timSowellTim Sowell, Schneider Electric Fellow and Vice President, is always thinking two or three steps ahead of the rest of us. His weekly blog is on my must-read list. This week he tackles the future role of systems integrators—assuming that manufacturing software becomes much more configurable out of the box (therefore requiring much less custom code).

“In a number of discussions this week and last year it was clear that in the next 5 to 10 years the role and way traditional System Integrators work in the Industry Supervisory/ Operational/ Information space, will transform significantly. Especially those serving the smaller to medium industrial market, customers will demand accelerated solutions with a different model of project management, e.g., no RFP, no long project cycle, expect pre canned domain knowledge. They will want setup fast, and results with understandable costs. Similar to Sales Force.com where your CRM system can be set up in days, is the model that early adopters are testing in 2014, and I expect to grow in 2015.”

I tweeted this out Sunday and wound up in an interesting Twitter conversation with Andy Robinson (@archestranaut). A couple of other people chimed in. More on that below.

No offense meant to the sales function, but manufacturing operations software is of necessity much more complex. Sowell implies that there is some beta or alpha testing going on, but it will be interesting to see how that develops. One of the biggest challenges is for the customer to rationalize and understand its operations such that a configurable solution will be feasible.

 

Sowell continues:

“So what is changing is that users are now wanting:

  • Solutions faster, minimal project removal of the project RFP process
  • Less involvement
  • Expect domain experience built in
  • Minimal impact on internal resources
  • Minimal risk
  • “Good enough” will do if it improves and minimal impact or up front cost
  • Minimal up front cost.

 

“So the new generation of System Integrator in the industrial world will be a “solution provider”. Providing a service of domain solutions hosted and built on an digital industrial platform from vendors such as Schneider-Electric. They will engage the customer in 3 to 5 year service contracts, but projects will be in weeks not months, years, RFPs will go away to selecting modules and completing configuration questionnaires.”

 

This begins another crucial thought process for systems integrators. I remember the height of the open systems movement from the late 90s through the early 2000s. SIs wondered if open systems would put them out of business. No more custom coding proprietary systems.

I suggested that open systems would require even more work from SIs, because someone would have to tie the parts together. In many ways, I don’t think open systems were as revolutionary as we thought they would be. However, the thought process did yield a number of standard interconnect technologies.

Now onward to operations management software. My next post after this one, as fate would have it, concerns just such a configurable system as Sowell envisions. In that case, much of the work can be done without systems integrators. The process is designed for small-to-medium-sized businesses presently, but it will be interesting to see how far the concept can be stretched.

 

Here is a glimpse of the twitter conversation I had with Andy Robinson:

 

@garymintchell – Controversial to system integrator community? “System Integrators Transformation to Solution Providers” http://invensyssysevolution.blogspot.com/2015/01/traditional-system-integrators.html …

 

@archestranaut – it will take a massive shift in thinking for customers but must start with the software platforms first

 

@archestranaut – yes bc the current solutions aren’t even close to good enough to just point click configure.

 

@archestranaut – also until customers are ready to accept 95% out of the box functions ala salesforce or google docs we aren’t there

 

@garymintchell – yes. How about need to rationalize processes before adding software? You can’t just slap software at a problem?

 

@archestranaut – agreed. We are light years from even the WordPress model where out of the box gets you 80% +19% with 3rd party themes

 

@archestranaut – but then again Tim thinks way out beyond what average folks are thinking.

 

 

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