August 2008

Communication: A key to success

By Gregory Hale, InTech, Editor

Speaking the same language, being on the same page, having a mind meld, whatever the cliché, it is vital in today's global automation environment for engineers to be able to clearly converse and comprehend what is going on.

Just talk to Dennis Sadlowski.

The chief executive of Siemens Energy and Automation works for a company that started in Germany and almost immediately spread out to other countries.

"Our roots were global right from the beginning, as the Siemens brothers and family right away started up in Germany and almost simultaneously in the U.K. and Russia. So, as an organization, (globalization) is in our roots, and we deal with cross-cultural activities internally all the time," he said.

Sadlowski said Siemens views detailed documentation as a key communications tool both internally as well as with their end users.

"Language is important. Internally, we do a lot with documenting things in writing because that really seems to help solidify gaps in learning and understanding."

However, while having good written documentation is important, engineers also need to go beyond the facts and figures of a process.

"Today's engineers need to be much more adept at understanding some of the local nuances as well as some of the cross-cultural skills; where you can't be an expert in every system in every country, with every standard," Sadlowski said. "But you really have to have the cross-cultural skills to get out the salient things on what can be duplicated, how to keep standardization in an environment that helps long-term productivity while at the same time adapting to local codes, local standards, and local requirements."

Part of speaking the same language is all about adapting to change and not running away from it.

"We have to go more and more toward the digital world and also the virtual world," said Ralf-Michael Franke, Siemens chief executive for Industrial Automation Systems Industry sector, during his keynote address at the 2008 Siemens Automation Summit in Chicago. "Engineers have to think this way in the future."

From an end user's perspective, communication is king, agreed Eric Cosman, engineering solutions IT consultant for Dow Chemical Co., speaking at the Siemens Summit.

"We found at Dow we had our own language, and when you work closely with suppliers, you have to speak the same language," Cosman said. "When you come into a situation (with a supplier) speaking 'Dowspeak,' then there is a problem. You have to be able to speak the same language."

Cosman said, about 10 years ago, Dow decided to adopt an industry standard for language, which has helped Dow employees when dealing with people and companies outside their organization.

In short, good communications tools and skills allow a company to remain agile. "You have to move quickly in the industry," Cosman said.
It is no cliché; the automation workplace is a roiling, dynamic environment changing daily. Business models are a great thing, but remember they are just that-a model. In the real world, a guarantee for success is corralling the art of communication.

Talk to me:ghale@isa.org or (919) 990-9275.