10 Questions with Advantech North America’s General Manager: Ween Niu

1. What are Advantech’s core values?

First and foremost, we will always be a company that puts its customers first. Once a client engages with us, we want them to understand that our support and know-how will be at their disposal for the entire product life cycle. We strive to earn their trust, understand their full, unique requirements and aim to help them achieve their goals.

We also strive to be a reliable business partner. A big part of Advantech’s success is its ability and commitment to establish meaningful relationships. They are not just our customers, but rather our partners. The more our clients understand our processes – from design and validation to manufacturing and logistics – the more confidence and trust they’ll have in our partnership to ensure a successful outcome. 

Of course, at the heart of Advantech’s core values is our technology – our innovations enable better business intelligence. When people talk about digital transformation, it’s about reliability and connectivity, watching smart cities take form and changing lives. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had a front-row seat to how reliable connectivity in the era of IoT can be used to help curb the spread of deadly viruses. 

2. What makes Advantech a leader of embedded and automated solutions and services in the U.S.?

I believe our business model is very unique, with several key differentiators that set us apart from other companies. We offer over 1,500 standard products (3,000 part numbers, if you include products with varying options or features), so our solutions are both broad and diversified. This allows us to be a one-stop-shop and industry leader in the industrial PC market, which includes key verticals such as medical, automation, network security, city services, QSR, surveillance and many more. Think of us as the Amazon of industrial IoT. We have an incredible array of solutions from medical/healthcare hardware, factory and building automation, power plant and oil field monitoring, to industrial tablets and even 8k streaming and broadcasting.

3. This has got to be one of the most challenging years for any business or industry due to the shutdown caused by COVID-19. How was Advantech USA able to continue during this period?

These are extremely difficult times, and no company will come out of it unscathed. During these unprecedented times, leadership has had to make several arduous decisions. Looking back, I think the choices were obvious because we made these decisions with our peers’ well-being and safety as a top priority. However, before the President’s official social distancing orders and recommendations were in place, we made the timely decision to shut down all our events and non-essential travel as a precaution, due to safety concerns. Of course, as things unfolded even further, we continued making decisions that were centered around our teams best interests – allowing employees to work from home, stocking the office with masks, touchless temperature readings (using Advantech’s thermal systems) and sanitizer stations – for what we hoped was a quick return to normalcy. We now know that this was naively optimistic. 

However, decisions that put our people first, and our continued support of clients in both essential and non-essential businesses, has allowed us to keep moving forward. Interestingly, we probably have over a dozen projects in the works that currently support the fight against COVID-19 and future diseases.  

Additionally, we provide special support for two types of customers. The first type, I’ll refer to as the “pull-in” customers who need products urgently to deal with the needs driven by COVID-19. For these customers, we have worked overtime, added additional shifts and pulled all the levers in production to meet their needs. The second type, the “push-out” clients, are those who unexpectedly received a drop in demand due to COVID-19. For these customers, we simply had to provide more flexibility, push back or scale back on production and even allow for cancellations.

4. What is Advantech doing well in the U.S. market and where is there opportunity to grow?

Our experience and expertise in a myriad of vertical markets is by far Advantech’s biggest strength. We have a great team in the U.S. with years of experience navigating projects from start to finish and overcoming challenges that may hinder or halt others. Simply put, we speak the same tech language as our customers, and openly share our vertical market knowledge with them. This helps establish confidence in the relationship and reinforces their trust that we are a value-added company.

The fact of the matter is that the market in North America is bigger than other countries. There will always be opportunities in key industry verticals for us to grow in, such as medical, security, retail/QSR and automation.

5. What is Advantech’s immediate and long-term growth and expansion plan in the North American market? 

We plan to expand from four regional offices to six in 2020, which will give us a larger footprint in major North American cities.

Our new Toronto office will help drive local opportunities and expand our reach throughout Canada, while the new Chicago office will provide us with more comprehensive coverage in the Midwest region. This will enable Advantech to provide more localized support within these markets. Each new office brings more local opportunity in specific regional verticals. For instance, Boston is another city we are looking at for a potential new office. This office would open opportunities for us in verticals like robotics and life sciences in the New England region.

Regarding our long-term plans, we are hoping to double our revenue from $500 million to $1 billion within North America by 2025. To support this goal, we plan to open a new headquarters and second service center in Southern California. Both facilities are planned to start construction in 2021 and open in 2022. Strategically, this will support our business growth in the coming years.

6. Why should U.S. organizations choose Advantech as their IoT partner?

After almost 40 years in business, Advantech is a company that truly understands its mission and core values. Our business model is simple because we are in a niche market. For instance, if you have a heart problem, you pay the specialist price to see a cardiologist, not a common doctor. This is the exact reason why we are viewed as a valuable partner – clients understand our specialty, and value our focused expertise. Our business model is not about being the least expensive or most expensive solution in the industry, but rather a brand that our partners can trust and rely on. We offer premier service and flexible support and are one of the few industrial PC (IPC) companies that manufacture all our own hardware, with heavy emphasis on quality control and a track record that speaks for itself.

Additionally, there are very few IPC companies that can offer what we do. In fact, Advantech’s hardware and software can connect the dots between IoT eco-system partners and end-user customers, offering a complete IoT solution. It’s fairly easy to find a partner who offers hardware or software, but doesn’t have the capabilities to integrate, support and offer plug-and-play software that is validated. It’s extremely rare you will find a partner, like Advantech, that has it all.

7. What drives your passion about the Advantech brand? Why should others care?

We are the brand behind some amazing brands. I often wish we could list all the companies and projects our solutions have been utilized in, but for obvious reasons (e.g. NDAs) this list remains behind closed doors. However, when we see these projects come to life and how they are changing the world we live in, we can’t help but be passionate about the part we played, however small or big it may be. Our solutions are helping brands improve and save lives, conserve energy, reduce waste and pollution, lower crime, reduce accidents and even improve simple day-to-day activities. In the not so distant future, we will be able to walk into a restaurant and have them already know all our food allergies and preferences, to make more valuable meal recommendations before we’re even seated. Advantech is at the forefront of AI and IoT, which help our partners become more intelligent in this ever-changing digital landscape. We are proud to be a part of the evolution of technology that is transforming businesses and changing lifestyles. We are Advantech. We are enablers.

8. What do you hope to accomplish with Advantech in the next year?

I believe that if you are not always thinking of ways to improve, you will become complacent. While some changes may not always work out the way you intend, you must continue moving in order to progress and evolve – and often that means taking some risks. In the next year or two, our sales force will have a completely different focus. In making this shift, we will gain subject matter experts in all the key verticals of the markets we serve.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we imagine sales will be challenging in some markets and better in others, following the re-opening of the economy. We have a strong sense that 2021 will be a great bounce-back year, as our partners are eager to get back to business. We will make two major investments from June of this year onward; 1) recruit more talent and 2) increase products made or integrated in the U.S. I imagine there will be many talented people looking for career changes, due to the COVID-19 economic and social impacts. This is the right time for Advantech to enhance its most valuable asset – its people.

Next year, our business will change to meet the trends that arise in our industry. Our engineers will leverage local supply components to design products for pre-selected markets and set up local production, allowing us to penetrate regulated government, military and aerospace businesses.

9. Can you share what you believe to be the most important aspect of true leadership?

We understand that people and relationships are the keys to success! Our people are our most valuable asset – I’m not the first to say this, and definitely won’t be the last. As leaders, it’s important for us to put ourselves in our employees’ shoes to be able to better predict and address concerns before they become issues.

10. What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to new professionals or emerging leaders?

Treat everyone with respect and share your vision. Allow your peers and employees to be a part of the big picture by bringing them into your world and asking for their feedback.

Also, allow your people to make mistakes and help them learn from them. There are always better processes to resolve issues as people grow in their roles. Most importantly, set high standards and demand high returns.

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