Empowerment at the Edge

Delivering Actionable Information to Front-Line Employees Is Key to Realizing the Real-Time Enterprise


By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief, Control

"Technology can enable, but never empower—only people can," said Sudipta Bhattacharya, Invensys Operations Management CEO, in his keynote address to this week's 2011 OpsManage North America user group conference. Bhattacharya framed his entire talk in terms of empowerment and described how Invensys has been transformed into a company that is about empowering its customers and their employees to create value.

Fifteen years ago, he noted, the inventory-to-sales ratio in the United States' $6 trillion economy was $1.75 of inventory for every dollar of sales. In 2011, he asserted, it is $1.25 to 1. This is now the world's fastest supply chain, and manufacturing plants need to kick in. "There's no inventory left," he said.

"We will have to be leveraging technology, yes," he went on, "but it is empowerment of the people at the edge, that will make the difference."

He noted that in the half-yearly results just released last week, Invensys' orders were up 19%, revenue was up 12% and order numbers were up 20%. "This performance is, in the final analysis, a result of the trust that our customers have in us and the high level of performance of our employees and partners," he said.

Closing the Enterprise Control Loop

Bhattacharya also discussed how Invensys is helping its customers to close the loop on enterprise control—from plant-floor systems to the business level. "There are only three control loops," he said. "There's the process loop, in real time. There's the operations control loop, which runs at a slower pace than real-time. Finally, there's the business control loop that runs slowest yet.

"To integrate these three loops requires a structural shift of centralized control to the edge, and that requires empowerment and also requires information," Bhattacharya said. This shift is from top-down hierarchical control where management has all the information to the employee in the real-time world who can, if empowered, create greater value faster and with more relevance.

Bhattacharya described moving from the world of aggregated information to the de-aggregation needed to have edge empowerment work. Then he went on to describe what an Invensys customer, Codelco, the world's largest copper miner, has done to align strategy with execution. One of the first things the Invensys consulting team asked operators when beginning the engagement was, "What is the information you need to be empowered?" Empowering the operators to make business loop decisions produced 57 days of additional capacity and $10 million in cost reductions.

"So where is Invensys Operations Management investing?" Bhattacharya asked. "We are investing in mobility, workflow, cloud computing, virtualization, business intelligence, visualization, security and social media. But we are not forgetting our base of distributed control, safety, HMI, asset management and field devices."

InFusion, he said, is the structure that puts it all together. "Our customers and partners are using the ArchestrA System Platform and ArchestrA Workflow to enrich InFusion by embedding products into the platform. We extract information from the plant floor into software applications that are the most appropriate."

It is the workforce of the future, the Generation Y and Re-Generations, that we will be working with in the next few years, he said. "They are information-literate, and they have a desire for empowerment. Increasing technology in automation and a need and desire for real empowerment are the trends we need to deal with."