An expanding partnership
ABB’s decision to adopt Microsoft Azure as its cloud platform also began a partnership journey. For the company, the decision was simple “why build our own when we can rely on the Microsoft cloud,” says Christopher. The decision was unanimous and opened the door to a new collaborative relationship between the two companies.
As the field of AI matured, and AI began to feature more prominently in business strategies, it was an easy decision to extend the collaboration with Microsoft into the realm of AI. ABB had built several AI-powered innovations for customers, and the Microsoft AI platform allowed them to scale and accelerate that progress.
“We are working very closely with Microsoft in building our Industry AI platform. The partnership has worked really well, and that’s due to the close collaboration between two companies that are focused on delivering value together,” says Christopher.
Delivering higher value with AI
ABB’s research and development group, combined with support from the Microsoft alliance, has enabled a number of innovations that promise higher levels of value for customers.
One such area is around Industrial AI, where ABB is developing industrial applications of AI within the context of autonomous industries. The solution will provide the next level of automation for several industries.
Another area is driving new levels of automation with AI. Solutions like predictive monitoring provide an automated way of monitoring efficiency and preventing disruption due to breakages or malfunctions. Automation can also help in driving more sustainable working methods. For example, in the mining industry, digital solutions can optimize and automate ventilation systems to bring air to the right portions of an underground mine, ensuring worker safety and efficiencies in energy consumption.
The same solution is applied to clear mines of toxic fumes immediately after blasting, clearing passages faster to allow humans to enter it safely, thereby increasing productivity.
In addition, ABB has also focused its research efforts on industry-specific solutions. Recently, ABB worked with Helsinki City Transport on developing and testing a remotely controlled passenger ferry service. While the test continues, the effort has opened the possibility of allowing people to monitor and control vessels from anywhere.
ABB’s research and development efforts have yielded important lessons and best practices when it comes to successful AI implementations. Understanding what AI can and can’t do is one of those lessons. With AI being a constant topic in the news and an overly glorified topic, ABB has found that guiding customers on what AI is best suited for is important to all strategic conversations with customers, and critical to getting on the right path to delivering positive business outcomes.
As well, understanding what kind of data is needed for AI is another important topic ABB addresses with customers. Christopher sums it up by saying, “selecting the right data is more critical than being able to use AI functions.” For example, knowing the year-over-year production output of a conventional power plant is not particularly useful. However, having data on errors, failures, or anomalies becomes hugely valuable and is something that can be tracked and predicted through AI.
Moving forward with AI
Today, ABB is at the forefront of developing industrial applications of AI. But the way the company sees it, they are just getting started. ABB will continue to create new applications for AI by scrutinizing the market and responding to customer demands. Their goal is to generate many of the breakthroughs in the field by investing in the right technology, people, and teams that will put them in the position to do so. With Microsoft and Azure as an important partner in AI, the platform ABB is building with Microsoft is key to their future digitization strategy.