José Rivera is the CEO of the Control System Integrators Association, and has been working with the CSIA members on the role of the system integrator in digital transformation. One of the data points in this year’s Plant Services PdM survey indicated that data collection via remote, mobile, or otherwise internet-connected devices has risen dramatically in the past 18 months. This interview is drawn from a podcast that Rivera recently recorded with editor in chief Thomas Wilk. Listen to the full podcast at https://plnt.sv/2004-BPI.
PS: One of the trends that Plant Services is hearing this year is that IoT devices, like sensors or wireless tools or even network assets, are past the emerging technology stage. Yet plant teams don’t always have a plan in place to bring the data that’s being collected from all these devices into a single location or platform. What are your thoughts on the role that system integrators can play to assist plant teams with this?
JR: I think that, overall, it’s very exciting and encouraging to have manufacturers investing in IoT and getting started in their transformation journeys. I will nevertheless stress that, for a true digital transformation to take place, deploying technology is great, but it needs to be part of a bigger plan that includes the process and the organization.
What needs to be on everyone’s mind is, if this (IoT) experiment that I’m doing works, how will we scale? This is very important because it may be a solution that you’re delivering now on a motor, and then, by the time you start counting how many motors you have in your plant, it’s a big number and it’s no longer just a single point of data acquisition.
Also, you need to think from the process side: what are you going to do with this information? Are you going to help your maintenance crews prioritize all their assignments? And how are you going to train to get your workforce engaged and embrace this new approach? Because this may be very different from what they were doing before.
I like to recommend a having holistic view of the plant. What are the real challenges that this plant is trying to solve? Are they seeking to have more flexible operations? Are they pursuing a small batch production strategy, to be able to deliver to highly customized needs? Technology could be a part of it, but before technology gets brought into the picture, it’s this much bigger holistic view of what your company wants to do that needs to be addressed.
This article is part of our monthly Big Picture Interview column. Read more interviews from our monthly Big Picture series.
It is here where I would like to see our system integrators playing a leading role when manufacturers are in their ideation or brainstorming process, trying to figure out what they can do, trying to meet their needs with potential solutions. Most system integrators have a vast experience integrating technology, and they could provide their input and explore various options before a decision is made.
We hear about digital transformation very often, and from a marketing perspective it’s almost a buzz, but I think it’s important to take a step back and realize that this is a real opportunity.
PS: The relationship you’re outlining here sounds like it’s going to be a different relationship role for SIs to play as well, that of a trusted partner.
JR: I totally believe this is the case. Not too long ago, system integrators were brought in once a project had been specified, and they would be asked to bid for the project. I think digital transformation creates opportunity for the system integrator to be brought in earlier in the process to play an advisory role. If you think about what system integrators do, they cover a very broad spectrum.
I would advise manufacturers to select a system integrator that meets their needs in terms of industry vertical, and maybe application within that industry vertical, expertise and background. Maybe what is key for a particular project is the ability to integrate between certain systems, or different platforms. There are a lot of system integrators, and I think it’s very good for the end user and for the manufacturer to spend time selecting the right partner.
CSIA has a smart directory called the Industrial Automation Exchange that allows you to select an integrator based on different criteria: based on the vertical; based on their certification either from us, on the business management side, or a technical certification from the vendor of the automation equipment; and also by geography, if that’s something important to you. This is one very valuable resource that I would like to recommend.