One Italian system integrator’s response to COVID-19

May 11, 2020

In this podcast, Roberto Bennice, chief sales and marketing officer at system integrator SEID, talks with Jim Montague, Control’s executive editor, about the impact coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is having on process industry system integrators, their clients and suppliers, and the best ways they can cope with the worldwide crisis. Located in northern Italy, SEID and its local communities have been severely affected by COVID-19, along with the rest of the region.

Transcript

Jim: Hi, this is Jim Montague, executive editor of Control magazine and controlglobal.com, and this is the latest in our Control Amplified podcast series. In these recordings, we talk with expert sources about process control and automation topics, and try to get beyond our print and online coverage to explore some of the underlying issues impacting users, system integrators, suppliers and other people and organizations in these industries.

For our latest podcast, we're talking to Roberto Bennice, chief sales and marketing officer at Italy-based system integrator SEID about the impact COVID-19 is having on process industry system integrators and their clients, suppliers, communities, and also the best ways they can all cope with the effects of the worldwide crisis. Located in Songavazzo, Bergamo, SEID and its local communities have been devastated by the coronavirus, along with the rest of the region. SEID is also a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. Well, Roberto, sorry for the lengthy introduction, and thanks for joining us today.

Roberto: Hello, Jim. I'm so glad to be here. Thank you very much for your time and this opportunity. 

Jim: Okay. Well, listen, just to get started, could you please give us some background on SEID and the industries it serves, and how you've all been impacted by COVID-19? What's happening right now?

Roberto: Yes. SEID is a control system integrator with more than 30 years of experience in the automation sector, and we are especially focused on the oil and gas, chemical and power market. As you said before, our headquarters is in Italy, 70 kilometers from Milano. And SEID has more than 35 employees in the main organization faction, electrical design team, software development team, production, service, and the commissioning team. And our business is not only in Italy but especially abroad like U.S., Canadian, Asia, Middle East, and Russia countries. And about the COVID-19, as you said before, our headquarters is located very close to the epicenter of Coronavirus in Italy, more or less a 20, 25 kilometers far away. And even if nobody of SEID employees and their relatives have been affected by COVID, we have been in a very dark period especially a few weeks ago when the effects of Coronavirus were being heavier. But today the situation is less critical than before, and even if more people are still at home when they walk out from their apartments.

Jim: So then just to clarify things, you know, over what timeline did the Coronavirus emerge in your area and how did you see it affect your people and communities and businesses and industries?

Roberto: The first official affected people reached the hospital in the first week of last February, more or less. Most probably, the coronavirus was here from a long time before. And Jim, as you probably know, the north of Italy is the heart of business in our country. In only Lombardia region, we have more than one-sixth of Italy population, and many people travel locally and around the world that you have business. Therefore, I think this was the main cause as it increased dramatically the pandemic effect. And right now, in Italy, we have more than 200,000 affected people by COVID, and more than 27,000 dead people.

Jim: Holy smokes. Now, as you said, Northern Italy has been one of the region's hardest hit by COVID-19 and for a while, it had the most infections and fatalities. How did you all cope with the initial and the ongoing shock and then begin to respond to that?

Roberto: It was a very surreal situation. It's very clear in my mind as our first day after the government imposed to close all activities and required people to stay at home. It happened just in a couple of days during the weekend, and we move to normal life, to a new life without to understand what was happening. And after a few days, we have started to watch some picture and video, especially on the social network and Internet about overloaded hospitals, sick people, death, and more. And I remember very clear how many bad calls we received from friends those days. It has been very, very sad.

Jim: So, did you and your co-workers benefit from local emergency response efforts? I assume that has to be the case. And did you have a chance to contribute to some of those efforts?

Roberto: I can tell you that the people in this area is very common for their resilient support, and their ability to work and support always everybody, especially during an emergency situation. As in the past, every people made themselves available to help older people, doctors and sick people. And just to give you an example, more than 400 people convert an exhibition area in a hospital just in eight days. And as an incoming president of the Local Rotary Club, I had the opportunity to see the situation also from a different point of view. And I'm able to confirm that everybody here contributes directly to the emergency situation with any kind of resource. It was very incredible.

Jim: Now, how is daily life and business being impacted now by COVID-19, as everyone, I assume is continuing to work from home, like yourself? How much continues to be shut down?

Roberto: Yes. As soon as we understood the dangerous situation, SEID's board decided to put in place a very stringent regulation to reduce the access to our offices and providers, and some of our workmates had already been started to work from home before the complete shutdown. And to be honest, I think this made the difference. And it was the best decision to protect the workmates, their family, their friends, and everybody, and also our business. And even if the government will allow to open the organization on the fourth of May, we and more companies around this area will continue to keep the health recommendation in our organization, and we are suggesting that we have our employees to work from the house. And then about to the workshop, because we have also the workshop, we implemented all health regulation and we have provided all the health tools to protect the workers.

Jim: Cool. All right. Then also in addition to your own personnel, how have the industries, the process industries that SEID serves been affected? Have projects been put on hold? Have some been able to continue?

Roberto: Right now, our business has not been so affected by COVID-19 even if we are encountered some smaller reduction of orders. But as you know, the oil and gas market is under pressure, and we expect to have bad business effects by the end of this year and in 2021. But we have to be positive, and since we know about this likely situation and we had some months before this happened, I think this is the time to renew, one, our business model and product, several relations and share our working model, yes, I think.

Jim: I know upstream is having a very rough time with the low prices, but that should benefit the downstream people making products. Correct?

Roberto: Oh, yes. Correct. Absolutely. Yes.

Jim: Yeah, okay. All right. Then, you know, so what kind of remote working tools have you been using? Any kind of new ones? How have you been using them maybe differently than before and which types do you think are the most useful?

Roberto: I personally think that nobody invented a new tool or use too much right now. But we only started to use what it was already available before. For example, I think about the meeting. Right now, everybody knows how to attend to a web meeting all around the world without to be physically to the place, right? And what concern our organization, our company, we started immediately to improve the Internet connection and ability in our headquarters to allow, to have our workmates to be able to access the server and software, and we also implemented new communication services like Microsoft Teams to improve the communication between us and our suppliers and customers. And the target was clear. We wanted to be in complete operation without to be physically in the office. And today I can tell you that we have redesigned our organization, and today SEID is more flexible, always available, and more competitive than before just in a few weeks. And please let me say thank you to all SEID employees for their effort and availability. I think we are a good team.

Jim: Cool. You know, probably most importantly, do you guys have any advice because you're further along the learning curve? Do you have any advice for other system integrators and process industry professionals about how they can cope with COVID-19 and how to help their communities survive and recover?

Roberto: I think the COVID-19 was being only the trigger to start a new life. A new way to work, to communicate, and to do business. As I said before, we have only started to use the tools that were already available on the market before, and today, we have a new incredible skill available for the future. And my personal advice for hardware system integrators but all for people is to never stop to learn new approaches, to reinvent our business, redesign our products, to catch new opportunities, and to start a new life. I think that today as never before we have to be architects of our future.

Jim: Oh, man. Well, it's a really heartfelt message there. Roberto, that was some great input and I'm just really truly sorry for everything you and SEID and your community have had the experience due to the crisis caused by the Coronavirus. And hopefully, maybe we can in North America here and elsewhere, take some encouragement and use some of your good advice. Thanks again for talking to us today.

Roberto: Thanks again for your time, Jim. Thanks.

Jim: Okay. This has been another Control Amplified podcast. I'm Jim Montague. Thanks for listening. And always remember that Control Amplified podcasts are available on most podcasting apps, such as the Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and on Control Magazine's YouTube channel podcasts. Plus, you can just always go to controlglobal.com and listen to them right there. All right. Thanks for listening, everybody. 

For more, tune into Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

About the Author

Control Amplified: | Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

The Control Amplified Podcast offers in-depth interviews and discussions with industry experts about important topics in the process control and automation field, and goes beyond Control's print and online coverage to explore underlying issues affecting users, system integrators, suppliers and others in these industries.

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