Descent to Normalcy

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Several colleagues have traveled close to my new location, and we’ve shared some good meals with great conversation. Inevitably they asked for my observations on the state of the automation market.

Part of my answer, in short, would be to quote from a recent Seth Godin blog post, The Drift to Normal. As an organization grows in scale, the idiosyncrasy and distinctiveness that was originally informed by the taste of the founders moves toward the mean. Over time, things get more average.

He continues, “That’s because each new customer, each new supplier and each new employee wants or needs something a little more normal, at least sometimes. The drift to normal can only be countered by persistent effort, usually at the cost of some element of short-term scale.”

Here are a few points that capture my thinking:

  • Mature Market
  • We’re building few or no new plants—and the USA seems to be declining in activity with European and Asian automation companies for the most part showing reduced interest
  • Customers are not switching systems
  • Automation supplier consolidation
  • Innovative startups look for lucrative buyouts as their end game
  • Technology is stable
  • Technology is also consolidating
  • Effects of the changes:
  • Automation companies have reduced need for outside marketing partly due to spread of technology
  • Primary emphasis is on sales and service—keeping present customers satisfied, if not happy
  • Technology development involves tweaking current products and innovating through acquisition
  • Geographical retrenchment

For example, let us look at a brief history of National Instruments, nee NI, nee Emerson Test and Measurement. Three technical innovators created a startup with a vision of software defined instrumentation. They created a creative, entrepreneurial culture. For several years there was great energy, growth in business, growth in technology development. 

Then one year I noticed that the technology keynote at the annual user conference sounded more corporate. Less, “Gee Whiz” technology. People started to trickle away—either encouraged or seeing the changes. The leaders deliberately changed the culture toward corporatism preparing for an eventual sale. Then the sale happened to the epitome of corporate management in the market.

Note: not a criticism, but an observation. And it’s happening all through the market.

I have released a couple of podcasts on my platform at You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Overcast (my favorite), direct download, or from your podcatcher of choice.

Check out some thoughts on Standards and on Slow Productivity. My just released podcast includes a number of thoughts about the current state of the automation market.

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Verusen Joins AWS ISV Accelerate Program

Amazon Web Services just keeps growing in our market space. In this news Verusen, supplier of MRO optimization and collaboration products, announced joining the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Accelerate Program, a co-sell program for AWS Partners that provides software solutions that run on or integrate with AWS. 

The AWS ISV Accelerate Program enables Verusen to accelerate value for manufacturing customers by directly connecting with Verusen with the AWS Partner Network and Sales organizations. AWS provides Verusen with co-sell support and benefits to meet customer needs through collaboration with AWS field sellers globally. Co-selling provides better customer outcomes and ensures AWS and its partners’ mutual commitment. 

“Verusen is delivering industry-leading solutions to AWS customers worldwide, working with AWS Account Executives and Solutions Architects providing access to simplified transactions via AWS Marketplace,” said Scott Matthews, Verusen’s CEO. “Now, customers can achieve multiple benefits by accessing Verusen’s next-generation MRO optimization platform in AWS Marketplace.” 

Verusen’s inventory policy optimization, global material search, network and supplier collaboration, and data deduplication capabilities allow existing AWS customers to enhance their tech stack further to transform their end-to-end MRO materials management processes digitally. Manufacturers gain significant visibility to their entire MRO landscape through Verusen’s easy access to purpose-built MRO optimization solution utilizing cloud infrastructure. 

Marketing Thoughts

A few random thoughts about sales, marketing, and communication.


Starbucks has been an off-site workplace for me for more than 20 years. This despite having perhaps the worst tasting coffee (since I do not load it up with sugary flavors). The company has changed its marketing direction this year. News reports say it’s in response to market changes due to Covid. I think that is only part of the answer. 

The new Starbucks theme is not providing a cozy place to meet and work. It promotes ordering on the app, running in, picking up, and getting out quickly. Maybe with no human interaction. You order and pay online, run in, look at the extended counter, see your name on a cup, pick it up, and leave without a thanks, or hi, or whatever. The surfaces are hard, the seats hard and barely comfortable, and not many, and the music amplifies off the surfaces.

They are not alone. McDonalds has been long known for designing uncomfortable furniture to encourage a quick turnover. Over the past 15 years (in my memory), the company has changed coffee roasts three times. Where once the coffee was excellent, now it is a wimpy ghost of its former self. Buy the coffee and move along.

One of my German professors at university was from Vienna. He lamented the end of the Zehn Uhr Pause—the 10.00 break where gentlemen would congregate in coffee houses to discuss news or philosophy or whatever. Even in the 60s Viennese coffee houses were encouraging patrons to get the coffee and move along.


Presidents and marketing managers of software companies have been coming to me for years with PowerPoint presentations about hot new software. I ask, “What does it do?” They respond something akin to this press release recently received (that I hope is sanitized to protect the guilty).

To put it plainly, no one does exactly what we do. Our breadth of capability is unmatched, positioning us as the best partner to help your organization make its systems, equipment and people work to their highest potential. We start adding value day one with our unique approach to engagements: unlike our competition, we provide solutions instead of just asking questions. While others may offer generic pathway improvements, our team possesses the ability and willingness to get into the nitty gritty of your challenges and provide the solutions that work for you.

Not All Tech is in Silicon Valley

Riffing on Benedict Evans’ latest podcast called Another Podcast. He is a long time technology analyst whom I’ve followed for perhaps 20 years.

He was at an upscale restaurant in Italy recently and noticed the lights on the table. Not traditional candles, these were LED lights, with a battery and USB port for charging. 

LEDs are now everywhere. Not long ago, LED screens were prohibitively expensive. Lights were rare. This isn’t a Silicon Valley phenomenon. People who make interior decorative lighting saw the possibility, hired an engineer or two, and developed the product. They had the channel to market and relationships with customers.

Some 40 years ago while I was Quality Manager at a manufacturing plant for juvenile furniture, the general manager had a vision of lights (LED would have been perfect) on a high chair tray. There would be several. Perhaps they illuminated randomly and the child could slap at them. Maybe turn them on and off. We could have hired an electronics engineer (or I could have switched roles?) and done that back then.

It wouldn’t have taken Silicon Valley. 

Think also of the company who makes Tasers. It has relationships with almost all police organizations. They thought about products. Noticed they could combine small cameras that were now ubiquitous packaged with networking, audio, rugged packaging, and sell body cameras to those same police customers.

I’ve had jobs like that in my career where I scanned the environment for ideas from other places that we could use in our market.

We have had process and manufacturing engineers in our industry for years who absorbed technology in order to solve a problem. We needed “Silicon Valley” perhaps to design and manufacture components and provide foundational software. I’ve known many chemical engineers who became also computer engineers who then became also networking engineers all in order to solve process problems.

Yet, media reports would have us thinking that it’s all about Silicon Valley. It’s not.

So often it is not about the technology. It’s all about the problem we’re trying to solve.

Remember the Customer

Om Malik’s writing has inspired and influenced me for decades. He’s a thoughtful observer of the technology scene and a good photographer. He recently posted a piece about Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the new Meta–his replacement for Facebook when it finally fades. After quoting from Zuckerberg’s talk about where Meta is going, Om points out that it’s all about what Meta can get from its customers. Nothing about serving customers and society.

During this morning’s workout, my podcast picked up Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast. His theme began with a story from a management meeting at Chick-fil-A many years ago. A new restaurant chain had popped onto the radar. Executives viewed it as a threat. The discussion centered on growth. Like a race, they wanted to grow faster than the opponent.

Founder and chairman Truett Cathy pounded on the table to obtain attention. The room quieted. He looked around the room and said, “First, we work on improving quality. If we are always improving quality, then our customers will tell us to grow.”

Two polar opposite views of the market.

Do customers serve us? Do we serve customers?

I am weaning off Facebook. It truly is evil making money by trying to entice us toward posting ever more extreme (and stupid) stuff to capture attention. I have never been in a Chick-fil-A. That’s because I don’t eat chicken. But if I did, I’d patronize the place that is trying its best to serve me. I’d shun the place that is cynically using me to make more billions.

Now–you are going to glance at this brief essay and return to work. What are you going to do? Figure out how to improve quality in order to better serve customers? I hope you choose wisely.

5G Marketing Failures

5G has potential for industrial and manufacturing applications, but when have we heard that much about it? Analyst firm Global Data’s recent study says mobile operators are failing to come up with a strong marketing story.

The study by GlobalData Technology, which involved a July 2022 audit of around 30  standalone 5G  commercial deployments worldwide, concluded that although operators are keen to flag the adoption of standalone 5G in general marketing messages—largely focusing on the improved network quality and capabilities for enterprises—the number of standalone 5G references within consumer 5G service portfolios are few and far between.

Emma Mohr-McClune, Service Director at GlobalData, comments: “The lack of effective standalone 5G promotion is a real problem for the future of 5G monetization. Standalone 5G will be a vital requirement for a lot of the more exciting 5G use cases, from autonomous devices to commercial augmented and virtual reality.”

Mohr-McClune continues: “The few exceptional cases—in Singapore, but also in Germany and elsewhere—make for fascinating study. In the future, we could see more operators position standalone 5G as greener, safer, and more reliable than future generations of wireless technology, but the current industry is still waiting for signature use cases to give the upgrade meaning to consumers. In the meantime, we believe that most operators will focus on marketing the technology to the business sector, where there are more immediate and distinctive use cases emerging.

“In the Enterprise sector, it’s an entirely different story. Standalone 5G enables enterprises to set up their own, closed Private 5G networks, to better manage connectivity in ultra-connected working set-ups, such as ports and mines–or even ‘slice’ the network for prioritized levels of service for mission-critical operations. The benefits, use cases, and return on investment (ROI) are far clearer. However, in selling standalone 5G to consumers, operators are going to have to make sure they don’t repeat the same promises they spun out for non-standalone 5G, or risk appearing to contradict themselves.”

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