Business expansion, global cooperation

Interview with Hirozumi Sone, President & CEO, Azbil Corporation

By Claire Marchand

Technologies and systems are converging, and sometimes fundamentally changing how business is conducted. Customers increasingly want solutions that are future proof and able to adapt to their changing needs. In this interview Azbil President & CEO, Dr Hirozumi Sone explains how his company, a major provider of industrial and building control and automation, is able to discover and take advantage of new business opportunities that result from technology convergence. Sone sees active participation in IEC work as a strategic business tool that offers much more than dependable technical value.

Born in 1906

Azbil was established in 1906, the same year the IEC was founded. For many years the company has developed automation solutions that involve cross-cutting technologies and are used in a multitude of applications in many different areas.

Creating value

As Hirozumi Sone explains, to expand its customer base, Azbil needs to enable the integration of different technologies. That cannot be done without standards “That’s why standardization lies at the core of our business.”

Azbil’s business is focused on working together with the customer to create value: “We might use words like solutions, life-cycle and partnership but all of this basically means that we want to increase value over a long period of time.”

Basing Azbil’s work on standards creates value in a sustainable manner. By applying standardization, says Sone, the company is able to expand and build new solutions on existing bases.

A lasting impression

Asked what made him understand the importance of standards, Sone explains that when he joined Azbil, after graduating from University, he was involved in a major international project. A US partner was in charge of design and development, the project members where international and the product itself was to be installed in a factory in Japan.

The role played by standardization in that context made a lasting impression on him: “For such a project to succeed it is extremely important that all involved speak the same language, and I don’t mean English or Japanese. By using the same vocabulary, measurements and ratings, we had a common foundation. Technical and design transfers could be done as if we were all together in one place and from the same cultural background, because we were able to exactly understand what the other engineers meant. I clearly remember how it positively influenced our cooperation, allowing us to work smoothly and efficiently together.”

From theory to practice

To illustrate the value of standards, Sone cites two examples of Azbil’s involvement in IEC international standardization that led to important outcomes for his company.

One is a batch control, i.e. a way of controlling manufacturing. Azbil was involved in creating the standard method of control for this application and the standard is still widely used today.

The other is Fieldbus, a digital communication system used in networks in plant and factory automation environments. Azbil was involved from the very beginning and has supported this International Standard all the way through its development up to publication.

Standardization breeds innovation

In automation technology, Sone says, new value is created through various combinations of user needs and applications. Once a solution is standardized, it can be used by many different customers in various fields. This in turn can lead to new uses and applications and directly creates added value. “With standardization we are able to build more advanced solutions in a more stable way and connect them with what is already in place. […] We can invest more time in devising the next level of innovations. In that sense, standardization is very valuable and a direct contributor to our innovation process.”

Impact on business conduct

Sone goes even further, stating that standardization goes far beyond technological development and has a major impact of the way business is conducted. “A number of years ago, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management were treated separately. Because they are now combined under a single Standard, customers see them as one topic and budget for it in that way. This has fundamentally changed how we do business in that field and has significantly expanded Azbil’s scope.

Reaping benefits

For Sone, the benefits of participating in standardization are multiple. Past experiences are part of the standards development process and through them, companies can gain knowledge that helps them avoid unnecessary pitfalls. Active participation helps Azbil identify areas not yet covered that could be focused on and make certain that its technology is taken into account in the process. All this in turn helps create new business and make the company stronger.

A common language

Sone explains that the problems that technology needs to solve are becoming more complex and involve many companies. “We need to have a common language among different companies and different technology areas. We need to allow devices from many different manufacturers to safely connect and interoperate and that’s what standardization supports. The value for standardization is enormous and the need for it will only increase.”

Standardization as key business tool

Sone is convinced that standardization is not just a technical tool but rather an important business tool. “By understanding standardization activities you can create new business opportunities or improve your company’s operation. CEOs need to look at standardization as a tool that can allow them to do all of these things.”

Hirozumi Sone Hirozumi Sone, President and CEO, Azbil
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