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In working with ABB, Dow quickly discovered that we shared the first element of collaboration: a shared vision. ABB’s vision of automation was completely compatible with ours. ABB staff have been very open with us on the topic of system strategy and willing to capture our safety control philosophy and incorporate it into its commercial offering. ABB also had the dedicated resources for ongoing system and technology development that we could not possibly have as a manufacturer, as well as centers of excellence for safety and bench strength in systems engineering. Furthermore, ABB showed a willingness to adapt its development program to accommodate our desired capabilities.
Our vision for automation remains that of using a commercial system that meets all of the criteria for operating discipline. At the same time, this system must be successful in the marketplace to keep it cost-effective and to enable the rest of industry to benefit from Dow’s leadership in automation. We did not want another proprietary solution developed exclusively for Dow. We wanted the rest of the industry to have the opportunity to benefit from what we had learned with our unique approach.
The second element of collaboration is trust. Our collaborative relationship has required tremendous organizational commitment from all parties. As we worked together, we found that both of our organizations had very similar cultures that fostered mutual respect for each other, leading to shared trust. That respect and trust was pervasive throughout the organizations, from the executive level management to the development teams to the field engineers.
Even in some of the early implementation projects, our technical and engineering teams worked so closely together that when one encountered a group of them, it was difficult to tell who belonged to Dow, and who belonged to ABB.
Open communication is also an essential element of collaboration. Team members from Dow and ABB make every effort to stay in touch with each other on a continuous basis and have organized working groups to maintain a good rapport through a combination of electronic media and face-to-face meetings. Each party in such a collaborative effort must have the mindset that it is part of the same whole, so that collectively, we are all part of the same team.
While you can do all the team building you want, collaboration is really about bringing together diverse perspectives, because this is really what stimulates creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. As mentioned, this requires an environment of trust and open communication to not only express one’s opinions, but also to debate and discuss openly and agree upon potential solutions. A mutual focus on the details and continuous measures of forward progress are also essential to stay on plan. This is how constructive and successful change takes place.
To summarize, the key elements of any successful relationship include a shared vision, trust, communication and the willingness to confront each other. All are all critical components of the joint development process.
In the classical customer/vendor relationship, the vendor asks “what do you need?” and then goes away, reappearing later to present “the answer.” We, however, chose a different, side-by-side parallel approach that has ultimately delivered against our goal.
The Dow and ABB relationship has become stronger with the passage of time. When we began, each company had its own view of the world of automation. These visions were compatible, but different in some respects. Dow’s MOD 5 FORTRAN-like language and ABB’s object-oriented programming appeared to be on a collision course, with two different automation suppliers’ philosophies. This collision, however, began the long process of actually integrating the ABB System 800xA product into Dow as the preferred and standardized automation platform. Trust and collaboration evolved as each company learned more of the capabilities of the other, and thus began the process of listening and acknowledging the possibilities of the others’ ideas. Today our relationship is much more than supplier and customer, and we strongly believe that our working relationship will continue to generate enhanced value for Dow and ABB, for industry and for the marketplace.
As the collaborative development relationship between Dow and ABB continues to grow, the process industries stand to benefit from the commercial availability of even more capabilities that support Dow’s operating discipline. In our ongoing quest to share its innovative approach and best practices for the greater good of the entire industry, Dow has collaborated with ABB to transform key elements of our operating discipline into commercial product features. We will continue to make these widely available so process manufacturers can operate their own facilities more safely and productively. This innovative relationship and collaborative business and development effort provides a win-win-win scenario for Dow, ABB and customers in all process industries.
Margaret Walker, Ed Sederlund, Jerry Gipson and Eric Cosman are Dow emploees.
In 2006, the first three articles in this series appeared. The current article is a wrap-up, including lessons learned over time as the collaboration has continued.
The three earlier stories can be found as follows:
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