Who do we trust?

Among high-tech industries, surveys show that end users of process automation equipment and systems trust their vendors more than trade magazines, industry analysts and others.

By Walt Boyes

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Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

At the ISA Marketing and Sales Summit in September, Honeywell executive Brian Chapman presented some interesting data. Alone among high-tech industries, end users of process automation equipment and systems trust their vendors more than anybody else. Next most trusted are trade magazines like Control and after that, industry analysts like ARC, Venture Development and others. Our own surveys corroborate Chapman’s data. This situation is, of course, quite different from the rest of the high-tech marketplace, where industry analysts, testing agencies and trade magazines (in that order) are trusted more than vendors.

Partly, I think, the reason for this behavior among process automation professionals is that automation suppliers rarely say, “Well, we can’t help you.” Most vendors in this space would spend far more to fix a problem than the end user spent on the device, software or system to begin with.

Why? Because this is not a short-term market, and the life cycle of products sold into the process industries is very long—approaching twenty years—a full human generation. It is not so lonely at the pointy end of things for an automation professional when the supplier steps up and is right there working on fixing the problem. And end users repay that kind of support with intense loyalty.

When I was on the vendor side, I spent many nights, weekends and evenings helping end users figure out how to make their plants run, despite running out of chewing gum, baling wire and the right spare parts. There is camaraderie among kindred spirits when you are doing this, and that’s the basis of the relationship of respect and trust that most suppliers are capable of forging with their end users. Suppliers who do this quickly find out that end users have very highly tuned, super-heterodyne B.S. detectors and dislike wearing waders to work. Suppliers who win their end users’ respect all do it the same way—by being there when they are needed.

But having a life is also fun, whether you are an end user or a supplier. This is why predictive maintenance is becoming such a truly wonderful phenomenon: You can actually plan when to fix something before it breaks and enjoy your free time, instead of having to run down to the plant at 3 a.m. to try to fix the magizzy that you have only one of, while the plant loses thousands of dollars per hour in production.

This month (January 2007), we present our annual Readers’ Choice Awards. In November of last year, we asked a random sample of our end-user readers to write in the name of the company they consider the best in more than 70 categories of products and software, and to rate that company’s service on a five-point scale. Because it is a write-in ballot, there is very little bias toward any supplier.

There are many reasons why people write in a particular name, but there are a few clear reasons why they don’t, mostly clustering around service or lack thereof.

Awhile back, I made some vendors really angry at me by suggesting that end users should vote with their feet. Tough. End users, if you aren’t being well served by your suppliers, you have only yourselves to blame.

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