Karen Griffin is the Vice President at Hargrove Controls and Automation, and she's also the new chair of the Control Systems Integrator Association (CSIA) Board of Directors. When Karen took the role of chair in May 2023, she said, “I'm incredibly excited to help lead CSIA as board chair and proud to be the first woman to hold a position. The future looks challenging, but bright for system integration, and I'm honored to have a hand in leading the industry into it.” Karen recently spoke with Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk about why plants need a good integrator partner to help identify where data is stored or siloed and to help bring datasets together to really draw insights from that data on how to improve operations.
PS: Has it been an exciting couple of months since taking on the chair responsibilities?
KG: Absolutely. We've already done our first and second round of strategy planning. I think we've got a lot coming up, so it absolutely has been rewarding and challenging all at the same time.
PS: We had a chance to talk to Sean Phillips, one of your co-workers at Hargrove a little earlier this year. I'm excited to talk with you for that strategy purpose, and we'll jump right in. I'm curious to know, Karen, what's your sense of what the system integrator market looks like over the next two years? Are there enough integrators to meet demand? And maybe we could talk about manufacturing too.
KG: I think we're all trying to figure that out right now, Tom, because all of our economic indicators say that we're going to go into a recession. We also have an election year coming up. But we also have a worker shortage. So how do those things all play together? That's something that you know, obviously, we don't have a crystal ball, we would love to have one. But because of the worker shortage, it seems that we're going to still be a strong demand on automation.
Will we have enough people to do the work? Well, we'll either have enough people to do the work, or the work won't get done. Certainly technology enables us to achieve those goals, so even with the worker shortage, I think that we're going to have a lot of advancing technology at our fingertips because of the demand for it.
PS: That's really insightful. I just got back from FabTech last month, which was here in Chicago, and that was the message across the board, whether it was software providers, robotics providers, it was: given the challenge in finding skilled workers, especially in manufacturing, they're looking more to automation to solve these problems too, which again requires a strong integrator partner.
Well, our primary audience for Plant Services is plant managers, operations managers, and then the asset management side of things, maintenance and reliability. What kind of projects do you foresee plant managers and operation managers investing in, assuming those are folks who may have more of the OT-IT side of things?
KG: They're going to be investing in some traditional automation as well, which is going to be centered around obsolescence. Because they're wanting to take advantage of OT-IT, the first thing you've got to do is make sure that your systems are protected against cyber threats. And some of these aging systems don't have any measures to protect you against any kind of cyber threat; they were installed before the internet was a thing. They don't have firmware, or anything we can really put in there. In some cases, when you really want all of the data those systems have to offer, you really need to address the obsolescence. You can certainly put firewalls and things up to protect things, but you also limit what you can get from those systems when you do that.
Some of the things that they're going to be investing in are going to be traditional automation, in order to enable them for some of the newer technologies, but these newer technologies are going to help them run their plants better. They're going to have greater insights into what's going on and what's going to happen in the future. Knowing what's going to happen in the future gives them the opportunity to respond and change course, so those stand to be powerful tools that they will have to operate their plants in the future. And I think that they're going to invest to get themselves on those platforms.
Another thing though, is there's quite a few emerging markets, especially related to clean energy and carbon capture. All of these facilities are going to be in need of automation. So again, this is a traditional automation implementation for all of those facilities, but because you're putting in a lot of the newer technology, they're already enabled to capture some of the AI technology, some of the newer enhanced ways of operating and running your plants.
PS: Software companies like IFS, which specialize in asset management, ERP, that sort of thing, they're hearing from their customers that they would like more automated reporting on carbon use, carbon footprint, and not even just for the facility itself that they’re working in, but also the facilities and the fleets operated by their suppliers.
KG: Absolutely, absolutely. This is going to become more and more important, because the timeline we have to correct what's going on with carbon is really nearing its end.
PS: Yeah, I have three boys, 12, 10, and 10, and I hope that someday they forgive the older generations for waiting so long to do this kind of work. But it's exciting to see this being done. Do you see the competition between markets at thinning out the integrator base, where you'll see healthcare competing with manufacturing? Or is there enough new talent in the pipeline that we're somehow going to find a way to get it all done?
KG: So you know, I do see competing markets for the same type of talent, especially as we evolved what systems integration is, because it's no longer just working with PLCs and DCS systems. We've evolved into modeling with databases and utilizing database-centric tools to help clients run and operate more effectively. So that skill set is a very broad skill set that can be applied across multiple industries, and some of those industries are very high paying industries. So we do compete, we compete greatly for the same kind of talent pool, that's going to be a challenge for us. Something that we do at Hargrove, and I know some of our other system integration companies are doing, is we get heavily involved in STEM programs. Because when you create that awareness at a young age, you create that spark, that desire to be in a different industry, that maybe they didn't have any exposure to beforehand. But we're going to have to create our own market for talent in the future, and the best place to start is in our school systems.
PS: Interesting. Maybe we can go to the question about the initiatives that you'll be tackling with the CSIA going forward. Is that one on the agenda, to work with schools and local officials to drive these kinds of programs?
KG: Not so much with CSIA, but many of the member companies are engaged in that. The CSIA mission is really about helping our members grow better companies, more sustainable, more profitable companies. So what we do is we knowledge-share within that organization. If one integrator is finding a lot of success of growing their talent pool, then another one is going to try that. We do a lot of knowledge-sharing because we really are trying to help each other grow better companies.
PS: Can you talk about one or two of the things that were discussed at recent strategy meetings for what CSIA will be tackling in 2024 and beyond?
KG: Yes, I'm really excited about what's coming up. First of all, you may have seen the announcement, we hired a director for best practices and professional development. He's well known in our industry, Eric Shaper is his name. And when you think about it, best practices is a flagship product for CSIA. It's a little book that teaches you all about how to manage and run a successful integration company, all of the business practices that you need for that, as well as project execution, so it's really a broad spectrum of what it covers. Traditionally, our best practices have been developed by volunteer members, and they've been doing a phenomenal job. But having somebody dedicated to evolving these best practices just demonstrates our commitment to the product, and that our commitment is to our members to help them grow better companies, as the businesses evolve.
Best practices was actually the product that led Hargrove to CSIA. We are an engineering company. And when we decided to build a system integration arm, we were looking for where in the market we needed to tap into to get what we could, leverage what we could, that was already produced. CSIA had the best practices and that was very attractive to us. But after joining, we quickly learned that the true value of being a member is from the implementation of the best practices, not just receiving them. That's going to lead me to where Eric is going with his professional development role. What we really want to do is create a pathway for training for our members so that they can get more enablement towards adopting best practices for themselves. I think that this is going to be a groundbreaking change for us to have a person that dedicated to evolving best practices, as well as the professional development of the companies that are members of CSIA.
Another thing that I wanted to tell you about those are emerging leaders. So the emerging leaders has become more and more of a foothold within CSIA. Traditionally, the market was really around the executives of the company – the owners, the leaders – but the emerging leaders have become more and more of a footprint of what the value of CSIS to its members. They've self-organized to a large extent, and started developing committees and things to work with one another. We've embraced this so much that we actually renamed our upcoming conference, and it's not going to be the Annual Executive Conference, it's going to be the Annual Conference, because we're getting more and more future leaders that are attending. If you're going to be in Dallas next year, it's going to be something that you don't want to miss. The speakers that we're framing up and the sessions and workshops that are coming in, it's going to be pretty powerful.
PS: That's really cool, and that that is a big change. For a long time I've known the conference to be the Executive Conference, and what a way to recognize what's happening in industry.
KG: Absolutely. Yeah, Tom, I'm pretty excited about it.
PS: Maybe we can wrap up the conversation by talking about the diversity side of industry. One of the questions I wanted to ask is what it means to you to be the first woman to hold the position of the CSIA board chair. In general, I'm seeing a lot more women move into traditional male dominated roles in heavy industry, maintenance, reliability, planning & scheduling, operations. What does it mean to you to hold this role? And what role do you see CSIA playing in advancing diversity in heavy industry?
KG: First, being the chair of this board, to me is an honor, and I think that'd be the case for anyone, male, female, you know. But I get to serve alongside people that I have just tremendous amount of respect for, and enjoy the opportunity to get to know them more personally, and learn a little bit more about them. I also get to learn from them.
There's a saying we have here at Hargrove, and it's common that we share it with one another, but it's “iron sharpens iron.” That's what being the chair of CSIA is all about. You're working with Jose and the other board members in this capacity; it's truly rewarding and it's great for your own professional development.
Promoting diversity, it really starts with our children. I think most of the people that I've encountered in the workforce, most of the people that I've worked with, they are very inclusive, but the numbers just aren't there. The promoting of diversity really has to start with going and teaching our children that there are careers available to them that they may not be aware of. Teaching them sparks that interest, it kind of starts to guide their interest as they're going through school. There's many STEM programs available, and that's something that we invest in heavily as far as time and resources.
It's also important to note that there's college students out there that haven't heard of the field, even from the traditional fields that we typically recruit from. There's plenty of college students that do not know anything about system integration. Certainly, I didn't know anything about it when I was in college, and I did not learn about it until I was at my first co-op interview. And the person interviewing me, one of the people that was on the panel was in process automation and control for a paper company. That's where I started to learn about this field, is actually in the interview.
So, you know, we’ve got to get ourselves a little bit more involved in the universities, so that we're talking to the majors that we typically recruit from, and educating them about the field before they get into the interview process. Those are some ways that we can help improve our numbers and that's just by creating awareness, because many people just don't know about the field, whether it's male, female, or any of the ethnic diversities that we have available to us, creating that awareness is going to be a huge enabler to help them see themselves in this field.
PS: Nine years ago, I was sitting with someone on a plane coming back from the Rockwell Automation Fair, and he was an integrator from Indiana. He said even then, the opportunity in heavy industry alone was so great that he was going to make his career in heavy industry. He was going to retire early, and he was going to retire well.
KG: That's the that's the thing about this field, there's so much demand in it. And so it's a great career field for people to go into. It might seem a little bit different to them. But it's a lot of fun. There's a lot of rewards. Every day you're trying to solve a new problem. Not many career fields give you that.
PS: Karen, thank you so much for being with us. For more information on the CSIA and Hargrove, where can we point people to?
KG: We've got a website for both, CSIA as well as Hargrove. But also follow us on LinkedIn – CSIA and Hargrove both put a lot of information out on LinkedIn, you can stay plugged in with what we're doing, see more about our efforts and where you could plug in as well.