Schneider Electric Foxboro and Triconex Innovation Days 2019

Schneider Electric Foxboro and Triconex Innovation Days 2019

I’ve followed Foxboro and Triconex for many years now in my coverage of the process automation business. A great company that, not unlike too many others, suffered now and again with very poor management. The company has now settled in nicely at its home in Schneider Electric and appears to be healthy here.

Much credit must go to Gary Freburger. He provided a steadying hand as the leader before and through the transition, as well as guiding the integration into the new home. He is retiring at the end of the year. I’ve met a number of great leaders and a few stinkers in my 20 years at this side of the business. Gary’s one of the great ones. And his chosen successor (see more below) seems more than up for the task of building on his successes.

Marcotte Succeeds Freburger as Process Automation President

This week’s major announcement revealed that Nathalie Marcotte has been selected to succeed Freburger as president of its Process Automation business, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Nathalie Marcotte Official Picture  jpg

“After a long, successful industry career, including more than 15 years serving Invensys and Schneider Electric in various senior leadership roles, Gary has decided to retire,” said Peter Herweck, executive vice president, Industrial Automation business, Schneider Electric. “We thank him for his many contributions and his strong legacy of success. We wish him well, and I congratulate Nathalie on her appointment. She brings more than 30 years of industry knowledge, expertise and experience, as well as a long record of success. I look forward to working with her as we build on the success Gary has delivered.”

Since joining the Schneider organization in 1996, Marcotte has held several positions of increasing responsibility, including vice president of Global Performance and Consulting Services; vice president, North America marketing; general manager for the Canadian business; and, prior to her current position, vice president, marketing, Global Systems business. As the company’s current senior vice president, Industrial Automation Services, she is responsible for Schneider Electric’s Services business and offer development, ranging from product support to advanced operations and digital services. She is also responsible for the company’s Global Cybersecurity Services & Solutions business, including the Product Security Office.

“As we move through this transition, it will be business as usual for Schneider Electric and our Process Automation customers,” Marcotte said. “Gary and I are working very closely together to ensure there will be no disruptions to our day-to-day operations. This ensures our customers have the same access to the exceptional people, products and technology they have come to trust and rely on to improve the real-time safety, reliability, efficiency and profitability of their operations.”

“I thank Gary for his many contributions to Schneider Electric and to our industry in general. Under his leadership, our customers, partners and employees have never been better situated to succeed, today and tomorrow,” Marcotte said. “This transition will have no impact on our technology strategy and portfolio roadmap. We remain committed to our continuously-current philosophy, which means never leaving our customers behind. Now, by leveraging the strength of the full Schneider Electric offer, we can take the next step toward enabling an easier, less costly digital transformation for our customers, while keeping them on the path to a safer, more secure and profitable future.”

Following the opening keynotes, I had the opportunity to chat privately with Freburger and Marcotte. Following summarizes a few key takeaways.

Digitalization and Digital Transformation.

These topics were prominently displayed in the ballroom before the keynotes. In fact the welcome and opening presentation were given by Mike Martinez, Director of Digital Transformation Consulting. These are common themes in the industry—in fact, not only process automation, but also at the IT conferences I cover. Each company has its own unique take on the terms, but it still boils down to data, data integrity, databases, and data security. All of which were discussed.

Key Points From the Presidents.

Integration across Schneider Electric. One priority has been working with other business units (and their technologies) across the Schneider Electric portfolio. This could be PLCs and drives, but power is a huge emphasis. Schneider Electric management wants very much for its process automation acquisition to integrate well with its historic electric power business. This is seen as a strategic opportunity. One thought-provoking observation—is the process engineer/electrical engineer divide as serious as the IT/OT divide? No direct answer. But these domains have historically had little to no collaboration. One to watch.

Close working relationship with AVEVA. If you recall, Schneider Electric bundled its various software acquisitions including the ones from Invensys (Wonderware, Avantis) and used them to buy into AVEVA—the engineering software company. Bringing automation and software together was a constant source of pain for Invensys. Schneider Electric dealt with it through a separate company. Along the way, cooperation seems to be better than ever. Marcotte explained to me that Foxboro combines its domain expertise with the more broadly general software platforms to achieve customer values. See for example my previous post on Plant Performance Advisors Suite.

Cybersecurity.  Marcotte has been leading Schneider’s cybersecurity efforts. These are seen as a key part of Schneider Electric’s offer. See especially the establishment of the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance. They don’t talk as much about Internet of Things as at other conferences, when I probed more deeply about IT, cybersecurity was again brought up as the key IT/OT collaboration driver.

It’s been a struggle, but the Schneider Electric process automation business (Foxboro and Triconex) seems as strong as ever. And the people here—both internal and customers—are optimistic and energetic. That’s good to see.

Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

This is a post about education, personal development, and why you should be a generalist.

Tiger Woods was trained almost from the cradle for one thing–to be the greatest golfer.

Roger Federer tried many sports. He loved soccer. Even though his mother was a tennis teacher, he didn’t pick up tennis until his early teens. Other kids had been playing for years by then. He soon passed them by and into his thirties is a dominant tennis star.

You need to be good at something, but it is good to be interested and experienced in many things.

Range by Epstein

I have a book to recommend. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. This book will help you learn to live a fuller life–and help you bring up your kids and encourage your grandkids.

Life in the industrial age, as well as in some previous eras, was composed of patterns. You could be trained to recognize patterns and adapt and become skilled at them. These are called “kind” learning environments. Kids excel who see and repeat the patterns.

Life today is what a psychologist call a “wicked” learning environment. Here, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns, and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both. In most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.

So, let’s look at responding to today’s “wicked” learning environment. “The bigger the picture, the more unique the potential human contribution. Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly.” This all sounds great. But what about what I read in the news as the “typical Trump voter” who is a worker trained in the old way watching his job being replaced. And who is the leader who is poised to take them to this next level? Well, no one. Just leaders who play to their fears.

There are some courageous leaders changing the system for educating young people so that they can thrive in this new environment. We just have to have more of that. More people guiding young people—and older people, as well—need to take into practice this advice from psychologist and creativity researcher Dean Keith Simoton, “Rather than obsessively focusing on a narrow topic, creative achievers tend to have broad interests.” Modern work demands knowledge transfer—the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different demands. In my life I have worked with both highly educated engineers AND high-school-educated technicians who exhibit  this. More must be encouraged.

For those who, like me, studied broadly as an undergraduate and didn’t care much about grades, take this observation from professor and researcher James Flynn who was “bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. Flynn, “The traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.

Here is a tip for those who teach at any level. When asking a student a question, force them to answer, even if it is wrong. Then just force them to answer again. And again. Until they get it right. Giving them hints to guide a correct answer quickly provided fewer long-term results than the first method. “Repetition is less important than struggle.”

Oh, and in a test of forecasting, experts were far worse than “amateurs” getting it right!

How does one adapt? By reading widely. Pursue several interests. That will be the human triumph in an age of robots.

Industrial IoT Suppliers From a Different Point of View

Industrial IoT Suppliers From a Different Point of View

I have just returned from a weekend in Eastern Ohio at a youth soccer tournament. You learn a lot about human nature–your own as well as others–when you’re in a competitive tightly compressed space.

The games I refereed had coaches and parents carrying exhuberance carried way too far–probably into less positive descriptions. As director of referees for the tournament, I walked around observing other games, as well. Talked with a 15-year-old girl about her game. She told me the parents were the worst. They yelled unkind things directly at their goalkeeper including calling her a “bitch”. Sometimes I wonder.

This week I’m heading west for another IT conference. This one is Hitachi Vantara. I have had a few interviews lately with people from there as they have ramped up an Industrial IoT practice. I’m sure there will be more later this week.

What started me thinking about human nature and Industrial IoT suppliers was a comment I received a couple of weeks ago at another conference. “The trouble with the IT companies is that their sales people come in and promise that their Industrial IoT solution will solve all their problems.”

What engineer do you know who would believe that? Which ones would immediately tune them out and start thinking about their hobby?

I was a sales guy once. Or twice. I also was the guy from engineering who tried to explain the technology, benefits, and competitive advantage of our product versus the market. I also watched for when the sales peoples’ eyes glazed over. They didn’t want too much information. Too much gets in the way of a sales pitch. It’s partly just human nature and partly knowing their job.

That was a good comment. I don’t work with sales at these companies. Sure, the CEO is “selling” when they talk to me, but it’s a different selling. I write; I don’t buy.

It taught me to probe a little deeper into all these companies I cover–IT and OT–and get into what message they take to the prospect or customer. It may be entirely different from what I hear. And that would be a valuable part of the story.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

RSS and Information and Blogs

I get much of my news through RSS feed. That may sound archaic, but it works. Originally I used Google Reader some 20 years ago or so. But that was detracting from Google’s business model, so they killed it. And I went with NetNewsWire. It was great. They sold it. Like almost all cool little startups now part of big companies, the product languished. I switched to Feedly, which I am still using.

The cool thing about RSS is that you get the news feed with just an option of going to the Website. With some feeds, you can see the entire article. With others, you scan and then go to the Website if you want more. I have a few subscriptions, such as The New York Times, where I have access. Many of my feeds are blogs that have no paywall.

The thriving blogosphere of the early 2000s (my blog began in 2003, I’m approaching 16 years) has lost some fervor, but it’s still around.

I started first in the control and automation space. Walt Boyes followed, but soon took it under the cover of Putman Media. The way all the blogs grew in the early years was through linking with each other. I would see a post and link to it with my take. They would link back. But when companies got involved, they didn’t want links to “competitors”. So much for growth for either of us.

Jim Cahill was next with his Emerson Process Experts blog. In the early days we would also cross link, but like everything that faded with marketing. His blog is still going and is still the best example of a corporate blog building a community. I tell people about it on all my trips.

The Apple computer community supports many independent bloggers and podcasters. They cross link and even appear on each other’s podcasts. The net result is that the entire community grows and thrives. So far, I have not found another independent blogger / influencer / analyst to interact with.

I bring this up while listening to The Talk Show with John Gruber of the Daring Fireball blog. He and his guest Brent Simmons (developer of NetNewsWire) are discussing the state of RSS, blogging, podcasting, and media. Brent worked at Userland and its blogging platform Radio which I used from 2003 to about 2007 when I switched to SquareSpace. In 2013 I switched to WordPress.

While commiserating about the state of trying to read articles on the Web, they miss the point of the business. Media is run by sales people. Salespeople think that long term thinking is 60 days out. They really don’t care about user experience. They look for one more idea that will sell one more piece of screen real estate and that maybe is obnoxious and the reader mistakenly clicks the ad instead of the close button and they sell a click. I’m not being cynical about that. It is the natural order of things when sales people (and I was one once) are scrambling to increase income through any non-illegal method they can find.

I still like RSS feeds. I no longer trust Google to uncover the Websites I want. And I’ve never liked the idea of having a list of Websites to methodically go visit just in case something new was added.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

Google Ad Shakedown

Google and Other Misdemeanors

I have noticed that over the past few months, the number of people coming to my site via search engines, principally Google, has dropped by something like 40%. Curious, last weekend I took a little time and searched on about a dozen keywords that would be used in the industry.

Media sites just don’t come up in the searches. But what does come up are a ton of ads. The bulk of the rest of the links are suppliers. This is a big change over this time period.

Then I came across a tweet from Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp. He noticed that when he searched for his company, Basecamp, he came up number 4. The first three were ads from competitors who had worked the words base camp into their URLs or name in some ingenious way. And they had purchased the adwords that placed their ad above the real organic result. He explains all this in a podcast on Rework.

Back to my observation. I appeared seldom, except for my own domain name, and I never saw the major trade journals in the industry. Even ones named IIoT in a search of IIoT. Automation got three hits a couple of pages back on the keyword automation. But it should have had a bunch.

But suppliers are the most prone to buy adwords from Google.

If you think that searches are not biased and show you the most relevant to you, then you are years behind times.

I have noticed a similar effect in Facebook. Of course, its ad strategy came from Google in the person of Sheryl Sandberg. I did marketing for a small retail startup coffee house in Sidney, Ohio. Being local, I went to Facebook. I also spent a few dollars a month on ads.

When I ended the ad campaign, I was pestered with several notices per day about boosting a post for only $10, then for only $5. And our reach started dropping. Suddenly not everyone saw all the posts. The algorithm ensured that. When you’re in a small town with only about 1,000 person reach, you get pretty quick feedback.

Once upon a time, I mostly trusted Google search results. I use it for research constantly. Now, I’m not so sure about where to go for better results. Everyone is in such a rush to maximize ad dollars that they manipulate anything, including us, in the quest for eyes on ads.

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