Judging from the lack of flame in my comments section, I guess the disgruntled element at Foxboro who like to post anonymously on Jim Pinto’s Weblog have written me off as hopelessly bought off by “management.” I’m sorry about that. I just try to take a broader view. Easy for me, since I don’t work there nor have I invested a lifetime of work there.

I’m sorry to see Invensys back in the news in a somewhat negative light. I don’t think I’d rank its board up there with Yahoo’s and HP’s for dysfunction, but I still fail to see a sustained (at least public) direction there. As I’ve written before, there are many, many great people in the various divisions that I cover and they deserve some consistent leadership with a vision of success.

What Would Gary Do?

The Silicon Valley writers whom I follow closely, would all take this opportunity to voice an opinion on what the company should do next. Understand that I’m not a financial genius and I have no inside knowledge. I am experienced in corporate politics and strategies, though, and I am a careful observer. So here are a few thoughts.

A wise and experienced CEO once discussed strategy with me and told me that a company can be a hardware company or a software company, but it cannot be both. The business models are too different to house within one system. Now, don’t quibble with me about all hardware containing software these days. Not the same thing. I’m not talking about embedded operating systems, communications links and the like. Can a company sell both instrumentation/control systems (or PLCs/controls) and application software (such as MOM or MES or ERP)? My teacher said, no.

I think Wonderware back standing on its own would make an attractive software company. The new architectures, adding Skelta, workflow, MES on top of (what ARC Advisory Group calls the leading) HMI/SCADA. The question would be, is it too small to stand alone? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. It’s possible that the era of hardware and systems companies jumping into software as a path to growth is about over.

The rest of Invensys Operations Management then takes on the appearance of its competitors. I’d take the work and ideas of Peter Martin and position the company as one which has the vision, people and products to help customers solve business problems of production. Sure, you use DCSs, instruments and the like, but this company doesn’t just sell products, it sells the idea of helping customer be profitable.

The challenge for this is that IOM is smaller than its rivals. And Emerson and ABB especially have been bulking up. Rockwell Automation has been growing rapidly, although it doesn’t offer instrumentation and final control elements to go along with its control and safety portfolio.

I’ve had some people call who think that merely a leadership change at IOM will make all the difference in the world. I know Mike Caliel and I have much respect for him. But expectations in some quarters are running very high right now. He has a challenge, for sure.

Competitive landscape

Watch for Jim Pinto’s 2012 Prognostications which will be online soon Automation World. He begins the column with the observation that 2012 could be a very interesting year in industrial automation. I think he’s right. Here are a few things I’ve pulled out of my recent travels and meetings that could lead to an interesting 2012:

ABB is beginning to seriously pull together its discrete automation offerings. It could become an even stronger competitor for Siemens (overall) and Rockwell Automation (in discrete) building from a strong process business base.

Rockwell Automation announced big growth numbers (although it didn’t say from what to what) for its process business. It’s taking share from someone. Could it begin to offer a more comprehensive challenge to Siemens Industry?

Changes at Invensys–who knows what that might bring? A big unknown.

The wild cards in the process space are Honeywell and Yokogawa. We’re all watching to see what 2012 brings for them. They each build from strong bases and could offer some interesting competitive scenarios.

Mitsubishi is showing signs of a more invigorated presence. As is Omron. B&R Automation and Beckhoff are both growing from their European machine builder bases. Competition in the discrete market is heating up, and many of these are trying to get into some process automation areas as well. Factor in National Instruments, which has some reach into automation, and add other players such as Advantech and Opto 22. Engineers have lots of choices.

Who will be the smaller challengers? The software business is getting interesting. We’re seeing some renewed life from Iconics and Indusoft with Inductive Automation continuing to grow. Especially the latter two are talking more about cloud and software-as-a-service. Watch for a flurry of announcements in that space.

Isn’t that supposedly an Irish curse–wishing to be born in interesting times? Or, is it a blessing? Regardless, I think 2012 will be interesting. My competitive juices are flowing, but I’ll just be here on the sidelines, as always.

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