The theme of this year’s event was “Accelerating Digital Transformation in a Post-COVID World.” The key word here is accelerating. While a wide range of topics were covered, two themes that persisted throughout the event were sustainability and AI.
Ramping up Sustainability Initiatives
AspenTech Energy Industry Marketing Director Ron Beck noted that leaders need to get comfortable with sustainability as a permanent part of the corporate mission. He was speaking as part of a panel discussion with Mary Draves, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at Dow Chemical Group, and Meryl Wingfield, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability from BP plc. They highlighted the need to embed sustainability into corporate DNA, the difficulties in driving executive buy-in and the critical role that digitalization plays in enabling companies to progress towards their sustainability goals.
Ron noted that by using technology available today to increase energy efficiency, using renewable power sources dynamically as available and tracking carbon through the value chain, industry can reduce CO2 emissions and material wastes as longer-term solutions are planned. This can achieve 25-30% carbon reduction by simply using existing digital approaches but more pervasively. He also emphasized the importance of carbon markets in driving the needed capital investment in developing economies’ sustainability programs.
A key takeaway from the sustainability session was the crucial role of partnerships between companies, between industry and technology suppliers and between industry and non-government organizations (NGOs) to drive innovation and progress forward at a faster pace. Each panelist gave different examples, but the consensus among all was that companies need to be open to partnerships and be creative in their partnering choices, to enable them to address today’s sustainability challenges faster and more efficiently.
Ed O’Brien of ARC Advisory Group led a discussion on how organizations can make practical use of the growing influence and importance of machine learning and analytics in their operations and maintenance strategy. AspenTech’s Mike Brooks joined panelists from Covestro, FLANDERS, Relayr and Aperio Systems to discuss the roles of machine learning and analytics in maintenance. A major takeaway from this discussion was that domain expertise plays perhaps the most important role for implementing advanced, machine-learning-based solutions to manage the vast amount of data generated by the equipment being monitored. Mike made the case that domain knowledge provides “guardrails” to machine learning algorithms. He also noted the importance of using this knowledge to find true causation of problems, rather than just correlation.
Along these lines, I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by ARC analyst Peter Reynolds, who asked me several questions, including these two: What is Industrial AI exactly? and What’s the difference between Industrial AI and “vanilla” AI?
What makes AI truly industrial strength is the combination of “vanilla” AI with specific industry and, as Mike noted, “domain expertise” to solve real world issues around efficiency and sustainability. With the aim of democratizing the application of AI across the enterprise, solutions should be straightforward to deploy for the operator, yet powerful and extensible enough to accelerate more purpose-built deployments. With the advent of integrated Industrial AI solutions, value can be obtained quickly as companies don’t need to build out entire solutions by themselves, piece together components from multiple vendors, or rip and replace software they use today. They can more easily integrate data from across different systems throughout the organization, deploy AI-rich applications that are purposefully-guided by first principles, as well as take advantage of enterprise-wide data governance to drive impactful business decisions.
I encourage you to listen to my full conversation with Peter. You may also want to check out my recent blog on the topic, Is Your AI Industrial? To learn more about all the great things that are happening at AspenTech around Industrial AI, our AIoT Hub, and sustainability, consider attending OPTIMIZE 2021, our virtual and complimentary global industry event.