Pandemic spurs demand for digital lifecycle services

Nov. 19, 2020
Rachael Conrad and Matt Fordenwalt of Rockwell Automation discussed the increasing scope of the company’s lifecycle services offering.

“We’ve been really focused on how we evolve our capabilities and our offerings to make sure that we can move up from critical component supplier to our customers to being that trusted partner.” Rachael Conrad and Matt Fordenwalt of Rockwell Automation discussed the increasing scope of the company’s lifecycle services offering.

“The global health crisis has forced many plants to focus on staying productive, keeping employees safe and making sure operations are secure,” said Rachael Conrad, vice president of customer support and maintenance, Rockwell Automation. And many are turning to the lifecycle services organization of Rockwell Automation to help fill in the technology and expertise gaps revealed by the pandemic.

She and Matt Fordenwalt, vice president of systems and solutions business at Rockwell Automation, spoke at a press conference this week during the company’s Automation Fair At Home event. “We’re excited to be here with you today to share a little about our journey during the pandemic and also to talk about where we’re headed from a perspective of services and solutions for our customer in supporting them,” Conrad said.

“The current environment that we’re in is accelerating people’s digital journey as well as their emphasis on cybersecurity,” added Fordenwalt. “It’s not just one industry—and it’s really global.”

Before the pandemic, Rockwell Automation was already focused on helping customers with other pressing industry issues, such as aging operational technology (OT) assets and infrastructure or the workforce skills gap relative to the plant floor. “We’ve been really focused on how we evolve our capabilities and our offerings to make sure that we can move up from critical component supplier to our customers to being that trusted partner,” Conrad said. Rockwell Automation has moved at an accelerated rate to enable its services through digital technology, she said, helping the company’s customers with their digital footprints and connected worker strategies for remote workforces.

Last year, Rockwell Automation launched its Lifecycle Services capabilities to help plants with more than automation. Lifecycle Services offer solutions to customers for designing, building, sustaining or improving operations. Lifecycle Services “is our comprehensive approach to solutions and services, which provides that long-term partnership to our customers that they really need and expect from their automation provider,” Fordenwalt said. This year, Rockwell Automation introduced its new brand, LifecycleIQ Services, which combines digital technologies with domain experts to help companies run faster and smarter at all phases of the lifecycle of the business.

“As we think about our customers and their journey, the pandemic itself has really accelerated their digital transformation,” Fordenwalt said. “It’s always been a priority, but the challenge with any digital transformation is struggling to get off the ground and make progress.”

The acquisition of Kalypso by Rockwell Automation has helped to boost its team of digital experts, who help manufacturers understand their goals and strategically outline their programs. Kalypso brought a comprehensive set of innovative services and a modern consulting approach. “We’re already seeing results,” Fordenwalt said.

Cybersecurity has long been a rising concern for businesses, but the pandemic and its demand for remote, connected workforces has accelerated security concerns. “The connected world has made cybersecurity a top priority for all of us,” Conrad said. She also noted that finding the right talent to support IT/OT and cybersecurity initiatives is difficult. Many businesses have worked on IT security and risk assessment, Conrad said, but that doesn’t always translate to OT. “Our role is to play the part of tying that together for our customers,” she said.

Future plans include penetration testing in OT environments and threat tuning to focus on the alerts that are the most relevant and the riskiest, Conrad said.

The Rockwell Automation cybersecurity services offering has also been helped by two recent acquisitions— Israel-based Avnet Data Security, LTD, in January and Spain-based Oylo in October.

“Those two companies are helping us scale both our delivery capability around the world, as well as adding new capabilities to our offerings, like incident response, secure remote access and some additional cyber managed services,” Conrad said. “We’ve really been focused on how we deliver cybersecurity services to our customers when we can’t access those plants.” Industrial data centers and virtualization are some of the ways to accomplish that, she added.

In building the new Rockwell Automation cybersecurity capability, the company has focused largely on modernizing its remote support capabilities. New initiatives include a new augmented reality virtual remote assistance tool, a digital work instruction library, and e-learning courses.

Early in the pandemic, Rockwell Automation offered remote support to customers, even if it wasn’t included in their original packages. For those already with remote support, the company offered new options like Live View virtual remote support. Rockwell Automation also modified delivery approaches for install based evaluations or other types of assessments to do those remotely.

“This year is really unprecedented, but also we’ve seen some good come out of it, in my opinion,” Conrad said. “It’s really forced the need for thinking differently about the way that we work.”

On the solutions side, Rockwell Automation moved much of its large project portfolio for process systems, discrete automation systems or information solutions to remote design sessions, hosting the software in virtual environments.

As an example of a successful digital transformation, Fordenwalt talked about how Rockwell Automation helped Toronto, Canada-based Norbord Inc., which produces engineered, wood-based panels, to maximize production at its facilities. This involved modernizing old PLC technology to the next generation, modern solutions for managing and executing work orders, and overlaying a set of analytics that allow the company to look at assets across their portfolio. He said the project wouldn’t have been possible without some of the recent acquisitions.

“What they’re been able to do there is really engage and help them develop the overall business case,” Fordenwalt said. “That includes what it’s going to look like in terms of the financial investment and return on their part. Plus, we’ve built a road map with our consulting practice to really drive it all the way through the lifecycle—from upfront innovation to actually moving into that design phase and now helping them both operate and maintain and improve long term.”

“It’s truly transforming our relationship with our customers,” Fordenwalt said. “And bringing that full lifecycle approach is creating that intimacy where the customer gets the most value from Rockwell Automation.”

About the author: Anna Townshend
Anna Townshend has been a writer and journalist for almost 20 years. Previously, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review, published by The Waterways Journal, until she joined Putman Media in June 2020. She is the managing editor of Control Design and Plant Services.
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