Thoroughly Modern Mills: Enabling Knowledge Workers for the Next Century

Invensys Operations Management Is Focused on Empowering People to Not Only Do Their Jobs Better, But Also to Decide What Jobs to Do


By Aaron Hand

For the past 100 years of industrial revolution, manufacturers have enjoyed typically a 4% to 5% productivity improvement. "That's a 50:1 compound output over those 100 years to where today 49 of those people have been replaced with machines, with technology, with equipment, with better processes, materials, all kinds of things," says Rick Morse, vice president of control and safety solutions for Invensys Operations Management.

But times have changed. The industrial revolution is making way for the information revolution, in which the remaining workers will need to be empowered with the information to make the right decisions. Plants have been reduced to just a handful of people who know how to handle turnaround events, Morse says. "Those turnarounds are so far apart you might only do two, maybe three in a career. There are too few people, too little knowledge with experience to make good judgments. There are too few people who know how to decide what job to do."

Meanwhile, the pace of business is getting faster, meaning operators must be able to make decisions much more quickly as well. "We're running so much closer to the ground that with every little bump, we start to scrape something off," Morse says. "Yet automation is supposed to keep us more productive, with 4% to 5% growth in productivity this year, and 4% to 5% next year. Where does it come from?"

It comes from focusing on the people rather than the automation, he contends, empowering people not just to do a job better, but actually to decide which job to do.

As pointed out several times during the opening day today at Invensys OpsManage'11 in Nashville, industry is faced with an aging workforce. Not only does this mean that much of the collective knowledge is preparing to leave the building, but there is another generation entering operations that is much more accustomed to having information available at its fingertips.

"Most managers come either from Baby Boomers or Gen X. We have been trained because of our environment to behave in a certain way," said Sudipta Bhattacharya, president and CEO of Invensys Operations Management, during his keynote Tuesday morning. Generation Y, also known as Millennials, followed by the Re-Generation (those born after 1996), will make up the workforce of the future, he said, noting that they will demand empowerment. "They are used to using technology to empower themselves. The desire for empowerment will be very different than Gen X or Boomers. That is going to be the workforce of the future that we will have to deal with, that we will have to manage, that we will have to cultivate in order to be able to grow."

Invensys is focused on modernizing the plant, which today does not mean just throwing boxes with blinky lights at customers, but rather taking a holistic approach to provide workers with the right tools—the tools not only to gain quick access to the information they need, but also the context to know what to do with that information.

"Modernization has been a challenge in the industry. They want to upgrade their technology; it's cool. But the big challenge comes in how to justify it," says Nathalie Marcotte, vice president of control and safety marketing for Invensys Operations Management. "My modernization plan needs to be a business plan."

Invensys advocates a more holistic approach that can also focus simply on getting the most out of existing equipment. "If they don't need to change the blinky light to get to next level of operational excellence, then don't change it," Marcotte says. "That's the benefit of looking at it from the holistic approach. We don't push technology down their throats."

Whereas control excellence used to mean simply improving productivity, operators today need to understand the business implications behind the decisions they make; essentially, how they affect the bottom line. "I've got a certain spend. I've got stuff out there that I've got to make sure I get a certain level of productivity out of," Morse explains. "Can I make more of product Y if all of these piece parts for product Y are due for maintenance? Maybe I need to make product X."

Meanwhile, decisions must be made within the context of environmental and safety excellence, Morse notes. The land speed record for cars 80 to 90 years ago was about 20 mph because people were perched up front, and if they hit a bump, they could go flying over the front of the car. Today we can operate cars at 55 mph because of multiple safety improvements. Invensys aims to empower plant workers with the same kind of improvements to manage the bumps along the way. "We've got all these Maseratis of control systems, and people are driving 20 mph down the road because they can't see anything in front of them," Morse says. "It's more than just ABS brakes. We're talking about headlights. What kind of risk am I facing?"

An integral part of the tool that the worker of the next century will require is the knowledge that he has access to, "so he can make a choice as to which task to do that is going to profoundly impact his company's bottom line," Morse says.

It's all about changing the rules of the game. "We don't have to play it the same way it was 20 or 30 years ago," Morse says, pointing to Invensys' introduction of intelligent marshalling, for example, to eliminate the marshalling cabinets that have been standard in the industry. Also, contemporary software should drive a different level of innovation and collaboration—not just "dumb closed-loop data," he says, but rather evolving from data engines to process engines that have context and relevance.

"You can't just rip out the old blinky lights and put in new blinky lights," Morse says. "You can't just give them a new slide rule."