On the lighter side of things, we ask Abha Dogra, SVP Digital Technology and North America CIO at Schneider Electric, what makes her tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Every year brings a set of new challenges that push me to be innovative and lead me to experience and celebrate new outcomes/successes/learnings. This has resulted in many memorable moments in my 21 year career. One that seems to always remain top-of-mind though was the decision early in my career to move from finance (investment banking) to software without any formal education in software engineering. This decision and major change put me on a new path that included completing a formal education in computer science at Boston University while I started my journey as a software developer. It was this initial transition to software that quickly opened the door to becoming a chief architect, which as I look back on my career is one of my most memorable achievements. That foundation of ‘treading the path of unknown’ and being comfortable in taking risks has been instrumental in my journey and evolution so far.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
My early education was in finance and investment banking, which is where I started my career in India. However, a financial crisis took hold in India as I was getting my footing in the field and resulted in little opportunity to apply my skills in portfolio management. This was a factor in my losing interest in the field and starting to explore other career paths. Being influenced by my brother and the growing hype around the Internet, my attention shifted to the technology field – and I started pursuing formal education in computer science. I began as a software developer, but very early on shifted to the area of enterprise architecture and eventually to strategic product management.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Depending on the scope of my role and state of the team and business maturity, my management philosophy transitions between Laissez-faire (equal power between me and my team) to strategic (dividing my focus between high level operations and team oversight) to transformational (constantly evolving and establishing new benchmarks and goals for business growth). In a mature set up my preferred style would be Laissez-faire as I believe my team knows what’s best. I intend to trust them to make excellent decisions and meet their own and customer needs.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
It is an extremely interesting time as we see the application of Internet technologies in traditional enterprises – traditional IT integrating with operations technology for digital technology. The most common technology trends that are being discussed are 1) Hyper automation by applying AI/ML and RPA technologies 2) Mixed Reality (AR/VR) leveraging high powered GPUs for enabling business processes 3) Climate tech driven by electrification – EVs and microgrid technologies 4) Cloud with Innovation at the Edge 5) Blockchain based economy and 6) 5G adoption.
Cloud and data driven business insights are also still key technology trends as post adoption requirements of scale continue to drive innovation.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Over the years, one of the things that I have started accepting is that stress is an outcome of two factors:
1) Not being aware of your input towards your work and being very honest about your self-assessment of the same.
2) Reacting to every external stimulus of stress building.
I believe if we are honest about #1 and work to manage #2, the combination will help with overall stress management. I also am careful to build in regular exercise schedules throughout my week and spend time connecting with more supportive people. Spending time doing the things I love when I am not working also helps with managing stress when I’m in the middle of a busy week – I love to read about history of different countries, and I travel frequently with my family and friends.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
I generally feel very satisfied with the choices I have made through my journey and believe they were based on my core values and beliefs. I therefore stand behind each decision. However, if I could go back, I would start the journey to develop my Emotional Quotient (EQ) earlier in my career. Our Intelligence Quotient development is the core focus during our academic years and hence there are many years of practice that we apply at work. EQ, which is of equal importance in nearly all workplaces, requires the same amount of practice, so I wish I could have started earlier on that journey.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
The big problem the energy sector has been tackling for many years is climate change, so I would say developing technologies to fight this phenomenon is the main area of investment right now in my line of work. We need to move quicker and take more action because the progress made between now and 2030 will have a much larger impact on our future than any action taken after that time – the damage will be done. These investments in things like what we call Energy 4.0 will lead to a much different world. While it is going to be immensely more digital and connected with the extreme adoption of IoT over the last few years, it is also going to be much more electric. Today, 20% of the energy we consume is electric, but over the next 10 years that will increase by at least 10% leading to a more sustainable future. Most of this progress and evolution will happen in buildings and in mobility. The major investment areas I would call our attention to are:
1) Furthering digitization and energy efficiency research and work;
2) Optimization of construction so everything we build new is built to be net zero, using the newest technology and especially software;
3) Creation of a future-proofed infrastructure, which will enable the development of those smart places, namely smart grid, electric vehicle infrastructure;
4) And lastly the deployment of the technology and solutions we have (70% of the present carbon emissions can be abated with present technologies)
Primary investments are in creating a future that will be more digital for efficiency, and more electric for decarbonization – showing that sustainability, smart and green digitization and electrification go hand in hand.
This explains what we have accomplished and been continuing to work toward at Schneider Electric for the past 20 years. Our persistent strategy is to develop technologies that empower all to make the most of our energy and resources. In line with these recommended investments, last year we finalized the acquisition of RIB Software, a global player in the Digital Transformation of the construction industry, concluded the acquisition of ETAP, which is a worldwide leader in electrical calculation and simulation, and completed our investment into Planon, which is a reference in smart building for real estate manager and facility managers.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?
Generally North America is a leading market in which ESG is becoming a corporate goal across the board. The mainstream adoption of connected things on industrial, manufacturing and logistics is rapidly increasing. There are however region-specific standards defined by bodies like NEMA that we have to be aware of in deploying our technologies. We also have to consider and abide by increasing data privacy and data residency laws especially as things get more connected and we adopt Zero Trust architecture.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
Over last year, I saw an increased amount of integration between business strategy, operations and technology, as well as the ability of CIOs to influence strategic decisions. With our focus on Digital Transformation for scale I see that continuing in 2022, with an increasing opportunity to be active in business growth.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
The energy sector is increasingly becoming very technology savvy. Having spent 18 years of my career in high-tech verticals, I am very excited to be part of a Fortune 500 company driven by the theme of sustainability and Digital Transformation and that promotes equality and talent. My main advice to anyone aspiring for growth in their career would be ‘take a chance’ on something that might not seem obvious but would excite you personally to get up daily.Click below to share this article