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Leadership in the digital era: A Q&A with new Seeq CEO Dr. Lisa J. Graham

March 4, 2022
“When adopting a new digital initiative, senior leadership must play the lead role.”

Seeq's Dr. Lisa J. Graham

Seeq Corporation, recently appointed  Dr. Lisa J. Graham as chief executive officer. (Former CEO and co-founder Steve Sliwa will remain at Seeq in an advisory role as vice chairman and co-founder.)

Leveraging Dr. Graham’s experience driving innovation in the process industries and with IIoT-focused organizations, she will focus on reinforcing a strong culture, while rapidly scaling the organization to achieve growth and revenue goals, Seeq notes.

“I am honored to step into the role of CEO at such a pivotal time in our company’s growth,” says Dr. Graham. “I look forward to working with the Seeq team and its board of directors to continue accelerating our business growth, while delivering great value to every one of our customers.”

We wanted to learn more, so we connected with Dr. Graham to explore the culture of digital transformation, digital initiatives in process industries, and combatting “the great resignation.”

Smart Industry: How important is the enterprise culture when pursuing digital transformation? What types of work culture lend themselves to the adoption of digitalization / what culture should be nurtured to ease the process?  
Dr. Graham: The enterprise culture is a critical driver of digital transformation. Work cultures that encourage employees, at all levels, to challenge traditional methodologies and propose new solutions will gain a competitive advantage over organizations that stick to their well-established, risk-averse business dynamics. But to be successful, these cultures must not only encourage employees to push boundaries with new digital initiatives, but also provide support, leadership, and follow-through from the top down to make these initiatives stick. 

When adopting a new digital initiative, senior leadership must provide dedicated support and play the lead role in communicating how the new solution fits into the organization’s overall business strategy. From there, key management personnel must be identified and trained to encourage changes, and to ensure proper training takes place throughout the workforce.
Lastly, and most importantly, organizations that proactively communicate and demonstrate why and how the new initiative will benefit employees will be the most successful and nurture the strongest cultures. By doing this, organizations recognize employees’ fear of the unknown, including the impact this change will have on their roles. Clearly and proactively communicating these benefits will help leadership gain employee buy-in from the start, and it will further strengthen a culture of trust throughout the organization. 

Smart Industry: What is unique about process industries when it comes to digital initiatives? Unique challenges? Unique opportunities?  

Dr. Graham: When it comes to digital initiatives, process manufacturers are already veterans, which is unique considering the concept of digitalization is still new to many industries. In fact, the process industries began transitioning to digital infrastructure nearly 50 years ago with the first distributed control system, then the proliferation of supervisory control and data acquisition and human-machine interface systems. Process manufacturers began generating and collecting massive amounts of data decades ago with sensors, digital networks, and programmable logic controllers. In process manufacturing plants today, tens of thousands of sensors are generating terabytes of data each day—recording flow, temperature, pressure, level, and other critical parameters. 
While process manufacturers have the unique opportunity of tapping decades of historical data for insights, they still face the challenge of efficiently analyzing all this data to investigate issues, optimize production, and support broader business objectives. Many are still stuck manually cleansing and contextualizing data in spreadsheets, which can take weeks or even months for each analysis. 

Without leveraging the right tools to rapidly discover, share and scale analyses across assets, these organizations stand to lose the momentum and digital-transformation leadership they have built over the last several decades. But with the right tools, they can build on this momentum to tackle real-world challenges and deliver tangible benefits, such as accelerating time-to-market for new medicines or significantly reducing environmental impact.

Smart Industry: Where do process industries, in general, stand with IT/OT convergence? Are we getting better? Is it getting easier as roles increasingly overlap?  

Dr. Graham: For more than 20 years, the process industries have worked tirelessly to bring IT and OT infrastructures together. From one organization to another, there are conflicting opinions on which holds prominence—IT or OT. Historically, it was believed that these two areas needed to be addressed in serial, but in reality they need to be addressed in parallel. A large gap remains among the agile approach required for dynamic decision support, the traditional waterfall approach of the control systems, and the risk-avoidant approach that can show up in both IT and OT.  
However, we are seeing software vendors make progress, enabling both groups in parallel. For example, Seeq provides OT teams with immediate access to data, while providing IT teams with the flexibility they need to continue evolving their data strategies.

Smart Industry: What most excites you as you adopt this role / the near future of industry in this digital age? 
Dr. Graham: There are a few things that I’m excited about as I adopt this role. First, I’m eager to support industries as they strive to achieve their sustainability goals through digital transformation efforts. We’ve seen sustainability shift from a “nice-to-have” effort to a critical business objective, as companies can no longer operate without addressing their environmental impact. But we’ve found that many organizations still lack the capital to support these initiatives.

I’m excited for our team to continue educating these organization by showing them how they can use the right digital tools to leverage their existing assets—namely the data they are already collecting—to make a positive environmental impact. This can happen by decreasing energy use, improving emissions reporting, minimizing consumption during downtime, etc., all without a significant capital investment.

Second, in the time of the “great resignation,” I look forward to further enabling companies as they put their most valuable resource—their people—front and center. Society is redefining what it means to be an engineer and organizations need to deliver the solutions and environment expected by this new generation. This means supplying solutions, like Seeq, that provide access to data and support agile, rapid teamwork and collaboration. It also means offering opportunities for engineers to continue growing their skill sets.

Lastly, and most importantly for younger generations, it means fostering democratized decision-making by allowing employees to provide input on projects and initiatives. I believe there is no empowerment without enablement, and I greatly anticipate enabling more companies to provide their workforces with the environment and resources they need to succeed today.

Moving into this role and this new year I’m excited about all things cloud. As we continue to see cloud providers, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, pivot to serve manufacturing customers, I look forward to continuing to invest in our cloud team to align with this movement and accelerate our customers’ time to value and their digital transformations.