This means that the market for knowledgeable automation workers is actually increasing worldwide. But this will be automation workers who understand the entire picture from the sensor to the enterprise, and can work in any part of it, interchangeably.
We will have to change our elevator speech, too.
When you try to distill down what we do so that we can explain it to the CEO, or to our wife's best friend at a party, it's a lot easier, and more intelligible, to say, "I work in manufacturing automation," or "process automation," or "I help automate the processes that make (insert whatever your plant does)." This is a lot easier than trying to explain that instrumentation doesn't mean you play in a band.
The profession we follow is changing even more. We are being pulled out from behind our manufacturing cells, production lines, our flowmeters and differential pressure transmitters, analyzers, PLCs and control valves, and our Safety Instrumented Systems and made to act as business process analysts as well as engineers and technicians. We can either fight to the death to retain our old labels, or we can willingly embrace the new responsibilities our companies have thrust upon us. One is safe, the other scary. But one will continue the cycle of layoffs and downsizing, while the other reinforces the importance we have to the conduct of successful business.
And one will continue to allow people to be killed, as the man described as a "model employee" at Bayer in West Virginia was killed last year, while the other will enable us to change the economic calculus to permit our plants to operate inherently safely.
How Safe is Safe? How Secure is Secure?
This is a three-sided tale. Safety. Security. Compliance. Engineering. Finance. Legal.
As I said we would be, in my keynote speech last year at the TÜV Rheinland Safety Symposium, we're beginning to see a convergence between the disciplines of functional safety and control system cybersecurity. It isn't hard to see why. Both disciplines focus on the behavior of complex systems. Both disciplines are based on risk management. Both disciplines require continuing engineering analysis and management.
Since both disciplines are about managing risk to acceptable levels we can easily see that ultimate safety isn't a viable goal. Nor is ultimate security a viable goal. We need as much safety as we must have to eliminate or dramatically reduce the incidence of accidents in the plant. We need as much security as we must have to eliminate or dramatically reduce the incidence of cyber intrusion into the control and SCADA systems we operate. But we don't want to be hampered in operating the plant by either safety or security regulations and enforcement. So, we want just enough, but not too much of either safety or security.
There's the engineering side of risk management, and then there's the financial side. The financial side says, we can have less safety and security than the engineers want by insuring against accidents and intrusions. That way, company profits stay protected, but company personnel and assets sometimes do not.
When, as is beginning to happen now, governments begin making regulations about either safety or cybersecurity, we find the legal side of risk management rearing its head.
While the engineers want enough safety and security to prevent accidents but not hamper production, and the beancounters want as little safety and security as they have to pay for, the lawyers want none of those things. Their job is to keep the company from being sued, and the way they do that is by instituting a risk management vehicle called compliance.
As far as the lawyers are concerned, the company only has to do as little as possible toward functional safety or cybersecurity as they can, and be in compliance with the regulations.
In the power industry in the US, we have the NERC CIPs…and people insisting that their cyber security practices which are manifestly unsafe to the engineers, and way too costly already to the beancounters, are just fine because they are in compliance.
We are seeing this attitude spread to the water and wastewater utilities, and to some extent to the transportation sector and some of the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries, because they are used to regulation, and compliance to regulations.
None of this, however, is making our infrastructure any safer or more cyber secure.
We must continue to focus on the idea that safety is about preserving safely people and processes and assets, not hedging with insurance policies to cover drastically unsafe practices. We must continue to focus on the idea that security is about the ability of our systems to withstand assaults from without, disaffected employees from within, and simple accidents.
I can just hear the CEO trying to explain to the Sarbanes-Oxley folks, "Well, we were in compliance. It isn't our fault that the terrorists' cyber attack killed our functional safety system and blew up our plant. We were in compliance!"
We are, as automation professionals, in a remarkably different place than we have been over the past 30 years. We are in demand.
We are scarce, and we now have the tools to prove that we are not only necessary, but irreplaceable. Imagine what would happen if all of us walked off our jobs for 60 days…but we don't have to do that.
What we MUST do is to stop thinking like instrument engineers, like control systems people, like safety systems engineers…and start thinking like real automation professionals.
We have a larger, deeper skill set that we need to learn than any other discipline. It isn't enough to be an engineer…in fact, many automation professionals aren't engineers.
We must be able to engineer, to plan, to manage projects, to understand many kinds of processes in many different industries…in a way, we're like Ginger Rogers. She could do everything Fred Astaire could do– and she did it backwards, and in high heels.
And while we are dancing backward, and in high heels, we will be able to change the economic calculus so that not only will we operate in a green fashion, but that operating "green" will mean operating inherently safely.