ABB Ability—Strengthening Customer Relationships and Enhancing the Power of the Control Loop

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By Dan Shey | 1Q 2019 | IN-5423

Many industrial companies with established assets in the field have been slow to the Industrial IoT party. ABB is one of those companies; it went from having very little to market around IoT services to a headfirst jump into IoT with the launch of Ability, their umbrella brand for a suite of platform assets and IoT applications. This ABI Research executive foresight assesses ABB’s IoT platform services evolution and provides insight into their market positioning and recommendations for investment.

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Launch of ABB Ability


ABB is a Swiss multi-national industrial equipment and systems provider. Its products reside in two primary markets:industrial automation and electrification and power technologies. The industrial automation business consists of control systems, low-voltage drive units, generators, motors, and system-level products such as robotics. ABB’s electrification and power technologies business includes products of solar power systems, electrical distribution systems, electric vehicle charging systems, microgrids, power converters, transformers, and substation automation and control. Target markets for ABB products are many, with primary markets of manufacturing, utilities, oil and gas extraction and distribution, waste/water management, marine systems, and data centers.

ABB Ability, introduced in March 2017, is ABB’s solution set for IoT hardware, software, and services, bringing together its experience in industrial automation with connectivity, cloud assets, digital twin technology, and AI. Ability applications, designed for the class of products that ABB offers, number more than 180. At launch, they were mostly repackaging of existing applications under the Ability label; however, of the 180, most are point solutions within a broader solution umbrella defined either by the vertical market (e.g., ABB Ability for oil, gas, and chemicals which includes 11 point solutions) or the solution type (e.g., ServicePort, ABB’s condition-based monitoring solution, which includes nine point solutions). A deeper description of ABB Ability product offerings can be found in AN-2417, The Industrial Internet: Trends, Forecasts and Supplier Profiles.

The new components forming the initial foundation for the Ability brand were cloud access for many of the monitoring solutions and new analytics software and services. Microsoft and IBM are key partners for cloud services and analytics, respectively. ABB Ability services product development is led by a digital services team based in California.

Market Impact


Today, ABB Ability markets itself as both a platform and a solution set. From its initial offering it has now made several strategic choices, many at the platform level, to take Ability to the next level. ABB defines its platform services as “a set of common software technologies and services for the device, edge, and cloud which enable the rapid creation, extension, deployment, and operation of secure digital industrial applications.” This fits ABI Research’s broader definition, but there are several elements unique to its platform and approach worth highlighting:

  • Microsoft focused – ABB is building its IoT platform services around Microsoft Azure PaaS. Part of the calculation is that Ability services will be offered by ABB business units on their products, so standardizing on a common set of infrastructure and services is important. The other consideration that is a fundamental driver for ABB’s IoT strategy is the importance of speed to market, which can be accomplished using a common platform that offers multiple services for app development, data storage, analytics, etc. Finally, Microsoft still has a strong presence in industrial and manufacturing markets and it has established itself as a preferred cloud provider for industrial customers.
  • App-centered – Ability wraps its platform services into applications serving users of its equipment. An app-centric approach is also important because it is the ABB business units that are selling its IoT services. Customers are not paying for the Ability platform but for the applications which ultimately are the tools users need to support and manage ABB equipment.
  • Business unit-led – From both offer and pricing perspectives, ABB lets its business users create the packages of IoT services that best support their client base. Use of Ability is heavily influenced by the type of equipment, with higher capex equipment seeing faster adoption. One of the short-term objectives is to use Ability to lower overall maintenance contract costs and optimize workflow; in the long term, the goal is to build a suite of services.
  • Intercloud interoperability – ABB recognizes that it will not be the only provider of IoT services for its products, so it has enabled interoperability with other industrial clouds such as Lumada, Predix, Ecostruxure, and Hitachi. While the benefits are for enabling greater developer access, it is also needed as some customers are using Ability with non-ABB connected equipment.
  • Data ownership – ABB is taking security and data ownership seriously. First it has designed Ability with security as a core principle, including secure boot, firmware/software updates, communications, operations, and threat detection. In addition, leveraging this foundation, ABB is also being very clear that ABB does not have ownership of any Ability collected data and lets customers know how it uses its data.
  • Control options – One of the most significant additions to Ability is offering customers the business logic to control its ABB connected equipment rather than just monitor it. These tools are relatively new but are being developed for its various equipment and associated processes, many times involving the use of advanced analytics. This is one of the advantages of an OEM-provided IoT Platform—equipment operations and vertical market process knowledge can be leveraged to make operational adjustments to improve yield, uptime, and product quality.

Sensorization, Ability Ellipse, and the Bigger Picture


Ability is the enabler of IoT services, but ABB’s strategy has also extended to enterprise apps in the areas of asset performance management, workforce management, and enterprise asset management. These apps are bundled under the Ability Ellipse brand. Effectively these are apps designed for all levels of the organization to enable better orchestration of resources to monitor, service, and maintain connected assets.

Highlighting the evolution of ABB’s IoT Platform provides several useful insights:

  • OEM-led IoT platform communicates industry and equipment knowledge – OEM-led platforms, when designed correctly, can be powerful tools for serving existing customers with brownfield assets. It is much easier to sell to a customer who knows you know the equipment better than anyone—this is particularly the case with industrial equipment customers. However, a platform design that addresses the needs of the relevant internal stakeholders, leveraging the right partners and reducing areas of friction, is absolutely critical. Monitoring the developments of ABB’s Ability, it appears to be headed in the right direction.
  • App-led IoT solutions lower the barrier to entry – More and more companies are leading with apps and it is not a surprise. For industrial markets especially, the equipment operator needs tools to monitor and maintain the asset and if he has the right tools, then everyone else up the chain of command will get what they need—lower downtime, improved efficiencies, lower costs, and higher profitability. These benefits also extend to R&D and product development.
  • Business unit-led offerings – While the Ability team and the greater ABB organization has set parameters for offering its apps and related IoT services, the business units determine how Ability is offered, bundled, and priced. This demonstrates confidence in ABB business units, but is rooted in the long-term relationships that ABB has between the business units and customers. The business units have the best understanding of the customer history and future sales opportunities.
  • The power of owning the control loop – ABB believes one of its differentiators is mastering the control loop from supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and distributed control systems (DCS) to control room technologies, particularly in robotics, marine, and utilities markets. By leveraging this domain expertise and offering equipment control functions through Ability, ABB has a truly differentiated platform.

ABB has other initiatives designed to embrace the power of the ecosystem. It is building digital twin libraries that can leverage the CAD supplier market and be applied to AR applications. It also has an online marketplace, Ability Marketplace, that eases selection of IoT solutions organized around value proposition, solution segment, lifecycle phase, and vertical market.


What ABB needs to do now to drive greater value is identify non-ABB partners for its marketplace—particularly those that can support customers who operate more than just ABB products in areas of advisory, device management, and sensor augmentation. Its sensorization initiatives are also an area that needs continued investment, including the development of sensor solution bundles. ABB has a solid foundation of assets in this area, which includes expertise in WAN and LAN wireless solutions through its Tropos acquisition. ABB’s new Ability Power Transformer is a worthy example of its effort to combine advanced product sensorization with digital interfaces and the Ability IoT Platform. However, a large base of legacy ABB equipment needs sensorization solutions leveraging attachable devices and wireless technology. These solutions could also address factory owner and production manager needs to monitor adjacent non-ABB equipment for a more holistic view of operations.


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