Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Florence Verzelen, Industrial Transformation Expert

Florence Verzelen is Dassault Systèmes’ Executive Vice President in charge of industry, marketing and sustainability. She oversees the strategy, sales, and operations of the 12 industry segments that Dassault Systèmes serves, as well as the marketing and sustainability functions. Her focus is on creating forward-looking solutions that help industrial players to transform through the power of virtual twins, Big Data, and artificial intelligence. She is also an experienced board member, with current board positions at Air France, Institut Montaigne and CNES. She holds degrees from X-Corps des Mines, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in France. Verzelen was a speaker on a panel about the future of robotics at the World Economic Forum in Davos January 18 moderated by The Innovator’s Editor-in-Chief. She spoke to The Innovator about how AI breakthroughs promise to transform traditional robotics and their use in factories.

Q: The next couple of years could see significant changes in how we come to view robots, with AI breakthroughs promising to transform traditional robotics. What might that mean for the factory floor, and those who work on it?

FV: What we are talking about is a new kind of coexistence and cooperation of humans and robots; and that interrelationship is critical when we think about the future of manufacturing, and how robots interact physically in our workspaces. Some 80% of robots sold will be mobile by 2028 and they will be moving all over the factory floor. This will enable more flexible manufacturing and humans to focus on more value-added tasks. It will also help us to make manufacturing more flexible, more resilient, and more sustainable because it will allow for more precise accounting and help reduce waste (Life Cycle Assessment/Eco Design).

Q: What do you see as the major challenges?

FV: There are three.  The main challenge is scaling how humans and companies work with robots. This requires knowing how to use the robots and what to do. A lot of people, -especially blue collar workers, will have to adapt to the changes. Here good communication is essential. Otherwise, we risk social unrest like the social movement of British textile workers in the 19th century who organized in opposition to technological advances in technology. .Secondly, ,there is huge adaption issue for companies because it means they have to change their business models to operate 24/7,  change their supply chains and adapt their internal organization.  The third is geopolitics.  We need to ensure that we have technology sovereignty in the robotics sector to ensure that we do not become dependent on a particular country.

Q: What is the best way to help workers adapt?

FV: Reskilling and upskilling employees, and demystifying robots by using technologies like VR and AR to explain how it will work and the advantages to workers.

Q: How can government help?

FV: There are huge issues around reskilling and this is why collaboration between governments, industrials and institutions academics need to accelerate. The curriculum of universities is not keeping up with technological change.  We have a timing issue and a real need for new skills. Governments can play a role in helping scale-up reskilling programs. It is even more difficult for SMEs to adopt and to attract candidates with the right skills sets so there is a particular need for governments to help SMEs.

Q: What advice to you have for companies?

FV: Start preparing now and bring your teams with you in your transformation.

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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.