Keeping innovation going at a 130-year-old company

Our digital offering, ABB Ability™ is helping to drive this long history

I work for a technology leader, with roots going back more than 130 years. At that time, the company disrupted the market with a brand new technology the way Google, Amazon, Uber and Apple have done in recent years. Back then, the big disrupter was called electricity. Today, data is the big disrupter.

The four divisions of ABB are either number one or two in their respective markets. At every conference I visit, people ask me how a 130-year company can manage that. How can ABB remain a technology leader for such an extended period?

The answer is straightforward: by walking the walk and not just talking the talk. We do not just tell our customers how to innovate; we actually use our own innovations. For example, ABB robots run complicated processes to test the chips we produce in our semiconductor plant in Lenzburg, Switzerland. And our factory in Heidelberg, Germany, uses ABB automation tools and robots, to make miniature circuit breakers.

The crucial digital enabler helping to drive this innovation is ABB Ability™, our digital offering.  ABB Ability™ extends from device to edge to cloud and includes a platform of solutions, which enables our customers to increase their productivity and lower costs. Launched in 2017, ABB Ability™ now offers more than 210 solutions.

To keep innovation at the core of our corporate culture we surround ourselves with other innovators. Innovation cannot thrive in isolation, so it is important to be part of an innovation ecosystem. In the era of digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI), this is more important than ever, given the pace and complexity of technological change, which is simply too great for any organization to master alone.

We connect with these innovators through partnerships with leading global companies such as Microsoft, universities like Imperial College in London and ETH in Zurich, and of course, creative startups. Our industry collaboration with Microsoft makes ABB Ability digital solutions available on the Azure cloud. We have partnered with HPE to provide secure edge datacenters, and with IBM Watson to develop AI-driven solutions for industries.

The ABB Ability™ Lighthouse program is ABB’s internal incubator. I helped to set it up two years ago to work as a catalyst for all the innovative, creative ideas that are emerging throughout the company. Its “fail fast” philosophy has helped to create and kick-start a host of new products and initiatives. These new innovative projects were created in close cooperation with our customers. One project is paving the way for autonomous marine vessels, using ABB sensors and positioning technology. Another project uses drones to analyze pipelines and detect gas leaks, using ABB’s patented gas analyzing technology.

Recently, we introduced another exciting Lighthouse project, the ABB Ability Marketplace™, which offers our innovative ABB Ability™ software in one central online location and gives our customers full flexibility to purchase and tailor their digital solutions portfolio. The ABB Ability Marketplace™ makes it easier than ever for our customers to unlock the potential of our connected products and services. We made it a fully open B2B exchange, where our partners can also bring in their best innovations.

Take for example ABB Ability™ Electrical Distribution Control System (EDCS), which is based on our innovative connectivity solutions and a cloud-computing platform, which helps our customers to monitor, optimize and control the energy distribution systems in their sites and facilities.

Another example is ABB Ability™ nMarket. The offering, which was included as a finalist in Microsoft’s manufacturing partner of the year contest, is a field-tested transaction management tool for today’s energy markets that provides an integrated, bid-to-bill transaction management platform. Customers can instantly download and install the latest changes in market regulations from ABB Ability Marketplace™.

As we develop new digital solutions for our portfolio, we will expand the range of our applications, services and plug-ins collaborating with our best partners. Our goal is to become the one place where our customers and partners meet and gain maximum value from ABB Ability™, using all possible resource to keep innovating.

The ABB Ability Marketplace™ is a testimony to ABB’s open and innovative culture, marking the next step in the more than 130-year journey.  ABB Ability Marketplace™ will bring together our customers, partners and developers in new and exciting ways.  ABB Ability Marketplace™ is an important building block in ABB’s digital transformation and we would like to bring along our customers and partners in the next innovation wave. Keeping our tradition of innovative alive and flourishing.

Visit the ABB Ability Marketplace at and

Categories and Tags
About the author

Alain Schaefer

Alain joined ABB in 2007 and has held various management positions at ABB’s Substation Automation Business in Switzerland and South Korea. Before that, Alain was in Brazil with Atos Automação, now Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation. Alain earned a Master’s degree in Electrical Science from the Institute of the Brazilian Airforce (ITA), where he worked on real-time operating systems for satellites. Alain has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from University of Applied Science Rapperswil, Switzerland.
Comment on this article