"Change is the only constant, so we should tailor and support an organisation to support and achieve that."
Following SmartRail 2019 in Munich, we sat down with Valentina Ion, EMEA Industry Government Director at Microsoft, to speak about their work, the industry's challenge and solutions, and the event's importance to the rail sector.
First off, give us the elevator pitch about you and your role.
I've worked for Microsoft for more than 12 years now, in charge of the solutions strategy regarding government verticals and transportation. Railways are an absolutely strategic partner for us, taking into account that mobility is what fuels competitiveness and economical development in every country --and across countries as well.
Coming from a tech industry and working so much in IT, we have the right mindset to tackle complex issues in a problem-solving environment. The main thing is that you don't want to have the technology for the sake of technology -- you want to solve real life issues, and it is strategic for any type of business. It is about getting people together, enabling business to happen, enabling global supply chains, so we're also invested and interested as a customer of their industry.
The good thing about working on the public sector or with state organisations is that you yourself is a citizen -- you are experiencing the services of this organisation, and can see the issues it has. So if I can contribute to it, and Microsoft can contribute in that direction, absolutely, we will do it.
What are the biggest challenges you're facing on that digital transformation?
Mainly, the digital foundation is about people, culture, and digital skills, but also fostering innovation -- innovation itself is a daily process nowadays, and it has to be embedded in the business process and elevated at the leadership level. Change is the only constant, so we should tailor and support an organisation to support and achieve that.Overall, there is a lot of space and immediate gains when it comes to productivity and cost savings -- IoT has a lot to do with that space, and once an organisation is able to monetise and manage the data, we can go to new revenue streams and business models.
What was your participation, presentation, and workshops on SmartRail Munich about?
We were discussing digital transformation and giving insight into technology innovations, highlighting the innovation when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), thinking of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and bringing them down to the equipment, to the sensor, to the chip.
The tech is here, and it now enables us to solve very complex issues the industry is facing, opening the space for autonomous trains the same way we already implemented with car producers in autonomous cars platforms.
We also talked about real time location, big data, and definitely security and digital security -- anything that digitally transforms and can pass the cybersecurity layer will be highly exposed and highly at risk. The digital transformation is a journey, absolutely, and there are a lot of steps to be taken to integrate it with our customers business models. The working model for passenger transport mobility as a service with everything that is required -- as well as freight and intelligent freight systems -- both require a lot of steps to be taken.
Is there any topic you would like to talk about in future events?
I appreciated the focus on skills in some of the presentations, and it would be good to continue that conversation and go deeper on what it means and what are the skills that would be needed for the industry. What is the taxonomy, how do you build those skills, and share experience in that direction?
Also, there are many discussions and many questions when it comes to applicability of artificial intelligence and blockchain, because it’s at an early stage in the industry -- I definitely would love to see practical cases next year.
Finally, what you thought of SmartRail 2019?
It’s a really interesting setup, because it allows you to connect closely with the participants. It’s an event focused on custom knowledge sharing, and the biggest plus compared to other conferences for me is the fact that you get to see the people from the industry sharing their experience, their challenges, and then getting feedback and ideas from the people in the room. That's a big plus.
To meet other brilliant speakers like Valentina and amazing companies like Microsoft, join us at SmartMetro Madrid, from November 25-27th.