Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

If you noticed I was missing in action for several days, I took a little vacation and still had to finish a big project last week. Both missions accomplished. Finished the project and got in some quality relaxing.

It also gave me time to ruminate on Tim Sowell’s latest blog post about industrial operations. He’s been thinking a lot about the people who use the technology lately. I think rightly so. Technology only takes us so far (sorry technofuturists).

Several years ago, I ran across a theory of organization called “Holacracy.”  The name derives from an ancient Greek word for a “whole thing”—Holon—and was then taken a new way by Arthur C. Clark. The theory has roots with Lean (which I admire) and Agile (programming) which I know only slightly.

When I studied Holacracy (, the theory sounded interesting and leading edge. Yet, the write up on the website seemed too over the top and limitless. It was as if it solved world hunger, world peace, and personal satisfaction.

Perhaps my impression was deepened by reading about how Tony Hsieh implemented (or rather dumped it on people) the structure (or in his case non-structure). Hsieh, you may recall, garnered great publicity for the unique way he ran Zappos. However, his leadership has declined considerably over the past few years. His Downtown Las Vegas project is in shambles and the way he instituted holacracy at Zappos led to chaos and exodus of good people.

Reconsidering Holacracy

Sowell forced me to take a deeper look at the philosophy. Taken in the context of its “parents” Lean and Agile, it makes a lot of sense. But it can’t be just dumped on a company. It requires a culture of trust before it is implemented. As in all team-oriented approaches, there is a danger of lack of diversity as teams choose their members and they all begin to resemble one another.


Holacracy a New Way of Work can it Apply in Industrial Operational Space

Sowell has been thinking about operations performance, not just technology but how it is used and how people’s roles can be transformed. He says, “While agile is applied in the software work, what we seeing in industrial operations, is not a transformation in technology (yes it is being enable by technology) but it really is a transformation in the way companies plan, execute, work.”

And so, looking at a more encompassing picture, he discusses, “Holacracy and Agile are systems that transform the way in which work is planned, and executed, with constant empowerment of people to change and evolve the system.”

Empowering people to grow and excel becomes a crucial component of managing an organization as the newer generations of workers enter the field. People a little older than I, as well as many of my peers, were content with filling a job. Work, go home, live for the weekend. But even many of us wanted more fulfillment for the hours we put in at work. Younger people increasingly wish to feel they are contributing.

Further, implementing these systems that are designed to empower people is non-trivial. Sowell says, “It is important to note both systems are aligned and they are a framework, they require discipline and execution within the framework to enable the agility. Too often in manufacturing and the industrial space people put technology and systems in as “silver bullets” and expect them to solve everything.”

I felt in reading the Holacracy website that its authors expected the philosophy to solve everything. Whether or not they do, taking Sowell’s ideas about placing within a framework is a giant conceptual leap forward toward effective implementation.

HMI SCADA At the High End

HMI SCADA At the High End

I’m still pondering the whole HMI/SCADA market and technologies. I’m still getting a few updates after the Inductive Automation conference I attended in California and the Wonderware conference in Dallas that I missed.

The two have traditionally been referred to in trade publications together.

Today, I think three or four things are blending. Things are getting interesting.

SCADA is “supervisory control and data acquisition.” The supervisory control part has blended into the higher ends of human-machine interface. Data Acquisition software technology is a key platform for what we are today calling the “Industrial Internet of Things.” I’ve heard one technologist predict that soon we’ll just say “Internet.”

Data acquisition itself is a system that involves a variety of inputs including sensors, signal analyzers, and networks. The software part brings it all under control and provides a format for passing data to the next level.

HMI also involves a system these days. Evolving from operator interface into sophisticated software that includes the “supervisory control” part of the system.

Some applications also blend in MES and Manufacturing Intelligence. These applications, often engineered solutions atop the software platforms, strive to make sense of the data moving from HMI/SCADA either using it for manufacturing control or as a feed to enterprise systems.

Wonderware has been an historical force in these areas. Its original competitor was Intellution which is now subsumed into GE’s Proficy suite. The other strong competitor is Rockwell Automation. All three sell on a traditional sales model of “seats” and/or “tags.”

Inductive Automation built from enterprise grade database technology and has a completely different sales model. It is driving the cost of HMI/SCADA, and in some ways MES, down.

Competitors can meet that competition by either pursuing a race to the bottom or through redefining a higher niche. The winner of the race to the bottom becomes the company built from the ground up for low individual sales price.

Wonderware announcements

All of that was just an analyst prologue to a couple of items that have popped up from Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware) over the past couple of days.

timSowellTo my mind, Tim Sowell is addressing how some customers are taking these platforms to a new level.   Writing in his blog last weekend, Sowell notes, “For the last couple of years we have seen the changing supervisory solutions emerging, that will require a rethink of the underlying systems, and how they implemented and the traditional HMI, Control architectures will not satisfy! Certainly in upstream Oil and Gas, Power, Mining, Water and Smart Cities we have seen a significant growth in the Integrated Operational Center (IOC) concept. Where multiple sites control comes back into one room, where planning and operations can collaborate in real-time.”

I have seen examples of this Integrated Operations Center featuring such roles as operations, planning, engineering, and maintenance. But this is more than technology—it requires organizing, training, and equipping humans.

Sowell, “When you start peeling back the ‘day in the life of operations’ the IOC is only the ‘quarterback’ in a flexible operational team of different roles, contributing different levels of operational. Combined with dynamic operational landscape, where the operational span of control of operational assets, is dynamically changing all the time. The question is what does the system look like, do the traditional approaches apply?”

Tying things together, Sowell writes, “Traditionally companies have used isolated (siloed) HMI, DCS workstation controls at the facilities, and then others at the regional operational centers and then others at the central IOC, and stitched them together. Now you add the dynamic nature of the business with changing assets, and now a mobile workforce we have addition operational stations that of the mobile (roaming worker). All must see the same state, with scope to their span of control, and accountability to control.”

The initial conclusion, “We need one system, but multiple operational points, and layouts, awareness so the OPERATIONAL TEAM can operate in unison, enabling effective operational work.”


Here is a little more detail about the latest revision of Wonderware Intelligence to which I referred last week and above.The newest version collects, calculates and contextualizes data and metrics from multiple sources across the manufacturing operation, puts it into a centralized storage and updates it all in near-real time. Because it is optimized for retrieval, the information can then be used to monitor KPIs via customizable dashboards, as well as for drill-down analysis and insights into operating and overall business performance.

“Wonderware Intelligence is an easy-to-use, non-disruptive solution that improves how our customers visualize and analyze industrial Big Data,” said Graeme Welton, director of Advansys (Pty) Ltd., a South African company that provides specialized industrial automation, manufacturing systems and business intelligence consulting and project implementation services. “It allows our customers to build their own interactive dashboards that can capture, visualize and analyze key performance indicators and other operating data. Not only is it more user-friendly, it has better query cycle times, it’s faster and it has simpler administration rights. It’s an innovative tool that continues to drive quality and value.”

Wonderware Intelligence visual analytics and dashboards allow everyone in the operation to see the same version of the truth drawn from a single data warehouse. The interactive and visual nature of the dashboards significantly increases the speed and confidence of the users’ decision making.

We Must Reduce Complexity In Manufacturing Operations

We Must Reduce Complexity In Manufacturing Operations

timSowellSometimes I think I must be Tim Sowell’s, vp and fellow at Schneider Electric (software), personal press agent. I tweet his blog and refer to his writing often. He is the best thinker on manufacturing operations systems whose writing I can find. By the way, if any of you know other thinkers I should follow, please add to the comments.

In his latest post, he tackles a subject near to my heart–simplicity. People just keep trying to add complexity on top of complexity without regard for constructing the systems such that they may be understood.

Sowell posted this blog entry recently. In it he pointed to an excellent article that we all need to digest and incorporate into our lives. It deals with striving for simplicity in the face of increasing complexity.

Reflecting upon 2014, Sowell notes, “In the last half of 2014 we saw a significant increase in companies engaging with us on ‘Operational System, Operational Environment in 2020 – 25’. These were not inquires; these were real engagements where companies were reflecting on their systems relative to the new operational landscape we are all facing over the next 10 years. I suspect that 2015 will continue this trend and different programs been taken by companies to guide investments, and technological adoptions to provide them with a foundation to address ‘operational transformation’. Addressing the increasing complexity of systems, without increasing operational process complexity is fundamental.”

Sowell continues, “One of challenges we all face is the new operational landscape with changing products, a flat world of competition and changing workforce, we have a tendency to think and create complexity is increasing value. This article by Neil Smith allows a good ‘step back’ of the need stay focused on simplicity and this must apply to operational processes and systems, if we are going to be able to absorb change and compete.”

Operations Management Systems Evolution

Operations Management Systems Evolution

The Manufacturing ConnectionTim Sowell, Invensys Fellow and VP of System Strategy at Invensys in the Common Architecture team in R&D, writes the Operations Management Systems Evolution blog on the Invensys blog site. He offers thoughtful pieces about where operations management software and practice could be going.

In his latest post, he talks about a dinner conversation with people in the industry and what his companions thought were the most important transformations occurring now.

I’d have to agree with them. People who talk to me echo much the same. Check out his blog page for the complete details, but here’s a teaser.

Agility to adjust to market conditions and change

The clear common requirement was the end to end operational alignment, understanding across the value chain. This holistic operational control, was a significant change in all three industries the sites had run with independence, in all cases the expectation was that site / regional uniqueness will be maintained but now alignment and traceability of action, product across the total value chain, e.g.| multiple assets/sites. A fascinating discussion here was both water and food talked that they expect this end to end to include outsourced assets that make up the chain, and effect the quality of the product or service that their brand is delivering. This is why it is the ability to federate assets and systems while still allowing site uniqueness is key. The inclusion of non company assets in the value chain and requiring operational traceability, accountability and agility to change are just around the corner.

The operational workforce transformation

Operational role retention / rotation. The impact of the operational culture, approach with gen Y and more holistic operations. These have covered extensively in the blogs, but is the area both of my dinner companions spent over 50% of dinner time.

The key areas are:

  • The knowledge transfer from the retiring generation and how is the captured.
  • The highest critical concern is the fact they are already seeing people in roles for much less time, and this is across the operational roles. So the issue is how to embedded and design the experiences to enable to become effective dramatically faster, e.g., 20% of the time today. Our conversation went away from industrial operational systems, to commercial systems, such as Facebook, banks, mobile phone applications. The key here is these applications are being delivered to market without having to train the users, they have intuitive experience that leads users through the steps. Agreement that this is a paradigm shift in operational design, from today’s approach where user interface is thought of well after the control, and we have engineers who are not human in factor people, designing the systems. All attendees said we need to continue this discussion, as this is not just control rooms, but reports, and information etc.

New Product Introduction

The life time of products and services is dramatically reducing, and the companies stated that seem to have ever change and introduction of new products and services. The move is to individual products and services for each consumer. How do we introduce, absorb these new products and services to the operational systems that will deliver them in a timely manner without significant error.

This could be considered agility, but both wanted this pointed out separately as it is a real dynamic that effecting them, vs the infrastructure and assets that are also changing and must absorb agility of change. An intriguing point here was that they commented that operational system and automation system absorb new product introductions without change, but all commented on the challenge of new assets with existing systems requiring federation into the system, and how do introduce new products procedures to operational staff. So the discussion for new product introduction was not just for systems, but also for people to execute, how can they take the new product from the PLM system, and deliver the control, and instructions, across many sites with different systems, and different cultures.

Your thoughts

What do you think about all this? What would you add? Let me know.

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