José Rivera is the CEO of the Control System Integrator Association. He recently recorded an episode of Plant Services’ The Tool Belt podcast with Editor in Chief Thomas Wilk to preview the upcoming CSIA Executive Conference being held in Denver, Colorado from June 27-30.
PS: Why was theme of “The Future Of Work” chosen?
JR: Selecting “The Future Of Work” as a theme came very natural because we have been going through a dramatic global transformation over a relatively short period of time. It goes well beyond system integrators and the automation communities, and we’re not done yet.
We have supported this theme with three tracks. The first one is people or the who, and in our case, it is about the talent that works for the system integrators and the one that they want to attract. This has always been a challenge for system integrators and the Great Resignation combined with a search in demand for system integrator services has made this worse. System integrators are being very creative in the way they’re addressing this, and I’m sure that we will end up with new forms of working engagements.
Then the second track is about the where, or where work takes place. And it’s not just about the office versus home. It is about the redefinition of what the workplace—thus the office—is supposed to provide. At the start of the pandemic, when people were making remote work viable, some gained a better appreciation of the workplace, but in a redefined way. So everybody’s now trying to come up with, what does hybrid work mean? And everybody’s coming with their unique solutions, which is perfect.
We at CSIA conducted a survey a year ago, and we asked about where you see yourself working. It was very interesting to see how the younger generations were the ones who wanted to go back to the office. To me, that was counterintuitive, because these are the generations that are very comfortable working remotely, but they need the social element. They need the mentoring. And the best way of doing that is by being in the office, maybe not every single day, but a certain number of days.
The other thing that I would say about the work taking place is that system integrators had to figure out how to deliver some of the work remotely. Some system integrators had SATs, which stands for site acceptance testing, to deliver their projects and complete them. But several manufacturers or many manufacturers were not allowing non-employees to their sites. So how do you complete your project? They had to find and workaround, but also develop tools that allowed them to deploy their solutions without having to put their feet on the manufacturer’s site.
And the last track is about the deliverables by the system integrators, so the what. It’s the scope of work that system integrators have been providing. It has been growing over the years, right? So, 20 years ago, all system integrators were doing was PLC programming and control panel assembly. And today, the diversity is so big that there are some system integrators that don’t touch the hardware. They’re just working at the software level, MES, etc., and it’s fascinating to see that diversity. I think that now with this pandemic and digital transformation also, the role of the system integrator as a consultant coming in earlier in the projects is going to be a growing trend.
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PS: There’s a definite trend towards maintenance and reliability teams—the primary audience for Plant Services. They’re having trouble back-filling old positions, positions where they’ve had retirements, and so, at the moment at least, they’re partnering out a lot more often either with OEMs or OEMs and their partners, which would include the integrator community. And to get what these teams need to get done at work, it is going to take a lot more collaboration earlier in the project. You simply can’t bolt on the integration aspect. It’s got to be thought through at the point of defining project goals.
JR: Yes, and some of these manufacturing sites are in remote locations. If you’re trying to attract talent, young talent, normally younger people want to live in the more urban areas, right? And so, how can you attract these resources? So, if we talk, let’s say, remote work, and now you allow this individual to work a certain number of days remotely, that I think increases the probability of you being able to attract these resources.
But one thing that I would say about the maintenance, the reliability, and the operation workers: when they went through the pandemic, a lot of them didn’t have the option of working remotely, right? These were positions that demanded that you be there and they required a lot of sacrifice from these workers.
They had to deal not just with the Great Resignation, but they also had to deal with coworkers who got sick and now suddenly had to quarantine, so reduced staff. Then there were all these concerns about spread of the virus, particularly at the very beginning of the pandemic. What I have heard is that from the manufacturer site, in the past, a lot of the projects were justified just from a financial perspective. Now resiliency is one of the elements of the equation, and because we have the Great Resignation too, what you are then having are many more projects that are driving a lot of the system integrator business that try to reduce the worker concentration on the manufacturing flow and help deal with this Great Resignation problem.
I think that this is creating opportunities within your audience because they can become the experts in these new tools. They can become the go-to resources for them, such that the work of the reduced set of people that are in the factory becomes much more efficient. If, for example, you’re deploying this predictive maintenance type of tools, right? When you are scheduling your maintenance, your shutdowns, it’s not unscheduled. It is one that you have programmed.
And in these days where worker availability, etc., is limited, you don’t want to mess it up. You don’t want to be the one that suddenly has workers sitting because this machine broke down. You want that to be a scheduled shutdown, right? So, more than ever, these tools that are predictive and not reactive. These tools have existed, and I think the pandemic is now providing impetus for them to be deployed more widely.
In the past things were a little more predictable, right? We were able to deploy things like just-in-time inventories or elimination of inventories were just in time and lean initiatives. All of that was great because it reduced cost. Now that version has been turned around, and maybe now having a little bit of extra inventory, as long as it’s the right one, it’s an advantage. So it has had a lot of impact, what we are going through right now in our world.
This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.