Meet the agents of change: Franco Atassi

Franco Atassi is CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure in the Middle East. He discusses key learnings and the foundations for meaningful and long-lasting change

You state that vision and commitment are the foundation for change. In your experience, how can business leaders effectively communicate their vision and ensure stakeholder buy-in?

It starts with aligning your vision to your values and strategic goals, clearly articulating that vision to stakeholders and explaining how it will benefit them. This process requires open and honest dialogue to ensure the vision incorporates stakeholder input.

Leaders must lead by example and show commitment to the vision through actions, not just words. By involving stakeholders, demonstrating transparency and ‘owning’ the vision, leaders can create a culture of trust and collaboration. That then fosters buy-in and leads to the transformation needed to address our greatest challenges. 

What are the game-changing smart infrastructure technologies in the Middle East and why? 

The pace of digital adoption is extremely fast, both in the Middle East and around the world. We are living in a ‘digitalisation moment’. The last decade was about connecting consumers. This decade is about connecting industry and infrastructure.

Some technologies are coupled with digital twins to maximise their impact. These include software and digital services for optimised energy efficiency, solutions for improved space and asset utilisation, and solutions for improved air quality in buildings and infrastructure. Digital and remote services are also part of the mix.   

A prime example is Expo City Dubai. Here, Siemens technology connects buildings, machines and facilities using MindSphere, an industrial Internet of Things (IoT) platform, to operate Expo’s infrastructure.

This infrastructure generates massive amounts of data. To give Expo operators a platform to access this data and to make decisions in real time, we designed a web-based smart city app.

This shows a digital twin of the Expo site and helps to provide actionable insights based on data from both Siemens and non-Siemens systems across the site. Through this app and digital twin, Expo reduces carbon emissions, conserves water and energy, and enhances visitors’ comfort and security.

What more can smart cities do to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy?

To decarbonise the planet, we need to make buildings smart and efficient globally. Energy consumption will almost double in the next 20 years, driven by a growing population and urbanisation. According to the United Nation's World Population Prospects 2022 report, there are 8 billion people worldwide, and every day 200,000 people move into cities.

Already, cities consume approximately 80 per cent of the energy being used on the planet, according to UN Habitat. They also account for 75 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. We can help to address that with technology. Our experience shows, for example, that with Siemens solutions, most buildings can achieve energy savings of 30 to 40 per cent.

If a city is smart, it should already have an IoT-enabled infrastructure controlling most of its critical functions. Smart grids optimise energy use, reduce waste and allow for the most efficient integration of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power into their energy mix.

Smart cities must have the technology in place for electric vehicles and public transport. The next step in sustainability is to ensure all the data generated in the city is analysed in real time, so that operators can make the best decisions possible to make people safer and more comfortable, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To what extent is government policy key to effecting change in the region and which governments do you see leading the agenda? 

Governments in the region are key drivers of change. We can see this in updated green building codes, growth of solar power and investment in green hydrogen. We can also see it in the promotion of Industry 4.0 manufacturing measures and initiatives to foster the growth of electric vehicles (EV).

In the UAE, the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (MoEI) and the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT), to name just two, have developed clear strategies to deploy technology that makes their sectors more efficient and productive while reducing waste and carbon emissions.

MoIAT recently launched the Industrial Technology Transformation Index, a comprehensive framework to measure the digital maturity and sustainability of factories and to formulate a roadmap for industrial transformation in the country.

MoEI, meanwhile, is developing the country’s EV charging infrastructure, and is deploying a nationwide network of ultra-fast EV chargers. 

What informs your future focus as we count down to 2030 sustainability goals?

At Siemens, we are confident that we will achieve our 2030 net zero target in our own operations.

We still face supply chain challenges, however. Our upstream emissions total approximately 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents and are therefore considerably higher than the emissions in our own business operations. This is because our supply-chain operations are more energy-intensive, largely due to the processing of raw materials.

We aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions generated in our supply chain by 20 per cent by 2030 compared to 2020. We also aim to achieve carbon dioxide-neutrality in our supply chain by 2050. 

As a change agent, what is your biggest lesson learnt? 

It’s a lesson I know and yet must constantly remind myself: Aim high. Often, we focus on what we know, what we can achieve quickly and what we can replicate.

To truly transform an industry, however, we must set ambitious targets – often referred to as a north star – that will have dramatic impact. This will create opportunities for the entire ecosystem to grow, to bring in both the public and private sectors and to enable them to thrive.

Then we can take tangible steps to get started. When we have this mindset, together with our partners, we have the greatest impact and can make infrastructure, manufacturing and transportation more energy efficient and sustainable.  

What groundbreaking projects or initiatives are you currently involved in?

The region’s accelerating adoption of EVs has great potential. According to the International Energy Agency, mobility is responsible for 37 per cent of all energy consumed, while data from The Brookings Institution states that pre-pandemic, transport made up 25 per cent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

There’s no way to achieve net zero goals therefore without EVs. In 2020, when we began discussions with the MoEI to help realise its sustainability and digitalisation targets, it was clear that we had to start with EV charging infrastructure.

Together with the Ministry, we are building a nationwide network of ultra-fast electric vehicle chargers. These will help to reduce carbon emissions, boost adoption of EVs by addressing ‘range anxiety’ and lay the groundwork for a more connected and sustainable transportation system.

The chargers are cloud-connected devices that can be monitored and managed remotely. The next step is integrating all charging infrastructure into one system and making sure the grid has the right technology to handle the eMobility transition.