In this interview series with Digital Transformation Officers (DTOs) at Wind River, we shed light on their perspectives as they help customers navigate a changing business landscape.
Nikhil Chauhan is the Digital Transformation Officer for the industrial, energy and medical market segments at Wind River. After nearly two and a half decades in technology, Nikhil understands how to accelerate growth and strategic renewal through digital offerings, governance, and operating model. He has yielded $4B+ value, served worldwide multi-functional executive roles, and incubated and launched more than 50 modern products and platforms at GE, Hitachi, Cisco Systems, Teradata, Ericsson and Philips. In working with customers and partners, his focus is on increasing profitability, productivity, and performance.
Q: What are some capabilities that intelligence systems are bringing to your customer base in the next three years that you see as being really radical transformations?
Nikhil Chauhan (NC): In 2021, Forbes interviewed 500+ executives and analyzed the characteristics of intelligence systems that they are focusing on. We found that there are five capabilities that are radically transformational for industrials and health technology segments. When these characteristics are put together, they are powering modern cloud-based robots, digital substations and telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions.
The first characteristic is distributed computing from near edge to far edge that is capable of self-decisioning. Think of a metro cloud with ultra-low latency and high availability supporting near real-time industrial automation or smart city applications.
Second, systems that can predict failures, or irregularities. These predictive systems can act at the point of control and/or send signals back to command centers where further decisions are made. What’s really interesting here is that analytics on operations yields a much higher ROI than any other use case. For example, Tata Steel in India used machine learning and advanced analytics in production and logistics planning to reduce the cost of serving its customers by around 21%.
The third capability these segments can leverage is systems that simulate or emulate real world situations to see the results of an idea or a business process. Think about leveraging a digital twin of an electric grid “system of systems” to analyze operations, predict grid failures, and even restore damaged networks.
The fourth capability is aimed more at the user personalization. In the healthcare segment for example, use a patient’s DNA analysis stored in an edge device to further tailor medication doses and the therapies they receive or recommend nutrition advice, including diet plans and grocery lists.
Finally, the capability to have seamless connectivity and integration among multiple ecosystems or devices so that it shares data and decisions with in near real-time. Here, data from legacy systems, factory or hospital floors, and sensors can be combined and shared in near real-time for faster, better decision-making.
Q: What have you learned in conversations with our customers in terms of where they are at their journey in terms of technologies, processes, culture, and so on?
NC: Based on that same Forbes research, we know that 78% of companies are undergoing the digital transformation journey. In talking with customers, there are three important areas to look at: technology, process outcomes, and people.
It’s a red flag when technology decisions do not attract business scrutiny beyond cost. I hear many customers talk about a cloud-first approach or a platform-first strategy, but they don't always fit the bill. Leaders need to raise their hands, ask the hard questions, and fully understand the rationale and the benefit behind technology choices. For mission-critical systems, it’s important to perform careful due diligence to avoid adopting immature technologies. And finally, focus the investment on your control points. If it isn’t your core business or control point, you might want to look at solutions providers who have solid experience and expertise in that area.
When transforming processes, tools and architectural changes need to be paired with changes to engineering practices, operating mechanisms, processes, and behaviors. To improve speed of delivery, baseline your path to production and identify the strengths and gaps so that, over time, you can fill those gaps.
For successful outcomes, start and end technology conversations with the business problem being addressed and define joint accountability between business and technology leaders. Focus on business outcomes of changes rather than just technical outputs.
And, finally, clearly demarcate the boundaries for outsourcing business-critical technologies and activities and identify who is on point to run the transformation. Be careful of how much and what you outsource. Protect your core people and value streams because outsourcing those will limit the impact of any transformation.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges along the way?
NC: Companies need to disrupt their traditional ways of working to remain competitive. I am seeing a tidal shift in market dynamics. “Sell models” are switching from one-time to ongoing. Payments are moving to subscription-based services. Platform-based vertical solutions and applications are replacing standalone products.
There’s a fundamental shift from being capital-intensive to being insight-intensive. Companies want to leverage their data, better manage their physical assets, and optimize operations in new directions. This requires technology solutions, from integrated IoT platforms and AI/ML models to connectivity plays, such as 5G and a software-defined edge-to-cloud infrastructure.
Current vendor solutions are not going to meet those demands. Why not? Because they are bespoke builds with low agility to meet emerging needs; they are often limited in the ability to scale and integrate; and, they have high lifecycle costs and can’t be reused across the business.
There is obviously a need to have platforms that provide a standard scalable approach to develop, deploy, operate, and service intelligent systems. What companies need in the digital transformation journey is a modern platform that can connect capabilities and then transform their business to eventually become an intelligent systems company.
Interested in hearing more from Nikhil? You can contact him through LinkedIn to follow up on anything in this article or to see how Wind River can help transform your business.