U.S. Ecosystem Sales Leader for Schneider Electric.

Steve March, Schneider Electric

ADDEDThursday, October 14, 2021

  • Q
    Talk a little bit about how Schneider Electric began and evolved.
    It began in 1856. The Schneider brothers acquired an abandoned foundry in France, and they started a company building heavy machinery. That evolved into a diverse-like conglomerate doing a bunch of things, and they eventually refocused first on the electrical distribution industry, and then along the way, added industrial automation and, ultimately, our IoT-enabled architecture.
    So, from an abandoned foundry to a global company with almost 130,000 employees, close to $30 billion in revenue and multiple smart factory lighthouse sites -- it has been quite the evolution.
  • Q
    What suppliers do you partner with?
    Well, like any big company, there are a lot of companies that we partner with and, in fact, frankly I thought about starting to name multiple – and I thought, you know, I will leave somebody out. I will offend someone. So, I am going to talk about one that I think is an important partnership that may not be well-understood by everybody in the audience.
    In 2014, Schneider Electric acquired Invensys, and Invensys had several brands that were very forward-thinking. But one of the best known is Wonderware. We brought them in to really start evolving our entire software portfolio. That accomplished some very important and amazing things.
    But we also realized along the way that hardware companies and software companies, they’re different. Think IBM and Microsoft. They go to market differently. They R&D differently. They develop product differently. They’re just different in many, many ways.
    So, we found a company called AVEVA, a British engineering design software company. They made engineering design software for large industrial facilities, and the idea was, we spun our software portfolio into their company with the goal of creating a cradle-to-grave industrial software firm.
    So, we can design your plant, simulate your plant, build your plant, operate your plant, manage the assets in your plant and so forth. But rather than AVEVA writing a check to Schneider Electric for that portfolio, we did what was called a “reverse acquisition,” which meant that Schneider Electric now took 60 percent ownership of the AVEVA company.
    So, it accomplished a whole bunch of cool things in terms of their portfolio and our partnership. It allows them to go to market as a true hardware agnostic software company that says, “We don’t make our software work better with any one PLC than any one other PLC.”
    At the same time, Schneider Electric can come behind and say, “Yes, that’s true. But because they are a part of our overall solutions, we make our hardware work better with their software and nobody else does that. ”
    So, it has really been another kind of fantastic evolution that has created something new in the marketplace. That’s really our closest partnership.
  • Q
    Do you specialize in any industry, product or discipline?
    No, I mean we really do, but you do have to take a few steps back to get the big picture. One of our taglines is “Schneider Electric provides energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability.” You might think that’s a lot, and you would be right.
    But if you look at our website, the thing is, you might find a PLC. You also will find switch gear. You will also find a home thermostat.
    How does that all fit together? Well, here’s how it works. We call our architecture solutions EcoStruxure. We view it as a technology stack. You have connected products at the bottom, things that are wired into the process, meters, motors, sensors. Then edge control is above that, and that process is monitored and controlled. So, it could be PLC Scada. It could be DCS. It could be a hybrid or something like that.
    Then at the top you have the analytics and apps and services that take you beyond basic control -- optimization and efficiency and things of that nature. 
    If you were looking for something that would control the environment and living and working spaces, well, we have an EcoStruxure domain of expertise for buildings.
    If you needed to solve problems around power quality and secure power and environmental monitoring and management for data center, we have what’s called EcoStruxure IT.
    If you’re doing distributed power generation and grid management, we have EcoStruxure grid solutions to automate the machines and the processes in your industrial facility or your factory. You could use EcoStruxure plant and machine and to really tie the value together for power and process, to monitor and manage all those energy resources. We talk about water, air, gas, electricity, steam.
    We have EcoStruxure power. So, it’s unique in terms of providing this end-to-end, top-to-bottom enterprise wide set of answers for power and automation. 
    If you take those domains of expertise, you have energy and automation, digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability, and that is where we specialize.
  • Q
    Talk a little bit about Schneider Electric’s SI Partner Program.
    Glad to do that. Something near and dear to my heart. Our program is called the Schneider Electric Alliance Program. I mean people can look up the partner levels and things like that. But I would like to talk more about our culture and our perspective. 
    The name is very descriptive. It’s an alliance, a collaboration. We’re not just documenting competence with our technology, although we do that. We don’t just provide tiered pricing that’s preferential for partners, although we do that. But it’s about collaborative business development.
    How can we help each other build our businesses? We have a specific focus on, and we work to prevent competition between our services groups and our partners. That’s probably the biggest complaint I hear about other manufacturers from the SIs that we work with is that competition. We work very hard to manage and prevent that where we can.
    I have a team that specializes in working with the integrator partners in their area, and then we’re part of a larger division that is out selling our solutions in the end user community. We work together as team, whereas they complete sales and if they need someone to help deliver that, then we have the partners that are best for them to do that. So again, it’s a special community collaborating around those solutions.
  • Q
    What would you say is the biggest benefit of CSIA membership for Schneider Electric?
    I think in some ways, it’s the same benefit that I found in CSIA when I was an SI. It provides a like-minded community of people in the field of automation, and that’s important.
    By like-minded, I mean professionals who are passionate about solving problems with quality solutions. That passion translates – sorry, I’m going to overuse this word today maybe – but into a willingness to collaborate. 
    You see things in CSIA like peer groups or lessons from a hot stove where it raises the quality of our industry and if you didn’t have a community, if you just had a bunch of competitors, you wouldn’t get that. 
    But it is good for all of us. It raises the level of our industry and that’s important in the same way That it’s important for the integrators to have that community to build them up. It's important for us to know those integrators who are passionate about quality and passionate about our field.
  • Q
    What challenges are your customers facing right now?
    Restrictions on travel and on gathering caused some initial challenges because of COVID. But at the same time, there are really some fantastic technological answers to those issues, and it kind of shone a bright light on them, which was cool. You know, solutions for cybersecurity, for remote connections, augmented reality opportunities. Enabled partners to address those things. So that was good.
    I would say maybe longer-lasting effects from the pandemic are probably around pricing and supply chain issues. There are just more costs and challenges around securing raw materials, around making, and distributing products, and that has been just – I mean not even industry-wide. It’s just a global – everyone in every field is seeing that and feeling that. 
    I have to say our supply chain team have just been heroes. The systems and solutions they’ve implemented, I mean we get updates on what they’re doing and what it has addressed and how it’s making things better and it’s amazing. But I think it’s going to take a little longer for those challenges to subside.
  • Q
    What makes you optimistic about the future of the automation industry?
    Well, for us, it’s both energy and automation, and they are not stagnant industries. They’re growing and developing. We’ve all seen those industries that went through the curves, and then that was kind of it. They stayed the same for the next century.
    Some might have thought that energy was there. But clearly these days it’s not. They’re growing. They’re developing. 
    We have a cultural value that energy is a basic human right. We are working to make it available to everyone everywhere at every moment.