About 2 billion people around the globe touch Otis Elevator’s products each day—from the Empire State Building to the Eiffel Tower to the Burj Khalifa, and hundreds of thousands of mid-rises in between. But few riders ever think about the complicated mechanics hidden in the walls, nor do they fret about being vertically catapulted thousands of feet in mere seconds. They take it for granted that the product will work as it should, which is just how the company’s president, Judy Marks, wants it. “We love that people don’t think that they’re at risk when they use our product,” she said.
But don’t mistake reliable for prosaic, because the Internet of Things has opened the door to a whole new way of using the safety elevator invented by Elisha Graves Otis in 1853. For example, A.I. technology will allow passengers to be grouped by destination, thereby increasing speed and capacity by at least 25 percent, and offer them more valuable information along the way. On the maintenance side, predictive analytics will forecast potential issues so that parts can be fixed before breakdowns occur, minimizing out-of-service incidents for customers.
The challenge of bringing the lift into a new era is what attracted Marks to helm Otis, which is in the process of being spun out into a $12 billion standalone entity by parent company United Technologies. Every elevator has tons of data on it, says Marks, an electrical engineer by background who joined the company in October of 2017, following stints at IBM and Siemens. “How we apply that technology, how we become part of the mobility stream, to us and to me, is what was exciting. How do you optimize this incredible distributed infrastructure of tools, technology, and most importantly, employees and colleagues and be able to provide more value?”
To move the business forward, Marks knew she needed buy-in. She countered resistance among the company’s 68,000-plus employees with a simple strategy: “You communicate, communicate and communicate,” she said. “You share what you know as soon as you know it, but then you share some specificity in terms of where you’re going.”
Marks spent her first 100 days at Otis meeting with employees and getting a handle on the company’s strengths and weaknesses. She put iPhones in the hands of nearly all of Otis’s technicians so they could get comfortable with the technology, and went live with Yammer, Microsoft’s enterprise collaboration tool, so that decentralized employees around the world could share information and feel connected.
“Change is hard in any industry,” Marks added. “It’s all about, can you build a culture where change is consistent, where you’re communicating effectively and where people buy in and are part of the change agents?”
With the right tools and an emphasis on creative thinking, Marks believes Otis can. “We started this industry. We are going to lead this industry. And not only are we going to lead it with technology—we will lead it with the best service, the best people and with new innovations.”
Chief Executive spoke with Marks onstage during our recent CEO2CEO Summit in New York. What follows was edited for length and clarity:
You run one of the largest transportation companies in the world—one that’s not well understood.
We’re at a fascinating time in our business, which is the only U.S.-headquartered elevator company left in an industry going through significant change. We are one of those industries that has migrated from human operated to autonomous. You all take that for granted. There’s no longer an elevator operator in the elevator. But that wasn’t the case until people felt comfortable that they were going to be safe in an autonomous environment.
We move more people than fly. At Otis alone, two billion people a day touch our product throughout the globe. And they do it with the confidence that they will get from point A to point B, from floor 1 to maybe the top of the Burj Khalifa at over 2,700 feet tall, or take one of our escalators and then safely get on a metro. They believe that they will enter reliable equipment. And what we see emerging as a digital industrial in the future is a different passenger experience that goes with that, so these are exciting times.
What does the elevator of the future look like?
In the future, you won’t need a credential to get you through the turnstile and onto an elevator. It will already know it’s you and tell your iPhone, “Go to [elevator] H. It’s here.” If you’re the first person there in the morning, it will turn on the lights.
A.I. will help us with condition-based maintenance. Over 350,000 of our elevators every day send us their status so we know what’s working, what’s happening in buildings. With access to that data, we can tell you when a like elevator somewhere else may have a wear and tear issue and needs some preventive maintenance. It will then become predictive and prognostic in the future. The goal will be to know when an elevator will go down two days beforehand so we can send the part and the mechanic now and avoid you having any downtime as a customer.