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.