How To Avoid Pilot Purgatory For Your Projects

How To Avoid Pilot Purgatory For Your Projects

This is still more followup from Emerson Global Users Exchange relative to sessions on Projects Pilot Purgatory. I thought I had already written this, but just discovered it languishing in my drafts folder. While in Nashville, I ran into Jonas Berge, senior director, applied technology for Plantweb at Emerson Automation. He has been a source for technology updates for years. We followed up a brief conversation with a flurry of emails where he updated me on some presentations.

One important topic centered on IoT projects—actually applicable to other types of projects as well. He told me the secret sauce is to start small. “A World Economic Forum white paper on the fourth industrial revolution in collaboration with McKinsey suggests that to avoid getting stuck in prolonged “pilot purgatory” plants shall start small with multiple projects – just like we spoke about at EGUE and just like Denka and Chevron Oronite and others have done,” he told me.

“I personally believe the problem is when plants get advice to take a ‘big bang’ approach starting by spending years and millions on an additional ‘single software platform’ or data lake and hiring a data science team even before the first use case is tackled,” said Berge. “My blog post explains this approach to avoiding pilot purgatory in greater detail.”

I recommend visiting Berge’s blog for more detail, but I’ll provide some teaser ideas here.

First he recommends

  • Think Big
  • Start Small
  • Scale Fast

Scale Fast

Plants must scale digital transformation across the entire site to fully enjoy the safety benefits like fewer incidents, faster incident response time, reduced instances of non-compliance, as well as reliability benefits such as greater availability, reduced maintenance cost, extend equipment life, greater integrity (fewer instances of loss of containment), shorter turnarounds, and longer between turnarounds. The same holds true for energy benefits like lower energy consumption, cost, and reduced emissions and carbon footprint, as well as production benefits like reduced off-spec product (higher quality/yield), greater throughput, greater flexibility (feedstock use, and products/grades), reduced operations cost, and shorter lead-time.

Start Small

The organization can only absorb so much change at any one time. If too many changes are introduced in one go, the digitalization will stall:

  • Too many technologies at once
  • Too many data aggregation layers
  • Too many custom applications
  • Too many new roles
  • Too many vendors

Multiple Phased Projects

McKinsey research shows plants successfully scaling digital transformation instead run smaller digitalization projects; multiple small projects across the functional areas. This matches what I have personally seen in projects I have worked on.

From what I can tell it is plants that attempt a big bang approach with many digital technologies at once that struggle to scale. There are forces that encourage companies to try to achieve sweeping changes to go digital, which can lead to counterproductive overreaching. 

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests a disciplined phased approach rather than attempting to boil the ocean. I have seen plants focus on a technology that can digitally transform and help multiple functional areas with common infrastructure. A good example is wireless sensor networks. Deploying wireless sensor networks in turn enables many small projects that help many departments digitally transform the way they work. The infrastructure for one technology can be deployed relatively quickly after which many small projects are executed in phases.

Small projects are low-risk. A small trial of a solution in one plant unit finishes fast. After a quick success, then scale it to the full plant area, and then scale to the entire plant. Then the team can move on to start the next pilot project. This way plants move from PoC to full-scale plant-wide implementation at speed. For large organization with multiple plants, innovations often emerge at an individual plant, then gets replicated at other sites, rolled out nation-wide and globally.

Use Existing Platform

I have also seen big bang approach where plant pours a lot of money and resources into an additional “single software platform” layer for data aggregation before the first use-case even gets started. This new data aggregation platform layer is meant to be added above the ERP with the intention to collect data from the ERP and plant historian before making it available to analytics through proprietary API requiring custom programming. 

Instead, successful plants start small projects using the existing data aggregation platform; the plant historian. The historian can be scaled with additional tags as needed. This way a project can be implemented within two weeks, with the pilot running an additional three months, at low-risk. 

Think Big
I personally like to add you must also think of the bigger vision. A plant cannot run multiple small projects in isolation resulting in siloed solutions. Plants successful with digital transformation early on establish a vision of what the end goal looks like. Based on this they can select the technologies and architecture to build the infrastructure that supports this end goal.
NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA)
The system architecture for the digital operational infrastructure (DOI) is important. The wrong architecture leads to delays and inability to scale. NAMUR (User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries) has defined the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) to enable Industry 4.0. I have found that plants that have deployed digital operational infrastructure (DOI) modelled on the same principles as NOA are able to pilot and scale very fast. Flying StartThe I&C department in plants can accelerate digital transformation to achieve operational excellence and top quartile performance by remembering Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast. These translate into a few simple design principles:

  • Phased approach
  • Architecture modeled on the NAMUR Open Architecture
  • Ready-made apps
  • East-to-use software
  • Digital ecosystem
Digital Transformation Leads To Digital Reinvention

Digital Transformation Leads To Digital Reinvention

“Digital Transformation is so last year. While many legacy companies around the world are still grappling with “transforming” their digital ecosystems, the true leaders are already on to next hot topic: Digital Transformation 2.0. We’ll call it ‘Digital Reinvention.’ ” Media relations agencies, aka PR agencies, must be under constant pressure to get messages published however they can. I’m flooded with teasers such as this one. And few, if any, take the time to know if their target is a good place for the news. It’s almost like there is no strategy other than send out as many promos as possible and hope some land.

Most I just delete. Then I get the inevitable follow up, when are you going to run my news (that probably doesn’t apply to your coverage but I need numbers)?

I bit on this one. Is Digital Reinvention an attempt to coin a new marketing phrase? Is it a real thing with a real definition? Dr. Google told me that the phrase has been around for several years, but it has not caught on. Maybe Rick Bullotta will catch on with Industry 4.5? (Search on LinkedIn)

The press release introduced me to Alfresco co-founder John Newton. He was quoted, “the whole notion of infinite computing, infinite storage, and resilience is just completely different.” Those changes are having a profound impact on how companies think about their future. Cloud adoption is happening at the speed of light as companies embrace the idea that they are no longer limited by server space. Responsive design and responsive applications are driving not just apps, but the entire business model. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and the behemoth, Amazon, are taking those words to heart and constantly reinventing each day.

So, I talked with Newton. He mentioned they had done a survey on what companies were achieving with Digital Transformation, how fast they were growing—innovative, size, etc. That formed the foundation for his thoughts. He told me to look at platform, design, and business operations. How open are they to connecting to customers and suppliers. Innovators looked at Digital Transformation not as technology only but also as business operations stretching to customers and supply chain.

Newton called out ‘design thinking’ that looks from the users point of view to make technology human. Another type of today’s thinking is ‘open’—open source, open standards, open architecture. “This will trump all other forms. It is naturally attractive to customers. The more profound is platform thinking. This is dominating in the stock market. Five of the top 10 value companies are platform plays, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon. They have a long term relationship with customers. In manufacturing think after-service care, maintenance and service relationships. Product is almost a loss leader. Digital twin is part of the platform play, for example, using it to predict failures.

Twenty-five minutes into the conversation, Newton had not tried to sell me on Alfresco. I had looked him up and noted he had founded Documentuum before founding Alfresco. So, I had to ask. Always need to learn about new companies. “We help create and manage documents and processes,” he told me. “We have a different way of thinking—open, open source, architecture, cloud friendly, AWS templates, manage in a matter of minutes.” Sounds interesting. All of my favorite concepts.

Digital Transformation Leads To Digital Reinvention

Foxboro Promotes Open Process Automation

The future of process automation was front and center of discussions last week at the Foxboro User Group—The Foxboro Company being the process automation arm of Schneider Electric.

During the week I was involved in quite animated discussions with SVP Chris Lyden and VP Peter Martin regarding the future of process automation. These executives are convinced that there is an inflexion point we are reaching where we are returning to the open architecture we started with years ago. The pendulum swung toward centralized, integrated systems. Technology has progressed to a point of realizing the old dream of distributed control, interoperable systems, systems of systems, and open systems based on standards.

Martin used his closing remarks to the group to talk about the Open Process Automation Forum, which is organized under The Open Group. You may recall I’ve written about this group following each of the last two ARC Industry Forums in Orlando.

The spark was provided by a group from ExxonMobil who saw a dire need to upgrade its systems. Leaders looked at the huge upfront cost of the control upgrade plus the likelihood of being locked into a single supplier and then facing huge lifecycle costs during the life of the equipment.

“When we released our first DCS 30 years ago, we tried to make it as open as possible,” said Martin. “We felt for future innovation, the system needed to be as open as possible. But the level of standards necessary just didn’t exist.”

When ExxonMobil said they wanted to build an open platform, “we jumped in” added Martin.

Foxboro’s Trevor Cusworth is co-chair of the OPAF. He asked attendees to consider the benefits of joining in the effort. “We need more end users,” he said, “since we have only about 11 right now.”

The key benefit noted was reducing lifecycle costs, while the key technology is a new type of I/O.

From the OPAF brochure:

Not only can you contribute to the creation and development of a new process automation system, you can also:

  • Ensure your experience and requirements are included
  • Advocate that your industry sector is represented
  • Validate that existing standards important to you are used
  • Sustain the benefits of the standard and subsequent certification programs

Takeaways: This is an ambitious undertaking. The last one of these I saw eventually fell apart due to a “vicious circle”—suppliers got into the discussion hoping for new sales or the ability to knock off the incumbent; end users failed to not only write the system into their specs even if they did they weren’t enforced; suppliers lost interest due to no sales.

One important thing: If this catches on, it will greatly shake up the process automation supplier market.

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

This is interesting news. I’ve noticed GE doing much reorganizing around the former automation businesses. I actually thought Bernie Anger was going off in a different direction–perhaps with the software group. Instead, he’s leading the embedded computing business (the old SBS and VMIC businesses, if you remember way back when) off on its own.

For some time, marketing in the old GE Fanuc, now GE Intelligent Platforms, business has become quite differentiated. They’ve tried some agencies for PR. But the software side (including the Cimplicity and Intellution businesses which “merged” into Proficy) are seemingly subsumed into the huge investment GE is making corporately in software–note the ads it is running on TV recently. I never know what to call the division, group, or name when I write about it.

Here is the press release regarding the divestiture.

Abaco Systems, an industry-leading supplier of sophisticated, open architecture electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications, today announced its separation from the General Electric Company (“GE”), opening a new chapter in the company’s history.

“This is a momentous day for Abaco Systems,” said Bernie Anger, president and CEO of Abaco Systems. “Today, we start the next stage in our company’s future – pursuing a strategy focused on satisfying the needs of customers looking for high-performance embedded technology and systems that can withstand the harshest of conditions.  I am very proud of our team who has prepared us for this day, and extremely thankful for the support that we have received from our customers during the transition process.”
“As an independent embedded technology and systems company,” continued Anger, “we see real opportunity to take our extensive experience, mission-critical technology and the repeatable business processes we have developed to continue building a business that combines a commitment to technical innovation with extreme focus on customer service. The company is positioned to benefit from long-term market trends, including shifts towards open architecture, interoperable systems, smarter purchasing initiatives and technological modernization.”
Customers have been notified of the change in ownership and have welcomed the news of the new Abaco Systems. Feedback from customers has been extremely positive:
“Thanks for letting us know about the GE transition to Abaco Systems,” said Rance  Myers, Director of Engineering at Honeywell Aerospace.   “We’re looking forward to the continued relationship and working with Abaco as we progress forward on new projects.”
“SNC is a long-time customer of the GE team and is very excited that they are moving to this new phase in their business,” said Greg Cox, Vice President, CNS at Sierra Nevada Corporation. “It demonstrates the strength of this cohesive team and we look forward to working with them in their new structure.”
Veritas Capital, a leading private equity firm that invests in companies that provide critical products and services to government and commercial customers worldwide, acquired Abaco Systems from GE.  One customer noted the strength of the Veritas reputation:
“My staff was particularly pleased that Veritas acquired GE’s embedded computing business, because Veritas apparently has such an ‘active’ interest in the GE products,” said Dr. Mark Gaertner, Manager, Bomber Programs, Northrop Grumman Corporation. “That’s good for NGC and the USAF, because we need stability in our products and suppliers for programs that stretch out over the next 25+ years.  We look forward to continuing our relationship.”
“The good news for our customers is that, from day one, it is business as usual,” concluded Anger. “They will continue to deal with the people they have always dealt with, re-energized by an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Abaco Systems is a global leader in open architecture computing and electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications. Spun out of General Electric in 2015, we deliver and support open modular solutions developed to upgrade and enhance the growing data, analytics, communications and sensor processing capabilities of our target applications. This, together with our 700+ professionals’ unwavering focus on our customers’ success, reduces program cost and risk, allows technology insertion with affordable readiness and enables platforms to successfully reach deployment sooner and with a lower total cost of ownership. With an active presence in a significant number of national asset platforms on land, sea and in the air, Abaco Systems is trusted where it matters most.