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When was the last time you encountered an industrial pioneer?
I often have occasion to meet extraordinary people in business – people from companies of all sizes, who have spent many years growing and developing their companies, motivated always by the unfailing desire to give their customers better products and services. The keys to their success in this have been technology and innovation, in combination with new business models.

What is an industrial pioneer?
Industrial pioneers are people who work tirelessly to bring about improvement. A pioneer has the vision to formulate ideas, even if the technology is not yet there to make those ideas a reality. But the mere fact of describing those ideas and the technologies required is a key step along the way to one day being able to realize them. So in this sense, pioneers are characterized first and foremost by staying power. They need to be able to weather setbacks, learn from them and even perhaps draw on them as a source of motivation. And ultimately, industrial pioneers have to be able to successfully commercialize their inventions and innovations.

Industrial pioneers are people who work tirelessly to bring about improvement. A pioneer has the vision to formulate ideas, even if the technology is not yet there to make those ideas a reality.

If you were asked to name 3 pioneering technologies of the future, which would you choose, and why?
One major driver of new technologies, in my view, is individualization in the business-to-consumer segment. Individualization is generating new design and production processes and hence also new applications. In discrete and process manufacturing, this relates in particular to software applications that merge the real and virtual worlds. Examples of this include manufacturing IT technologies, such as edge computing, and IoT platforms like MindSphere. There is also a lot happening in the industrial security and industrial communication spaces. In terms of communication, I would name 5G as an example. In sectors other than industrial manufacturing, I see the key technologies as being mainly in the areas of autonomous vehicles and high-performance storage and charging systems. Of course, technologies should never be viewed in isolation. They must always add value to the business and they must always have a societal purpose – they should help make people’s lives better.

“Industrial Pioneers” is the title of this magazine. So, where are tomorrow’s pioneers? Are they at universities, or fab labs? In the USA, Europe, Asia?
You’ll find pioneers wherever technologies meet users, wherever there is feedback between technologies and their applications. And that can happen basically anywhere – there are no geographic confines or strongholds, especially now that the virtual world and dialogue via virtual networks offer almost boundless possibilities. That’s why we can expect to see an increasing level of innovation in the virtual space in particular, mainly in relation to digital services.

How does Siemens go about finding pioneers?
We dialogue with our customers at all levels so that we can understand their problems and partner with them to develop solutions that work. That’s why we invest more than five billion euros annually in research and development, not to mention well in excess of half a billion euros annually in employee education and professional development. In doing so, we are creating an environment in which pioneers can work, achieve their potential and contribute new ideas.

What do today’s young pioneers want that’s perhaps different than previous generations?
Industrial pioneers like to work more independently and to cooperate with partners in innovative networks. And by cooperation I mean teamwork that is based more on expertise and entrepreneurship than on traditional structures and hierarchies. Young industrial pioneers also have different, broader-ranging backgrounds in the use of software than previous generations. Consequently, they are often better able to judge and facilitate new opportunities in areas like data analysis and artificial intelligence.

What challenges does Siemens face in partnering with small enterprises that may be pioneers?
Many of our customers are small and mid-sized companies, hence we’ve been working with SMEs for decades already. The startup scene represents a new generation – one with whom we are forging ever-closer ties of cooperation, e.g. by means of our “next47” startup unit, the MindSphere Open Space in Berlin, developer competitions, hackathons and the like. We no longer feel the need to ‘go it alone’ and develop everything ourselves. It is more important to be part of an ecosystem and cooperate with the right partners, customers and other companies, be they startups, SMEs or large international corporations. We’re retaining our core competencies and extending them by participating in ecosystems, as the MindSphere example shows.