November/December 2012
Executive Corner

What's on YOUR mind?

By John Nesi

Through a series of special events and forums over the past month, I have had a chance to engage in some in-depth, highly insightful conversations with process engineering, control engineering, and IT executives across a range of industries. From oil and gas to fine chemical to water/wastewater to food and beverage, these professionals shared some common priorities and goals as they look forward to 2013. It might be interesting to see if they align with your own.

Information security as a strategic imperative

There is no doubt that safety and security of people and processes have long been top-of-mind, but in today's information-enabled enterprise, the stakes have gotten higher. While nobody will go "on the record" (and why would they?), it is fair to say that the great majority of companies we talk to are under constant threat-both malicious and accidental-from hackers, viruses, uneducated employees, and well-meaning contractors, among others. The wrong breach at the wrong time could have drastic consequences, and nobody wants it to happen on their watch.

Devices playing on open networks, such as EtherNet/IP, is pervasive, and we have moved, as Cisco describes it, from an "Internet of People" to an "Internet of Things." We also have new opportunities for remote access for monitoring, diagnostics, and maintenance, but companies are struggling with how to do it safely, securely, and consistently.

This means that we need to stop thinking of security as something to implement after the system is installed. We need to design security in from the beginning, and we need to manage it at all layers-device, controller, process, and enterprise. And since it is highly likely that the devices in the future will be walking around the plant in someone's pocket or clipped to their belt, we need to move to a model where we secure the data and not the device. The data HAS to go somewhere or it is not particularly valuable, so validating the data and managing who has access to it is much more productive than only worrying about which devices it sits on and who has access to those devices.

Strange bedfellows are not so strange anymore

Successful security strategies require closer collaboration between process automation, operations, and IT, but it is not the only place where cross-functional collaboration is critical.

The forward-looking customers we are talking to have truly broken down the walls between these historically siloed functions-mixing staffs, cross-training, creating hybrid job titles, establishing rotating tours-of-duty-all in the name of better collaboration for business benefit.

There seems to be a new unity of purpose in manufacturing-where IT, operations, process automation, and control engineering are going beyond installing this server, managing that process, or controlling those machines to put laser-like focus on improving operations, managing costs and margins, and reducing risk and assuring compliance.

More and more companies are establishing "operations teams" that rally around common business purpose, whether it be energy efficiency, supply chain throughput, risk mitigation, or any other pressing business priority. One major opportunity we see is collaboration around the "governance of data." The expenditures that companies made around enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems heightened the awareness of the value of more visibility into the supply chain, but ERP never really fulfilled its promise in truly bridging the gaps between operations, manufacturing, and IT. Now, cross-functional teams have the opportunity to take it to the next step by defining how data is secured, accessed, and distributed for better traceability, lot management, quality, energy consumption, and overall productivity. Those companies that embrace this collaboration will realize gains that give them a competitive advantage and make their jobs easier.

Re-thinking roles and technologies

Today's engineers are more operationally focused. Maintenance is becoming more networked. Operators are more open to modern technology, and executives are recognizing the treasure trove of information from production. All of this is happening while we usher in a new generation of engineers, IT professionals, and business managers who have different attitudes and expectations.

This calls for a departure from legacy process control systems and legacy thinking. The people we are talking with are less interested in philosophy and more interested in seizing opportunities for real business improvement. They are embracing newer, more contemporary process control platforms. They are adopting open, standards-based architectures. They are installing wireless. They are integrating mobile devices. They are using multi-channel communications-data, voice, video-and they are creating collaborative ecosystems with their equipment OEMs, their integrators, and their automation suppliers.

One last observation on the conversations of the past month-and that is the high degree of optimism that people have for what the future holds. Despite all the competitive, economic, and regulatory pressures we face, it is an exciting time to be in this industry, and better security, more collaboration, and re-thinking roles and technologies will help the forward-thinking companies in this field achieve success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Nesi (janesi@ra.rockwell.com) is the vice president of market development for the global sales and marketing segment of Rockwell Automation. John has more than 32 years of experience in sales, marketing, systems, services, operations, and engineering across various businesses with Rockwell Automation. He is responsible for the strategic and commercial development for Rockwell Automation's growth initiatives, including sustainability, power and energy, working with customer segments in the industrial sector to promote energy efficiencies, process optimization, and production intelligence to improve demand-driven production in a safe, sustainable environment. John holds a bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University and is an executive scholar of Kellogg School of Management.