Here is a final wrap on the ARC Forum along with some reflections.

Collaborative Value Networks

Andy Chatha, founder and president of ARC Advisory Group as well as host for this Forum which is essentially his “user group,” presented a new model and TLA (three-letter acronym)–Collaborative Value Networks. The idea is to model a move toward a single corporate-wide network that integrates all departments.

Don Taylor, Vice President of Advanced Materials at Dow in Midland, Mich., walked attendees through a case study of the value of collaboration and team development that helped the company assimilate its acquisitions–and move the culture of the business to one that is closer to the customer.

Wireless discord

While the overall tone of the week was one of optimism and the sense that automation and manufacturing were back on the front burner, there remained an undertone of discord around the seemingly never-ending struggles of the ISA100 committee to resolve differences around its standard for wireless sensor networks.

A panel of end users moderated by ARC’s Harry Forbes discussed the role of wireless in production (all the panelists represented refining and petrochemical plants). Herman Story, retired oil company engineer and currently a consultant and member of the ISA100 committee noted that the reason all of them were there and interested in the technology was because it represented a way for companies to save money.

Mike Brooks, a venture executive for Chevron, challenged the community to finish the standard. “I was here a year ago at the same forum and the same panel and little has happened in the year since. Refining margins are still slim. We need to do things to cut costs. I’m frankly [very mad] that nothing has happened.”

Story concluded by talking about the need for “one standard.” The remaining source of conflict on the committee revolves around WirelessHart. That technology is an IEC standard–something one end user told me privately he holds in low esteem because it is political, one vote per country instead of an end-user-driven standard. Regardless, it is a recognized standard that the ISA100 committee has been grappling with a way to reconcile. A minority block on the committee has been pushing for the committee to simply adopt WirelessHart. The majority wants to reconcile it with the already adopted standard (ISA100 has been adopted by ISA, but it was rejected by ANSI, leaving it in a bit of limbo).

So, I asked Story after the session how he defined “one standard” give the three existing standards (ISA100, WirelessHart and a Chinese standard that somewhat differs from the two). He told me he expects a convergence. I hope he’s right and that it will happen. Quite frankly, I’m weary of the politics and acrimony and ad hominem attacks–count your blessings if you are not part of the discussions.

If you don’t think this is crucial, an end user engineer who oversees many plants says he doesn’t want to support different wireless standards in different plants. It’s a source of pain he doesn’t want to live with.

Ommm

I’m just wondering if there is any way for leadership to appear in this discussion that says, “Let’s just all take a step back, take a deep breath, stop with the company politics, and then come up with a solution.” As one executive told me during the week, we’re spending too much time arguing about the solution without addressing the problem. Amen.

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