Step out of your own industry to find new ways to transform yourself digitally

Yesterday I was invited to the launch of Linde Gas’s Asia Digitisation Hub here in Singapore  . Before this week, my knowledge of industrial gases was probably limited to the fizz in a bottle of San Pellegrino and their needs to digitise their company would have been a bit of a mystery.

Linde is the world’s largest industrial gas producer and already has a powerful role in Singapore.  I can see their massive production complex on Jurong Island from my bedroom window. 

What they launched yesterday with the help of Singapore’s Economic Development Board was a centre through which they will exploit digital and new ways of working to improve how they do business, increase worker safety, streamline their offering to customers, allow them to experiment with emerging technologies, build new cross industry partnerships and upskill their staff; all typical goals of digital transformation projects.

Here were some of my takeaways from a fascinating day:

  1. Gas production generates masses of data.  The Jurong plant produces 650,000 data points per minute and interpreting and exploring insights from this big data has implications as big as those from finance or weather and is perhaps a lot more important (not least from a worker safety point of view) than tweets on social media. 
  2. A gas production plant takes at least 5 years to build.  Linde is building virtual “digital twins” to allow them to experiment with new ideas and train staff even before the real world complex is finished.  I wonder how many other industries could copy this simulator model.
  3. Linde faces the same shortage of skilled data science staff as the rest of the digital industry but its engineering history and culture put it in a good position to hire special technical staff.  It also needs to bring the rest of it’s staff on the same digital culture journey as banks, retail, media and communications and all the other industries I have worked with.
  4. Linde is focused on it’s customers and includes a “you will never run out of gas” commitment (for example, to thousands of pub landlords in the UK who rely on bottled CO2 to keep the pumps flowing). Managing, instrumenting and optimising the supply chain using IOT, drones and machine learning is helping them to keep this promise.
  5. VR headsets linked to a control centre are allowing them to provide job support, training and emergency assistance  to plant workers from a  central hub. It was interesting how ideas from the games industry are being transformed into key business tools.
  6. The company has recognised the need for speed in innovation. Digital projects are planned, funded and run within a 3 month time frame and those that cannot show business value inside 3 months are stopped. It would be interesting to learn more about the projects that don’t proceed and how learning from failure is fed back into the innovation process.
  7. Linde sees the importance of partnerships; within their own industry, with digital suppliers, with start-ups and with a wider economic community. This commitment to bring the outside in, to share ideas and to prototype was a central theme of the panel session to which I contributed in the evening along with other panelists from Linde, IBM and Google.
  8. Linde did not yet appear to see itself as a software or platform company. I suspect that soon this may change as they perhaps consider licensing their digital assets to others in their industry and beyond.

Spending time in another industry provides fresh perspectives from which to look at your own. Sometimes we become complacent about what change means if we only see the same examples,  technologies and solutions.  I’m looking forward to further conversations and shared exploration with Linde and others I met yesterday.  

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