“Breaking boundaries with technology is exciting when it solves real problems”

Bazmi Husain, ABB’s chief technology officer (photo)

Bazmi Husain, ABB’s chief technology officer since January 2016, talks about changing models of innovation and the next big challenges for technology.

Q: How is the process of innovation changing?
ABB has always been focused on technological innovation – it’s in our DNA – and it used to be that we did most of it in-house, from basic research to product development. But with the explosion in technology today, no one can do everything themselves. To innovate at speed, you need an innovation ecosystem so we are working more closely with universities and often partner with other companies. We’re entering the era of partnership innovation.

Q: What are the benefits of ‘frugal’ innovation?
Frugal innovation is not just about cost but also about time and materials. As time to market keeps getting shorter and the rate at which products are introduced rises, frugal innovation becomes even more important – you have to move fast or somebody else will get there first. Because our R&D activities are dispersed globally, we’re well placed to keep up with this trend.

Q: How does collaboration with customers contribute to innovation?
Our customers expect quality and reliability so there can be no compromise on that. We’re working even more closely with our customers and involving them earlier than before to ensure that the products we release fit their needs exactly.

Q: How has ABB maintained its role as a pioneering technology leader?
Innovation is not a mathematical formula, but it’s clear that companies like ABB can tap into it over and over again. That’s what we mean when we say innovation is part of our DNA – it takes a long history to put that in place. My own experience is that there’s nothing about being big that prevents companies from being innovative. ABB works hard to keep its entrepreneurial culture. Our structure supports innovation because we’re broken down into business units and product groups and each of them is an agile entity.

Q: As the digital revolution advances, is cybersecurity a concern?
Any new technology brings exciting possibilities but also challenges, but there’s no reason to believe cybersecurity is an insurmountable problem. When electricity was first introduced, people worried it was dangerous. That’s why circuit breakers were invented. We’re working on new protection mechanisms for some of our new technologies. That’s what makes technology exciting; when it’s used to solve real problems.

Q: What are some of the next big challenges on the horizon?
We’re at the start of another industrial revolution, in which human thought is being augmented by machine learning, automation, and robotics. Another exciting topic is the environment. We have to innovate to decarbonize our economies and to reduce human impact on the environment.