As Boomers leave, empowerment could help fill void
EDITOR’S NOTE: Operations software management provider Wonderware continued its growth this past year, and its President, Sudipta Bhattacharya, sat down during the company’s WonderWorld 2008 Global Conference in Las Vegas with InTech Editor Gregory Hale to talk about moves the company has made and other industry issues.
InTech: How much of an affect will the baby boomers leaving the industry have on manufacturers and your company?
Bhattacharya: I think that is something everyone is concerned with. We have talked to a lot of different customers, and this huge engineering knowledge base that exists is absolutely something our customers and manufactures are concerned about. It is not an easy problem to resolve. Technology is part of the answer, but along with that answer, some fundamental changes need to happen, like more focus on engineering motivating people to join engineering. There are several things that need to happen to solve that problem. Technology is one thing. Better engineering education is another, and empowerment of workers is a third thing. If you empower these people and give them the way to act and give them the information that allows them to act on and make decisions they are able to make, that is a big step change.
InTech: How much can technology play into gathering as much knowledge as possible?
Bhattacharya: A lot. Will human intervention be necessary? Absolutely. I think it depends on what functions are happening. But there are certain areas where technology can do the whole bit, but there are other areas here human intervention is going to be necessary. If you are running a simulation on a distillation column, that is a pretty deterministic process. That is where you have a simulation package that is designed for you. That is something where you don’t need someone with 15 years of experience. On the other side, if I have 25 pieces of inventory and I have three customers that have come in and ordered 10 pieces, you will have one customer that is five pieces short. Can technology solve that problem? No.
InTech: How much of your product innovation comes from customers?
Bhattacharya: I think given the way we are organized as a company, we don’t own a sales channel and a services channel, so we work with distributors and systems integrators and that is our face with customers. So, a significant part of our product roadmap is based on feedback we have collected from them (distributors and system integrators), and that is actually coming from the customers.
InTech: Do users get the most out of their
Bhattacharya: Some people do, but the reality in the industry is that there could be a set of people that have invested in the technology and they haven’t spent time learning it. Then these people leave and a new set of people come in, and sometimes it is a challenge for them to go through the training process. But as these people that got trained are leaving, a new set of people come in many times new training processes don’t exist.
InTech: What do you see the engineer’s job looking like in three to five years?
Bhattacharya: I think it will be totally different. I think it will be a mix of understanding of technology, engineering, change management, and globalization.
InTech: How has globalization changed the
Bhattacharya: I think significantly. You can not be competitive if you don’t have a perspective on globalization. That will actually help you focus on your core and allow you to compete better. And I think companies are realizing that there is a particular part of the business that is core, and everything else is really not a differentiator. So why not give that differentiator to someone else so you can focus on the core. And globalization is the ability to define your core and what parts you can give to others.
InTech: Do companies have a hard time figuring out what their core is?
Bhattacharya: I don’t think companies have a hard time figuring out what their core is. I think companies have a hard time figuring out what to give up.
InTech: Do you see differences in an engineer’s job regionally? For instance, an engineer’s job in the U.S. being the same as it is in Europe or Asia?
Bhattacharya: I think it is increasingly becoming similar. As you have all the developing nations and the brick nations and they are all building state of the art products in the U.S. or Europe and the products are strikingly similar. So, with very similar products, the job of the engineer is becoming familiar.
InTech: So, an engineer can go from a plant in Iowa to a plant in Germany and not miss a beat?
Bhattacharya: If you look at how people organize their jobs; if I have a naphtha cracker that I have procured from a particular supplier and there is another company that has a naphtha cracker from the same supplier, you can actually advertise I need an engineer that has worked on this type of technology. Naphtha crackers from that supplier across all companies are going to be the same.
InTech: What is the big issue that keeps users up at night?
Bhattacharya: How do I balance the need for productivity and the need for innovation? Sometimes the need for productivity and the need for innovation pull in opposite directions. I have to be able to innovate fast enough to get that premium in the market and help engage our customers that we are better than the rest because that is money in our pocket; but at the same time when I am innovating, I cannot afford to lose sight of efficiency. So, balancing that is a crucial thing people always grapple with because the tendency is for both of those to pull in opposite directions.
InTech: How much has the dollar’s decline hurt your company?
Bhattacharya: I think about 40% of our business is in Europe, so we have a natural hedge. I think we are very diverse in our revenues in all parts of the world. If we were predominately in the U.S. or Europe, the situation would be different.
Return to Previous Page