DSA Meets Partner Companies: Interview with Eugenio D’Ursi, Automate

Luca Lisci: Eugenio, could you give us a glimpse into your journey, emphasizing your professional background and the company you represent? We’d love to understand the current context and get to know the professional we have the pleasure of speaking with today, while keeping the details concise.

Eugenio D’Ursi: Certainly, Luca. My journey is rooted in academia, with degrees in Computer and Management Engineering. A passion for automation led me to apply computational logic in areas where making things work was a priority. The company grew, and with it, the need to develop new management skills, leading me to pursue an EMBA at LUISS. From an initial core of five people, we’ve expanded to over 50 professionals, marking significant evolution. My passion for innovation drove me towards a Ph.D. in technological innovation, which I will embark on soon.

The sector we operate in demands constant vigilance; it’s crucial to identify and follow the megatrend most aligned with our competencies. We’re not a multinational, but this allows us to carefully select directions that fit well with our abilities and focus investments. We enjoy exploring, observing, and immersing ourselves in new territories. This curiosity led us to the emerging field of decision science and AI applied to industry, a relatively uncharted territory for us.

We’re embracing this transition with enthusiasm, considering it essential to stay competitive and aim for excellence in our field.

Luca Lisci: Could you explain Automate’s role in the current market? Considering the importance of trends and strategic choices you mentioned, what is Automate’s specific focus in this scenario?

Eugenio D’Ursi: Automate defined its strategy several years ago, to be a ‘skill integrator’, integrating different competencies to become the new generation of integrated systems. By “new generation,” we mean a system capable of incorporating various themes and aspects of the industrial world. We like to see Automate as a comb with a solid base coordinating and synchronizing the teeth, representing specific solutions and various technologies or knowledge that are currently not in our portfolio but are being integrated.

Although Decision Science wasn’t one of our original competencies, the concept of equipping plants with autonomous and intelligent decision-making capability has always been inherent in automation. We’re evolving existing algorithms within very codified processes, so, in a sense, we’re continuing along the trajectory we had envisioned. Automate thus positions itself as that comb, holding together different technologies and aspects of the industrial sector.

Luca Lisci: What emerging trends do you see as relevant in the short term, especially considering the accelerated pace of innovation?

Eugenio D’Ursi: Our focus is on production processes, especially in mass production, which must handle large quantities of products with a wide range of variables in short times and with strict deadlines. Product life cycles have shortened, and to keep pace, it’s crucial to improve internal decision-making processes. This is achieved by integrating AI and machine learning to make processes more autonomous and streamlined. Technologies like IoT play a key role, providing connectivity and updates without interrupting production.

To optimize these systems, we need a greater flow of information, which can be provided by existing machinery or added without stopping production. IoT helps here, allowing the introduction of wireless technology and extended connectivity. We’re also beginning to see collaboration between autonomous systems in the industrial sector to perform more complex tasks, increasing overall efficiency. With the management of large amounts of data, integrating concepts like big data and advanced analytics is essential to make this information usable.

Edge computing is becoming important for handling the mass of data generated close to the machines, maintaining the quality of information. Moreover, cybersecurity becomes crucial with the use of industrial Ethernet networks. And let’s not forget blockchain, which comes into play in regulated environments. Essentially, data management and processing are key to staying competitive.

In conclusion, in the context of industry 5.0, decisions must be made with a long-term vision and oriented towards sustainability, both in production and energy terms, with an ethical consideration of the production process. This is a pleasant imperative but complicates the management of production processes.

Luca Lisci: Let’s say that challenges are omnipresent and for a dynamic reality like Automate, this, I am sure, represents a powerful stimulus for you. I’m very curious about the daily life in your company, considering innovation as a driver of meaning and opportunity. Could you share an aspect of your daily work that you find particularly noteworthy?

Eugenio D’Ursi: Certainly. First, I agree with you that innovation is “big stuff,” a phrase that perfectly encapsulates the concept of innovation, which, incidentally, can be costly. Therefore, it’s crucial not to waste resources unnecessarily, especially in an SME where there isn’t a department dedicated to targeted investments. To stand out in a competitive and complex sector like automation, we must be innovative. I’ll share an episode I consider among the most significant in Automate’s history. Our expertise in airport logistics automation and baggage sorting emerged from a happenstance. During a meeting to address baggage sorting problems at a major airport, we faced a significant challenge.

The issues? Lost baggage, flight delays, dissatisfied passengers, and consequently economic and reputational damage. We’re talking about systems that are technologically simple, and the proposed solutions were all oriented towards massive hardware intervention. Our proposal, simple but innovative, initially elicited laughter. But what was our proposal?

We suggested not modifying the existing hardware, but intervening on the software, slowing down processes instead of speeding them up, making baggage flows more robust and controlled. The winning card? Implementing the solution during the night, from 23:00 to 04:00, when the airport doesn’t operate, thus avoiding production stops.

Our initiative gained trust, we were given the opportunity to prove its value, and successfully, we showed that not only does our system work, but it also significantly improved flow control, reducing the percentage of disjointed flights from 27% to 4%. Of course, the software alone doesn’t work miracles, but it played a crucial role. Additionally, we optimized energy consumption by working on the right parameters. Automate stands out for its technical expertise and reliability: when we promise something, we deliver it at all costs.

Luca Lisci: This episode you shared is very enlightening. What I see is not just engineering and computer excellence, but also a certain proactive cunning. I mean the ability to identify the limits of a business and overcome them not just with brute force, but with a savvy approach, aimed at the result rather than the means used. It’s truly impressive and speaks of a particularly distinctive generation of innovators.

I believe we are also witnessing a cultural shift regarding innovation in Italy and, more broadly, internationally. We’ve reached this point through a complex, almost hysterical path towards innovation, as if it were more an overwhelming wave than a scientific discipline. However, I think it’s crucial to temper our enthusiasm, take a pause, and consider innovation not just as a market but as a new economic condition from which no one is excluded.

Eugenio D’Ursi: I agree. Innovation must be rooted in technological culture and market understanding. Instead of blindly following a “gut idea,” it’s essential that innovation becomes a studied and conscious process. It’s crucial to understand the sector in which you operate and the most suitable technological trends to innovate effectively.

One must learn quickly from the market and past mistakes. This approach, applicable both in industrial plants and in everyday business management, implies a continuous cycle of planning, execution, verification, and adjustment, to refine strategy and ensure long-term success.

Luca Lisci: This manual is really a work of quality, I must say. I have a reflection that risks becoming trite over time, and precisely for this reason, I want to try to formulate it so that it doesn’t sound rhetorical. What role do you see for artificial intelligence, in the coming years considering all its facets, from decision science to machine learning? How will the perception of these technologies change among your clients and business teams in the coming months? Do you foresee widespread adoption?

Eugenio D’Ursi: Artificial intelligence is definitely an opportunity in the production world but is also seen as a potential threat to the loss of know-how and jobs. That’s why Explainable AI (XAI) is gaining attention because AI solutions must be understandable. Human-machine interfaces must be clear so that those using these technologies can easily adopt them. The goal is for our algorithms to make decisions autonomously, but as close as possible to how a human operator would have acted.

This requires a change in cultural perspective. We need to improve how we represent decisions to make them more transparent and then, yes, we need to start adopting technological solutions like AI and machine learning for continuous optimization and meaningful analysis of processes. Technologies like augmented reality and blockchain will soon become widespread tools. Our task is to simplify heterogeneous data sources to make algorithms more accessible, and we need professionals capable of understanding the specific context in which AI will be applied.

I imagine that we, as a system integrator, will have to evolve our approach to be more than just a product supplier but a long-term technological partner. Today we talk about end-to-end automation, which follows the life cycle of a product or plant from beginning to end, offering software solutions that evolve together with the operational environment. This will also allow for distributing the costs of interventions, often significant, necessary to introduce decision algorithms. It’s a process that takes time and a change of approach for a more holistic view of the entire industrial process.

Luca Lisci: Eugenio, I am extremely grateful for this stimulating conversation. Before concluding, I would like to ask you a special favor. As a business partner and innovator, I would invite you to express your wishes and hopes for the Decision Science Alliance. What can the DSA represent for the future of businesses and what requests or expectations do you have towards the DSA? How do you think we can, as an Alliance, amplify our mission to promote and apply decision science in the business world?

Eugenio D’Ursi: The DSA is an exceptional initiative, and I would like to start by congratulating you on this. I think the most concrete action for an association is precisely “associating” – actively involving partners and organizing collaborative events, like the recent one or the upcoming one in Valencia. But the essential thing is to start from the needs expressed by the partners, the collaborating companies. Establishing round tables on specific topics, perhaps proposed by a partner like Automate, where different voices and ideas can converge and exchange contributions, could be an effective strategy for the DSA.

The DSA could act as a ‘library’ of artificial intelligence and decision science. Participating in the DSA, I expect to access a vast catalog of resources and opportunities to enrich and expand our knowledge and capabilities. In an era where there is so much talk of generative AI, having a clear and reliable reference point is fundamental; otherwise, we would find ourselves wandering in a vast and confused sea like the web without knowing where to land.

Luca Lisci: Eugenio, I sincerely thank you for the time dedicated to us today. I am sure that our audience will draw great inspiration and interest from our discussion. A formal thank you goes to Automate for inaugurating this wonderful collaboration with the association. We look forward to exploring the ideas you offered and continuing our discussion on other platforms.

Eugenio D’Ursi: Thank you as well, it’s been a pleasure to participate.