Tomorrow’s cities and infrastructures: An interview with Roland Busch
Roland Busch tells Control Engineering Asia the trends affecting infrastructure now and how a global company like Siemens can help contribute to highly efficient and digital infrastructures.
July 4, 2017
By Lim Guan Yu
As CTO, you are responsible for Siemens’ global R&D. What are your priorities?
My top priority is driving digitalization for Siemens, not only because it is a key growth driver for our own company but also because it is a sustainable way for our customers to increase their productivity and keep their business relevant. According to a study by McKinsey & Co., half of the GDP growth in the past 50 years was driven by rapid increase in the number of workers. In the next 50 years this contribution will go down to almost 0 per cent. So, how to close the productivity? This is where digitalization comes into place.
A second priority for me is strengthening our innovation capabilities. This is happening through organic development, partnering, investment in companies or acquisitions; thanks to the brilliant people in our research units around the world. And these people do not operate in ivory towers. On the contrary, we have found that the value of open innovation cannot be overestimated. Open innovation helps to overcome silo thinking and stimulates the acceptance of new ideas and technologies across a range of fields and geographies. We have been promoting this process for years through internal as well as public crowd sourcing based idea competitions – essentially a co-creation, co-location process. An example is our “Quickstarter” concept – events in which Siemens researchers and regular employees can collaborate in funding particularly promising ideas. The ideas that receive a given threshold of funding automatically become research projects. No management involvement is necessary. In just the last two years, nearly three-hundred ideas have been developed through this process.
There are a couple of other ways in which we stimulate innovation. One is strategic cooperation with leading universities and research institutes around the world – what we call, Centers of Knowledge Interchange. The other is collaboration with the worldwide startup community through our new “next47 unit”. The unit is designed to identify business and technological trends that have the potential to generate growth in Siemens’ existing business areas.
Last, but certainly not least, among my top priorities is the pursuit of exceptionally promising technological areas such as artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, connected (e) mobility, amongst others.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
There are two things that really get me going: exciting R&D projects and conceptualizing the strategies needed to point such projects toward commercial viability. So very concretely speaking, what I am most excited about at this point is the opportunity to mesh Siemens Corporate Technology’s portfolio with the company’s strategic priorities as well as with our divisions’ plans for the future.
Ultimately, this boils down to making Siemens ready for the future while creating customer value and value for societies around the world. For instance, in fiscal 2016, Siemens generated revenues of 36 billion Euros through technologies associated with our environmental portfolio. This enabled our customers to reduce their CO2 emissions by 521 million metric tons.
Another thing that really energizes me is the opportunity to motivate young people to maximize their potential in technological fields. Recently, for instance, Siemens hosted the closing round of Germany’s national “Jugend forscht” young researcher science contest in the city of Erlangen. Around 180 young finalists out of 12,000 initial contestants presented 107 research projects to a jury. It was a pleasure meeting these great scientific minds and the experience reminded me of my own first steps into a professional career through a PhD in physics, which I earned in Erlangen. What the world of technology has shown me ever since is that certain innovations seem to be destined to take off while others are not. I enjoy the challenge of helping to identify those that do.
What are the trends affecting infrastructures?
The second megatrend is urbanization, which is a growth driver of economies as they make investments in smart cities, meaning the digital technologies that enable urban areas to run more efficiently. Another megatrend is carbon dioxide reduction and reduction of local emissions, which, as with smart cities, is all about zeroing in on data that spurs more efficient use of resources. An ageing population is another major trend – one that will increasingly spur demand for the digital technologies that will make things such as self-driving vehicles and lifetime learning broadly available and affordable.
The digital revolution is at the heart of all these trends. It is the key force that is fueling productivity and connecting the assets that collectively increase efficiency. And that is exactly where Siemens’ technologies create value, be it via smart buildings, such as Taipei 101, the world’s tallest green building, solutions for the integration and management of energy, such as modernizing the power and distribution grids of major cities in India, or offering rail network operators shorter interval times between trains, reduced energy consumption, superior punctuality, and the ability to easily add or remove trains from networks during peak hours with driver-less metro lines as is the case in Paris and Barcelona.
How can a global company like Siemens contribute to highly efficient, digital infrastructures?
We need to be close to our markets and customers. And we have to create customer value and constantly improve our products and solutions. Take cities, for example: Cities can drive growth through connectivity and data transparency. But typically, different infrastructure domains in a city are operated separately from each other. In view of this, Siemens has created MindSphere, its cloud-based, open operating systems for the Internet of Things. MindSphere can be used as an operating system for a city, helping to maximize connectivity across all infrastructure domains by integrating and creating value from the data.
What is Siemens’ vision for tomorrow’s cities and infrastructures?
All over the world, cities are shaped by profound forces: their population, their technologies and their infrastructures. Yet these forces often collide. What’s more, urbanization and climate change could make things worse. How can these challenges be tackled? This is where digital technologies can play a major role. For instance, Siemens’ City Performance Tool provides guidance to a city as to how it can achieve environmental targets while indicating how each infrastructure-related decision will influence job creation.