The divisiveness among respondents on the global versus local issue was reflected in the many comments we re-ceived for this question. One respondent remarked that there should be a single global web page from which the user can navigate to country-specific web pages. Another remarked that they hated country-specific web sites be-cause it made them wonder what they were missing on the other country web sites. This same phenomenon has occurred within some supplier companies, where the local organization creates its own web site to share in-depth data with clients within its region, but these independent web sites are usually not shared with clients from other countries. Management within the supplier company itself may be unaware that “rogue” country-specific web sites exist within their organizations. How Much Information is Too Much?
Respondents were equally divisive over their views on obtaining only the specific information they need versus being exposed to information about the supplier’s other products and services. Almost 54 percent of respondents stated that they like to see a wide range of product and service information, while the rest preferred to see only the specific information they needed. This response is interesting for several reasons. If close to half of the respondents prefer to see only the specific information they need, it follows that they also know what they are looking for before they go to the web site. This only underscores the importance that suppliers must attribute to existing customers coming to their web sites looking for product and technical support information.
Of course, there is also a great opportunity for cross selling among automation suppliers. Most of the large automa-tion suppliers have diverse businesses that include not only automation systems, sensors and actuators, but also products that would normally be considered outside the scope of traditional automation, such as electrical equip-ment, building automation systems, and material handling systems. According to the results of this survey, at least half of customers seem to be open to the idea of finding out more about what the supplier has to offer them outside what their initial interests may include. Suppliers and End-Users Agree
Here are some clear website goals for supplier websites:
- Have an information-focused website, different than the investor relations website of the parent company.
- Have a site that is easily searched by a site-wise search engine, and is easily spidered by outside search engines.
- Make your website navigation as intuitive as possible. One respondent said, “I don't count clicks - if it takes twelve, but each click was intuitive, that's ok by me.”
- Keep your information technical and actionable.
- Keep your site updated and fresh.
ADMITTEDLY, THE survey is a relatively small sampling of the automation community. We received a total of 79 re-sponses from non-supplier clients, which includes end users, systems integrators and engineering firms, and OEMs. Including the suppliers, we received 141 responses, but we have removed the supplier responses from the analysis presented here because of the obvious bias. Surprisingly (or maybe not if you believe that suppliers can be their own worst critics), the filtered results do not vary greatly from those with the supplier responses.
From a geographic perspective, sixty-three percent of our non-supplier respondents were from North America. Al-most 18 percent came from Western Europe, with other responses received from regions such as China, Japan, India and Eastern Europe.
About a quarter of our non-supplier respondents were in management positions in their company, while about 20 percent were systems engineers. Other disciplines represented included plant engineering, sales, maintenance and plant operations.
We also tried to get a feel for what types of products our respondents had influence in purchasing. Most of our re-spondents had influence or were responsible for systems purchases on the system side of either process or discrete manufacturing (PLCs and DCSs). Many also had responsibility for advanced control software and process field instrumentation. Close to 42 percent of respondents were also responsible for selection of service providers. Other areas of responsibility included drives and motors, production management software, control valves, breakers, start-ers, terminal blocks and robots.
Larry O'Brien is research director for the process industries at ARC Advisory Group