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17.05.21

Digitalisation: Be ready to embrace change

Etienne Dock about our digital transformation and the importance of data.

Etienne Dock is head of digitalisation at Hager Group. Here he tells us what he likes about our new artwork by LAb[au] and how digitalisation will change the Hager Group.

Hager Group: Our exhibit by the artist collective LAb[au], which will be on display at the "L'Industrie Magnifique" art event in Strasbourg from June 3-13 2021 and installed permanently in Blieskastel afterwards, deals creatively with the topics of artificial intelligence and digitalisation. Where do you see parallels with digitalisation at Hager Group?

Etienne Dock: As the artwork by LAb[au] impressively shows, artificial intelligence can lead to real revelations. Ultimately, artificial intelligence is about analysing very large amounts of data and recognising correlations that humans alone would never be able to grasp. Even in everyday business, artificial intelligence (AI) often provides examples that make you realise: 'Wow, I wouldn't have thought of that'.

HG: Where does this analytical ability come from?

ED: Merging data is essential to this ability - data that would otherwise remain separated and processed in different systems. Only then does it become possible for software systems to create surprising cross-references. We can boil AI down to three things: mathematical rules and algorithms, data and computing capacity.

The mathematical rules are not new at all but it is only recently that we have the computing capacity and can access a sufficient amount of data to take advantage of them. But even with the current capacity we cannot generate an AI that can address as many different scenarios as a human brain could. Specialised scenarios is really where AI is most efficient. AI can play chess or Go for example or support medical diagnostics but they cannot switch - at least not yet.

HG: Is this digitalisation also apparent in our products?

ED: There are a few examples. Take the Hager Ready tool, which affords installers a quick overview of our product portfolio in order to find suitable products. With hagercad, we offer our customers the possibility of planning the electrical infrastructure of large construction projects. And with Hager Flow, we are addressing the optimization of home electrical consumption by combining PV production, battery storage and electrical vehicle charging. We have already launched version 1 on the German market. Our new BU Hager Energy will launch version 2 early 2022 combining the huge strength of E3DC and the feedback from version 1. 

HG: Comprehensive digitalisation, as is currently taking place at the Hager Group, naturally also entails a process of change. What do these changes look like?

At our production site in Obernai for example, we are now setting up a system that checks relays using optical sensors and automatic fault detection. Up to now, the relays have been inspected by our employees under the microscope. In this case, digitalisation means that the employees' workplaces and their tasks will change.

Automatic data collection and processing also means that information is always available at any time. Whereas in the past data was entered into a system at regular intervals within a certain work routine, in the future data will be handled much more flexibly. It can be retrieved and used at any time. This flexibility and permanent availability have enormous advantages. But they also change familiar work processes. I therefore see my task not least in ensuring that we leave no one behind in this process of change. Digitalisation and artificial intelligence offer great advantages. All our employees should benefit from this.

HG: How can every employee contribute to the company’s digital transformation?  

Data, if you like, is the bloodstream of any digital transformation. Good data flow therefore is critical for a healthy transformation. Each of our employees can contribute to this flow by making sure we understand how and where the data entered into any system will go on to be used. Like this, we can fully gage the criticality of our actions.

Of course, everyone can in general contribute to the digital contribution with great ideas, but for me it seems most important to always keep a very open mind and be ready to embrace change.

HG: Digitisation is often equated with more efficiency and leaner processes. What is that all about?

ED: It makes sense. Here, too, the solution is to systematically record processes and cast them in data in order to make decision-making paths and development processes transparent and comprehensible. This also applies to product development processes, for example. If all stages of a development process are systematically summarised in digital reports, it can be determined at any time why which decision was made. The reports are on the table. A hard basis is created on which prices can be calculated and product ideas can be compared with the actual market situation. All of this together leads to a product development process that is guided less by gut feeling and more on the basis of facts.

HG: You have listed many advantages of digitalisation. Do you also see negative aspects?

ED: Artificial intelligence still has the fundamental problem that algorithms sometimes work like a black box. You feed in data. The algorithms produces an answer. But how do I know that the answer is plausible or correct?

If an algorithm is fed with my health data and then answers that I only have one year to live, I want to know why. On the one hand, to find out if this is true, and on the other hand, to perhaps do more for my health.

Ultimately, LAb[au]'s artwork also plays with this black-box idea in a fascinating way. In the end, chance helps decide which words the machinery will produce. The task of the computer scientist is to design an algorithm in such a way that we can always understand how it has arrived at a result - or to program it in such a way that it reveals how it thinks. In this respect, digitalisation remains for me above all a great opportunity.

Thank you, Etienne, for this inspiring conversation.

You can visit our artwork “yes:no, perhaps” at the “L’Industrie Magnififque” in Strasbourg from 3 to 13 June. Afterwards it will be installed in Blieskastel, at Hager Group’s headquarters.

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