I blame Dilbert. Along with other perfectly useful words like “synergy” and “empowerment,” “collaboration” for me had been relegated to the dustbin of overused business-speak, a prime candidate for the B4 box in Buzzword Bingo. Indeed, we business professionals hear the word often enough that it’s easy to give it a nod and breeze on by without giving the concept a second thought. However, when one of the world’s largest automation players themes its annual user conference around collaboration not once, but for two years in a row, it was enough to make me pause and think.
You see, I recently returned from Houston and ABB’s fifth annual Automation World user event, which this year was entitled “The Power of Collaboration,” following on last year’s “Collaborating for Results.” And, if process automation professionals think the term is overused, you wouldn’t know it by the more than 3,300 people who showed up. The attendance set a new record and represented an increase of more than 30% compared with 2007.
At the event, a range of keynote speakers from ABB, its business partners and its clients spoke to the growing importance of collaboration in today’s increasingly global and technically complex industrial landscape.
“Technology is adding costs and complexity, and globalization is turning the world into a single market,” said Ravi Uppal, ABB’s president of global markets and chairman of ABB India, of the driving forces necessitating increased levels of collaboration.
“Collaboration is a critical competency,” Uppal explained, noting that collaboration allows organizations to extend resources, open opportunities, create strong and effective projects, capitalize on organizational strengths, and build capacity.
“At ABB, collaboration isn’t limited to a particular market or function,” he said. “Our products and systems are only means to an end—we have to remain open-minded to collaborate with our customers to solve their problems.”
“Technology is the easy part,” added John Brantley, general manager of IBM’s global chemical and petrochemical industries, relating lessons learned in the course of IBM’s four-year-old collaborative effort. He said ABB/IBM joint efforts are helping oil and gas companies extract fuel from deep-sea and other hard-to-reach sources, such as Petrobras’ new field with an 8-billion barrel reserve that’s located under 7,000 feet of water, 10,000 feet of rock and sand and 6,600 feet of salt.
“Innovation is at the intersection of insight and invention,” Brantley explained, recommending that organizations collaborate openly and partner aggressively across all disciplines to enable new product and service innovations.
At StatoilHydro, for example, ABB and IBM helped add new sensing capabilities, networking and integrated information systems. Adolfo Enrique, StatoilHydro’s integrated operations director, reported via video that IBM and ABB helped his company gather and organize many kinds of data from systems on its offshore oil platforms.
“Integrating these operations helped us optimize them, so we’re expecting a 5% increase in production and 30% less in operating costs,” Enrique said. “Last year, our integrated operations gave us $1.5 billion in added reserves, and we’re expecting to save an additional $60 billion between now and 2015.” Yes, that’s $60 billion, with a b.
“ABB enjoys a reputation for innovation and reliability, and this has been achieved in close collaboration with you, our customers and partners,” said Michel Demaré, ABB CEO and CFO. “It’s an approach to doing business that’s woven into the very fabric of ABB.
“Collaboration is key to operational and financial performance,” he added, attributing much of the company’s renewed success to an an emphasis on collaboration. “Indeed, the risk to ABB is to not be involved in early collaboration with our clients.”