Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Deborah Sherry

Deborah Sherry is the Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of GE Digital in Europe, Russia and CIS. Her division delivers cloud-based solutions that connect industry, transforming industrial businesses into digital industrial businesses that can generate insights from machines and translate data into intelligence that can drive improvement in productivity.

Prior to joining GE, Sherry spent nearly nine years at Google. She led divisions across EMEA, opened new markets and increased business five-fold for Google. Before joining Google, Sherry spent seven years in the France Telecom Group (now Orange) running multi-platform portal and advertising businesses and global platform convergence efforts. Sherry also worked at Samsung, based in the Chairman’s office in Korea, driving transformation across Samsung Electronics and other Samsung companies, and she worked at Citibank in London. She has an MBA from the London Business School, an MA (Hons) Law from Oxford University and a BA from Columbia University.

She recently spoke to The Innovator about digital transformation challenges faced by big companies.

Q: What is the biggest challenges for companies facing digital transformation?

DS : Regardless of whether you work in telecommunications, at a power company or a water authority — whatever you do — the biggest challenge is the plethora of technologies out there. Senior executives at most companies want to know where the surest and highest return on investment is but deployment of technology takes time and often there are uncertain business cases for emerging tech and this slows down the decision–making. Before deploying technology that might improve processes or power usage or output, companies are launching small trials to test how much investment should be placed where. So mid-sized or even the world’s largest businesses are conducting hundreds and hundreds of trials and are overwhelmed with the amount of possibilities. As a result the number of new technologies and risk aversion is stopping companies from deploying the digitalization that could help their businesses.

Q : So what — in your opinion — is the best strategy?

DS :There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for businesses. I advise people to start by being laser clear about their own existing business strategy and to identify what are the sensitive pieces of their business activity where small improvements could yield a lot. Then it is about focusing on critical business activities you can make a difference with and deploying technology to improve that one thing. For example Gerdau, the steel manufacturer, decreased their maintenance costs by millions per year, using Asset Performance Management. Take for example steel manufacturing. The biggest cost is maintenance. The cost of the software is lower than their maintenance costs so if they can use technology to do active performance management and identify a problem before a machine breaks down and prevent a line outage they can massively decrease their maintenance costs and do it within half the time expected. It is a good example of a company being laser focused on the most critical thing for their business and using a digital strategy to improve their operations and cut their critical costs. The key is make sure that the choice of technology for digital transformation is something that can be rapidly deployed. Then they can move on to the next most critical priority.

Q : Manufacturers are under pressure to not just create products but outcomes. Are you seeing this trend?

DS : We are seeing this more and more although it is early days in some areas. One good example is SIG, one of the largest manufacturers of packaging equipment. SIG’s customers fill more than 10,000 unique products into SIG packaging. In 2017 alone SIG produced 33.6 billion carton packs for its customers. GE Digital is helping SIG transform how they predict, manage and service the entire lifecycle of their filling lines. The software is being deployed across 400 factories in 65 countries. What was most critical for them was asset management performance software that could perform predictive maintenance and keep service costs down. They bought our software solution, which enabled them to understand what is happening with their equipment and fix machines before they break down. By automatically collecting and analyzing asset data — tapping into billions of data points across 400 factories globally in real time — SIG and their customers can move beyond traditional asset monitoring and predictive service models to re-imagine their supply chain, enhance quality control technologies and evolve their portfolio mix.

Q : What is your best advice to businesses?

DS : In addition to making sure you are driving your digitization strategy and placing critical needs first, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. One of the biggest issues is companies want to build every piece of software themselves. The build versus buy decision is super critical. It’s okay to buy a service to save costs and this in turn will mean businesses can deploy quickly. Often building is slower and costlier up-front and you need a lot of ongoing investment to keep up with the latest innovation so you end up constantly building your own product from scratch.Another good kernel to remember is you must not underestimate the importance of culture. We are in an era of rapidly changing and emerging tech which requires process change and skill change and it also means culture change. Traditional big corporations are risk adverse and slow moving, tech is fast paced and needs to be updated on the fly. It is almost like a clash of cultures. The biggest challenge for most companies is how to truly get their companies to develop a culture where folks with traditional industrial knowledge can work together with digital disrupters on proof points. Then you can start to diffuse the right culture throughout the business. It is one of the most critical factors. A company might choose the right software but without the cultural change they won’t succeed. At the end of day digital transformation is about people, not just about the technology.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.