All My Devices are Smart? So What?

Nic Gihl, VP Automation and Control from Schneider, asks some thought provoking questions in his presentation at CSIA. How are we going to find a new direction that will reinvigorate customer interest in automation? How are we going to explain to customers about all this stuff in a way that we can make money? Can we create a global information infrastructure so that the guy in the USA can keep his job even though half his products are made in China? The fact is, as Nic points out, we've been delivering "techie benefits" instead of business benefits to our end users for years. At first, the "wow" factor of reduced manpower and improved quality was enough to generate interest in automation. Now, the technologies available to us as integrators have far outstripped our enduser customers ability to understand what to do with them. In other words, what the heck do they do with all the data we can present them? This, Gihl says, is the GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for integration and implementation. System integrators can explain and produce value...and that is the key to invigorated customer interest, and the key to more business for automation integrators and suppliers. We have now got SMART AGENTS in our devices (for example, the Emerson CSI Machinery Health Monitor) which report to the control system only the data that is important, not all the data there is. Gihl calls this the beginning of Device Relationship Management, and I think he's seriously on to something big. These smart agents can provide situational visibility in a significantly easy to understand way. Instead of approaching a project by saying, we can provide you a network, with this topology, with this HMI, with this other stuff, and lots of mind-numbing technobabble, the way to the business case goes like this: We can provide you with increased customer service (insert actual value), proactive response to alarms and alerts (insert actual value), remote diagnostics and repair (insert actual value), increased asset availability and plant uptime (insert actual value), improved conformance to quality and design (insert actual value), and reduced service costs and travel time (insert actual value). Add up all the actual values, subtract the cost of the project, and what you have left is real bottom-line value, expressed in ways MBA accountants and managers understand. We're still telling them how we will build the watch, and missing the opportunity to tell them the benefits of being on time. Comments? --Walt Boyes