I just received my Spectrum invoice for the month. It was up 15% over last month. Last month it was up 10% over the month before. I called. The guy told me, yes, and it will increase another 15% next year.
However, if I were a new customer, I’d receive a 30% discount. I said, if I quit and come back, then I’d reduce my bill. But, I’d have to go 30 days without cable. I said, that must be why I’m seeing so many signs popping up all over my neighborhood proclaiming a switch from Spectrum to the only competitor in town.
The cable TV business is tough these days. Therefore, consolidation is not surprising. Spectrum (Century) acquired Time Warner Cable. So, they raise rates to pay for the acquisition. In the end, consolidation does not benefit the customer with lower costs.
Unfortunately for them, there is another alternative. I can keep the Internet cable connection, which isn’t bad, and drop the phone (who needs “land line” anymore anyway) and drop TV. Most of what we watch we can stream over Amazon Prime and Netflix. I just have to discover where to get my soccer fix.
The reason I relate this story involves treating it like a fable—a story with a moral.
I also see much consolidation in the controls and automation market. This is inevitable. It reveals the state of maturity of the market. I used to earn some money consulting with companies about potential acquisitions in industrial instrumentation, control, and automation. The deals have been done. I haven’t had an inquiry for a year.
Check out how ABB, Emerson, and Schneider Electric are all growing through acquisition becoming more viable all-around competitors to Siemens. Look at how the stock prices of Emerson and Rockwell Automation shot up last fall when Emerson was pursuing an acquisition. Rockwell’s board turned down the offer and both stocks dropped. But both stocks have been on quite a rise for the past few weeks. One wonders? That combination would really shake things up.
I have no inside knowledge, and I’m definitely not telling you to rush out and buy stock. However, for all of you who are customers, I’d keep my eyes open and contacts updated.
It starts with digital then moving toward autonomous processes. I’ve written about the strategy ABB has followed for the past four years since Ulrich Spiesshofer assumed the CEO post. We can summarize much of the strategy and also technology roadmap from those two words.
Spiesshofer brought in Guido Jouret in 2017 from Cisco for the role of Chief Digital Officer with the task of bringing digital to all business units. He has made a lot of progress in this short period of time.
Jouret elaborated, “We aren’t trying to be a software company, but hardware requires software.”
Kevin Kosisko, business unit managing director power generation & water, industrial automation and my interview about all things digital at the ABB Customer World conference. We talked about what autonomous meant. “Things we can do without sending people,” he told me. “For example, consider an oil platform taking the first step toward autonomous. Say they must take down a well for routine inspections and then bring it back up. It’s a difficult task, not to mention danger of flying crew to platform and being in the environment. So a combination of digital + autonomous to remove as much human intervention as possible. They took 2 days out of the entire process. That’s 2 additional days of production.”
Two things he told me that highlighted themes I would hear later. The first as “autonomous” being toward the end of a continuum going beyond preventive and predictive. Second, to use the digital twin model to help operators and engineers remove manual steps from a process.
Later I found a spot at the back of a full house for a panel on autonomous—The Journey Towards Autonomy in Industrial Operations Panelists were:
- Matthias Roese, Chief Technologist Manufacturing & Automotive, HPE
- Hakon Berg, Technology Development Manager, ABB
- Dr. Zied Ouertani, Global Digital Lead, Chemicals, ABB
- David Funderberg, Technology Manager, Chemical and Refining, ABB
Businesses in the industrial space have undergone a paradigm shift to move from isolated operations to collaborative and ultimately more autonomous operations. By 2025 we will witness humans working with systems in a collaborative way, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) seamlessly. Disruptive technologies like AI, machine learning and augmented reality (AR) have all changed the way we do everyday tasks and in some cases made them autonomous. Hands-free collaboration can help repair remote issues or predict plant incidents.
The goal does not include taking humans out of the loop. I’m afraid I instigated a post-panel discussion where an editor argued that very definition of autonomous is “without humans”. So, he was asking the usual question you get from newspaper reporters and politicians—are they doing away with humans in production and manufacturing. Rebuttal came from one of the panelists who suggested he look at autonomous as part of a continuum, e.g., preventive->predictive->prescriptive->self-healing->operates with minimal supervision. This is applicable probably not to an entire plant, but to certain processes.
Guido Jouret spoke later on the status of digital at ABB following two years into his digital transformation leadership. He said the digital emphasis has led to more interactions with customers. And there are 185%
18.5% more customers year over year. ABB gets invited at earlier stages of the project process allowing it more input and influence. The company also has better C-level conversations with customers. ABB Ability should be considered a new technology platform.
ABB Customer World began Monday, but keynotes began Tuesday. Uli Spiesshofer, ABB CEO, described a renewed and refocused business model. ABB is all in for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digitalization with ABB Ability, says Spiesshofer.
ABB Ability is essentially a platform with APIs connecting field, edge, and cloud with Analytics as a Service built in.
Spiesshofer noted 2014 business plan for ABB was to No. 1 or 2 in the world in each of its businesses. With move of power grid business with Hitachi, by 2018 the goal had been accomplished.
ABB took three action steps in its latest corporate makeover—Focus on digital business, Simplify organization, and Shape four leading businesses that include power, electrification, industrial automation, motion, robotics and discrete automation. The simplified organization took the company from its historic matrix structure to solidify four business units with strong leadership. The move also reduced corporate overhead.
The recent partnership with Dassault adds digital twin capability enhancing digitalization. Later discussions talked about how this capability helps ABB have customer conversations earlier in the project lifecycle.
The featured partnership at ABB Customer World was with HPE with President and CEO Anthony Neri speaking. Neri says HPE is built with partnerships—some 70% of the business. He told the approximately 11,000 attendees that the partnership of the two companies was a great blending of IT and OT for the benefit of customers.
Neri discussed the importance of Edge to Cloud. The Edge defined as “places where we live and work” is also the primary source of data only 6% of which is utilized right now.
He concluded saying HPE wants to work for solutions to the world’s biggest problems. “We have an insatiable desire to understand everything.”
Rockwell Automation has been busy since its rejection of a take over offer by Emerson some 15 months ago—something that sent its stock price into a bit of a dive. It made a major investment in PTC in order to have some say and a close relationship to its Internet of Things developments. Then it acquired Emulate3D to enhance its digital twin offering give the inability to form a solid alliance with Dassault Systemes.
Now, bolstering its lagging process automation business, it has formed a joint venture company with Schlumberger. This is very interesting and could stir up a little competition in the oil & gas automation sector.
The companies have entered into an agreement to create a new joint venture, Sensia, the first fully integrated digital oilfield automation solutions provider.
The transaction is expected to close, and the joint venture is expected to begin serving customers, in the summer of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions.
The Sensia joint venture will be the first fully integrated provider of measurement solutions, domain expertise, and automation to the oil and gas industry. It will offer scalable, cloud and edge-enabled process automation, including information and process safety solutions. From intelligent systems to fully engineered life-cycle management automation solutions, the joint venture will help customers drive efficiency gains through measurement and data driven intelligent automation.
“Oilfield operators strive to maximize the value of their investments by safely reducing the time from drilling to production, optimizing output of conventional and unconventional wells, and extending well life,” said Blake Moret, Chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation. “Currently, no single provider exists that offers the end-to-end solutions and technology platform that address these challenges. Sensia will be uniquely positioned to connect disparate assets and reduce manual processes with secure, scalable solutions that are integrated into one technology platform.
“As oil and gas producers strive to improve productivity, we will bring the value of the Connected Enterprise to life for them. Sensia will provide complete lifecycle and process automation solutions from well to terminal, including industry-leading oilfield technology and expertise,” said Moret.
“Sensia will create a leading technology provider that will further drive optimization of E&P oilfield assets,” said Paal Kibsgaard, Chairman and CEO, Schlumberger. “This joint venture is the next step in our vision to offer our customers smart, connected devices with rich diagnostic capabilities, coupled with measurement, automation and analytics that improve oilfield operations, facilitate business decisions and reduce total cost of ownership throughout the life of a field.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Sensia will operate as an independent entity, with Rockwell Automation owning 53% and Schlumberger owning 47% of the joint venture. Sensia is expected to generate annual revenue of $400 million, and will employ approximately 1,000 team members serving customers in more than 80 countries, with global headquarters in Houston, Texas. The management team will be led by Allan Rentcome, who will serve as Chief Executive Officer. He is currently Director Global Technology – Systems and Solutions Business at Rockwell Automation.
As part of the transaction, Rockwell Automation will make a $250 million payment to Schlumberger at closing, which will be funded by cash on hand. Following this investment, Rockwell Automation will maintain its strong financial flexibility and continue to support its capital allocation priorities, including organic growth and acquisitions, dividends, and share repurchases, and Rockwell Automation reaffirms its $1 billion share repurchase target for fiscal 2019.
I just finished Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s study of randomness, The Black Swan. Yes, I know, even its update was several years ago. But if you have not read it, I recommend the book.
Often my reading uncovers things in flocks. In this case, I’m coupling Taleb’s view of experts with that of a piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review. (Note: I am sure that Taleb would flinch at the idea of pairing him with an MIT piece, but it fits.)
I will take a moment aside to notice the “exception that proves the rule” as they say. In certain sciences, there are experts. In the field of most of the people who read this, there are process control experts who truly can give excellent and accurate advice on their subject. They know what they are doing through a series of study, experience, reflection, more experience, and iterate.
In these latter stages of my career, I’ve been labeled “SME” (subject matter expert). That scares me. I have a friend who introduces me as an expert. That worries me. Mostly I am a student and observer who thinks about what I learn and observe. And thanks to being blindsided by the economy or company politics a few times, I also try to have antennae scanning the ecosystem watching for curious blips on the horizon that just might signal crisis—or opportunity.
Back to Taleb. He says the power of random events, “black swans,” can confound even Nobel laureate level experts. They can’t be predicted, especially by using bell curves or linear regression. One can train awareness to become sensitive to vulnerabilities to these black swan events.
Taleb writes with an irreverence that I appreciate. Although, reading some comments revealed the sensitivities of those he tweaks (or skewers).
Taleb noticed experts had nothing over ordinary people—e.g. his uncle a government minister and his chauffeur. He tells the story of being a youth in Lebanon during the civil war. His uncle was a minister in the government. One day he asked his chauffeur what he thought about the war. Neither the minister or the chauffeur seemed to have a better grasp on what was happening in the war.
He further noticed during his career as a trader that business executives don’t know much about the situation when they make decisions, oblivious to the danger of not knowing when you don’t know.
People, especially experts, have a map in mind of how things are that is not based on empirical evidence. This blinds them to looking for potential outliers waiting to pounce.
In the winter 2019 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review essay “Think Critically About the Wisdom of Experts,” Andrew A. King debunks the myth of the expert. “Expert analysis informs the decisions we make as leaders and managers — and in our everyday lives. Much of our knowledge is ultimately garnered from the testimony of teachers, mentors, colleagues, and authors who write for publications like this one.”
He goes on to say, “But we also live in a world where, almost daily, some expert’s previous certainty is discredited by new analysis.”
Take these examples from King:
- Diets once thought to be foolproof are ridiculed; management practices once decried are suddenly praised.
- In the second most popular TED talk of all time, social psychologist Amy Cuddy tells us that holding certain physical postures boosts our power hormones and makes us more courageous; however, attempts to replicate that result have failed.
- European governments chose to adopt austerity policies in part because esteemed Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff told them that high debt levels cause a sudden drop in economic growth. Then a graduate student, Thomas Herndon, discovered that their claim was influenced by an Excel spreadsheet error.
- The replication crisis — whereby scientific findings are increasingly being revealed as tough to reproduce — is plaguing psychology, economics, and medical research.
So how should we treat the next piece of advice we get from a scholar or a consultant? We should always think critically about what we hear or read.
A new podcast was released to your favorite podcast catcher. I review a recent New York Times opinion piece and responses. Why don’t we all take the initiative to evangelize our profession?
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