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Schneider Electric: how an 182 year old company is powering the IoT revolution

Schneider Electric Schneider Electric
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Schneider Electric's industrial systems sit inside buildings and utilities of every size globally. Now, the $25 billion company is preparing for the era of connected things.

Experts like to call the coming era of big data and smart connected devices the ‘third industrial revolution’. They view it as the next big change for the world economy after the steam-powered first industrial revolution of the early 1800s and the electricity-fuelled second industrial revolution 100 years later. Schneider Electric was there for the first two. Now, it’s at the heart of the third.

The company launched in 1836, when two brothers bought a mine in rural France. It has been expanding ever since. Today, Schneider Electric is a vast and pervasive corporation. Its energy systems power buildings and equipment all over the world.

Yet, you’ve probably never heard of it. In fact, its CMO recently admitted it may be “the world’s biggest invisible brand.”

And it is big: annual turnover stands as US$25B and headcount is at 143,000 employees.

One reason for Schneider Electric’s continued growth is its anticipation of future trends. The company saw the change from steam to oil 100 years ago, and adapted. Today, it is powering the switch away from ‘dumb’ industrial systems to a world of connected devices making smart decisions powered by data.

The Internet of Things (IoT). The third industrial revolution.

Schneider Electric does this through its EcoStruxure platform, which lets customers install, manage and remotely control smart industrial equipment. To date, EcoStruxure has been deployed in 450,000 sites, connecting over 1 billion devices.

Cyril Perducat, Schneider Electric’s head of IoT, says the impact of this change has been profound. He says: “For customers that use our systems in their buildings, factories and machines, being able through IoT to leverage the potential of connectivity has a very strong impact on their efficiency and sustainability.”

Of course, installing sensors and linking them to a network of connected devices is just the foundation. The true value comes from discovering what the connected devices are ‘saying’.

“Digital transformation is not just about connecting smart things or collecting information,” says Perducat. “It’s about transforming those data into actionable insights. And this is done with machine learning, analytics and artificial intelligence.”

Schneider Electric has been developing the expertise to deliver these insights for a decade or so. However, Perducat says the revolution is really accelerating now because of the maturing of three complementary technologies: mobile, cloud and sensors.

“The fact that many customers are running their businesses on mobile apps provides a presence of information everywhere,” he says. “The mobile devices can also act as a sensor to geo-localise a customer and therefore provide insight and context.

“The cloud provides scalability and an extension of computing power that can be used in different contexts, plus long term cheap data storage.

“[Finally] sensors have become cheaper and more pervasive, so we can distribute them in new areas – for example in buildings to measure temperature, humidity or CO2. And we can even retro-fit an existing building to add more data points.”

Today, Schneider Electric is bringing these benefits to customers across every conceivable vertical. Clients range from Dell to Telefonica to Geneva Airport to Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Needless to say, Schneider Electric places security at the centre of its IoT systems. Its approach is to secure the technology at the design stage. “Cyber security is an end-to-end topic,” says Perducat. “It’s not just about cyber security of the cloud or of the edge or of the device. So when we develop solutions we have a design process that enables the right cybersecurity principles.

“At the device level, we are developing secure end-point capabilities at the level of the silicon or the software.”

What’s exciting for Schneider Electric is the sense that the IoT revolution it has been working towards is now ready for the mainstream.

“We have been looking at the evolution of IoT for long time – before it was even called the IoT,” says Perducat. “In the last five years there has been a lot of marketing buzz, but now I think we are entering the age of reality and actual customer impact.”