Industrial automation in the era of the cloud

Feb. 10, 2023
A Control Amplified podcast with Robin Saitz, Chief Marketing Officer, Rockwell Automation
It’s been more than 10 years now since Marc Andreesen proclaimed that “software is eating the world.” To discuss the rise of software in the automation sector and other salient issues facing the industrial enterprise, Keith Larson is joined by Robin Saitz, chief marketing office for Rockwell Automation on this latest episode of Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast.


Keith Larson: It's been more than 10 years now since Marc Andreessen proclaimed that "software is eating the world." And in the realm of industrial automation that prediction has only accelerated over the past several years as industrial enterprises have embraced connected cloud and edge-based solutions to help deal with an increasingly dynamic and uncertain landscape.

Hello, my name is Keith Larson, publisher of Control magazine and, and you're listening to a special Solution Spotlight episode of our Control Amplified podcast, sponsored today by Rockwell Automation. Joining me today to discuss the rise of software in the automation sector and other salient issues facing industrial enterprises, is Robin Saitz, chief marketing officer for Rockwell.

Welcome, Robin, a real pleasure to talk with you today.

Robin Saitz: Oh, thanks, Keith. I'm so happy to be here.

Larson: Yeah, well, welcome.

We first met just a couple months back here at an Automation Fair in my hometown, Chicago, back in November. First off, congrats on a triumphant, full-scale in-person return to what has become the most well-attended event of its kind, certainly here in the US, if not the world.

Saitz: Yeah, it was amazing. It was my first Automation Fair ever. And honestly, the event blew me away. I was so impressed by what Rockwell and the partner ecosystem pulled off, and I also was really impressed by the fandom that exists from our customers, from prospects, even partners, students, I mean, just the whole entire ecosystem. It was so impressive, and I love that feeling, the energy that came from people's enthusiasm around, not just Rockwell, but again, the entire ecosystem.

Larson: Yeah, it's only a few weeks into your new posts as CMO. It's hard for me to imagine a first Automation Fair. I think I've been to every one since the first one back, I'm trying to remember what year that was, it was a long time ago. I won't say how many because it'll give away my age. But yeah, it's great to hear, what having been veteran of many events, or many Automation Fair events, I should say. What's it like to visit that with fresh eyes? It must have been drinking from a firehose. Any particular impressions that you came away with, other than what you've already mentioned?

Saitz: Yeah, I mean, like I said, that fandom was incredible. Just the, you know, people just cannot wait to get into that exposition hall and their excitement and enthusiasm for learning about new technologies, new offerings from our partner ecosystem. We had like a whole area, of course, dedicated to STEM and STEM professions and bringing in FIRST and some folks from NAM, and that was fantastic. I mean, there's just so much energy. And then beyond the expo, you know, it was a great opportunity for us to launch a bunch of new products. There were so many sessions, you know, the industry-specific sessions. There's just the whole company, and again, the ecosystem, our partners, invest so much time, energy and effort leading up to the event to make it amazing, to make it a memorable experience. And we're already knee deep, or neck deep, in planning for Automation Fair 2023. So, very excited about that.

Larson: Going to Boston back in your area.

Saitz: That's right, my neck of the woods. I could practically stay at home, but I probably won't given the long days, but yeah.

Larson: I found that even when it's in Chicago, it's sometimes easier to stay in a hotel, because if you're still in town, your family expects you actually show up and there's just not time.

Saitz: That's right. That's right.

Larson: But you mentioned the fandom, and I'm always impressed at the brisk business that the Rockwell-branded merchandise shop. Yeah, T-shirts and sweatshirts and hats and stuff, they do a brisk business, too.

Saitz: That's the other thing that I came away with was a reinforcement of what I already believed to be true, which is just the strength of the Rockwell brand.

Larson: Absolutely.

Saitz: And it is, you know, it is extremely strong in North America. It's strong in other parts of the of the world, but there's such a great opportunity to grow the Rockwell brand globally and to create that same level of fandom. I mean, the Automation Fair does attract people from all over the world, so that's fantastic, but I think we can continue to to grow that as well.

Larson: Yeah. During CEO Blake Moret's keynote address at the Perspectives event, he really stressed how important it is for industrial automation suppliers to simplify the implementation and lifecycle support of their solutions. You came to the organization via the acquisition of Plex, which I understand is almost completed now. It's been dragging on for a while, but it's one of the several cloud-based solution providers that Rockwell acquired these past few years. Now, tell us a little bit more about Plex, how its approached fits with Rockwell's legacy solutions and ways of doing business, and how you see that helping to realize Blake's aim of simplifying automation.

Saitz: Yeah, I'd be happy to talk about Plex, you know, what's very interesting about Plex is that it was literally born on the shop floor. The founders worked in manufacturing. They couldn't find a commercially available solution to optimize manufacturing operations, and they decided to create their own. And that's where Plex started.

Now today, the Plex smart manufacturing platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. It's the only single-instance, multitenant SaaS production platform that operates at scale and provides capabilities in the cloud.

And, you know, Rockwell's decision to purchase Plex is very complementary to Rockwell's business. It's a great fit to expand on Rockwell's manufacturing operations portfolio with the cloud-native manufacturing execution capabilities that Plex brings along. With Plex, I don't know if you're familiar with the portfolio, but it has, in addition to manufacturing execution software, we have business operations, supply chain planning, quality management, plant management, and analytics. And what's really nice is how those capabilities complement not only the existing solutions that Rockwell offers, but also those that are coming in, in automating plant operations and taking advantage of data to drive efficiencies.

In addition to that, the combination of having cloud offerings along with on-premise offerings, Rockwell now has the ability to provide a lot of flexible options to meet our customers needs, wherever they are on their own transformation journey. Whether they're looking for cloud or on-prem, whether they want to take an incremental approach, or if they want out-of-the-box solutions, or they want to do something fully customized, we can meet them where they are, and we can guide them to achieve the desired business outcomes that they're looking for. So, when you couple that kind of flexibility, along with the full breadth of automation products, and the partner ecosystem that is so vital to Rockwell, I think we're really positioned in a great way to bring IT and OT together.

Larson: Yeah, and I think that another word that I've noticed over the past several years, or phrase, that Blake has used often and it certainly applies to the move that includes Plex is this reducing time to value for these kinds of investments. You know, rather than having to go by your computer hardware and install your software, and allt his. Those cloud-based solutions have a much easier time to spin up a new new application and get rolling, and really achieve value more quickly than the traditional methods. And I think that's a big advantage as well.

Saitz: For sure. And, you know, one of the things that Plex was well into the process when I joined Plex now, four years ago, was modularizing the solution. So again, to your point, you could deploy the whole thing, or you could decide, I'm going to work in a certain areas of my business, I want to optimize my supply chain planning, or I want to really focus on quality, and so, I want to start with more of the quality management capabilities. You can start wherever your biggest need is, and then, you can build on top of that without feeling like you've created a bigger problem. You don't have to deploy it all at once, and that's another way of providing simplicity to our customers and our prospects. And you know, the visibility and data that is produced now in a manufacturing plant is critically important. And so, that's another area that we're really working on, to simplify by connecting people, systems, machines and supply chains, we can provide real-time data and a single source of truth to enable our customers to make good decisions, give them visibility and allow them to harness data in context to make decisions that are important to them and and need to be made in a timely way.

Larson: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Blake also alluded to the need to simplify business models. Can you unpack that a little bit and you know, what attributes of this new way of doing automation make simpler business models possible?

Saitz: We are very focused on making things that are complex simpler. So, we do that by making it easier to operate highly complex systems, easier to design across the ecosystem. So, when customers are trying to design their next line or their next plant, providing them with the new capabilities, for example, through FactoryTalk design hub, making it easier to maintain their machines using products such as Fiix, which is computerized maintenance management system, another acquisition, and make it easier to access the data to make those good timely decisions.

In addition to that, we're really focused on our customers and our workforce, and their workforces are really at the center of what we're doing. So, we're developing these industrial automation and digital solutions with the operators and the maintenance workers and the operation teams in mind to make sure that we give them the simplest experience to do their work, and giving them an environment to do their very best work. And so, we've done that through, you know, there are innovative industrial technology solutions, the digital solutions that some of which we talked about already today. Our our partner network brings all of these experiences, thousands of manufacturing and industrial production companies they're serving, and bring their experiences to our to the customers. Our technology stack comes pre-integrated with our partners best-of-breed technologies. So, we're really focused on trying to make what has historically been a very complex experience, designing setting up and operating a manufacturing plant, we're really focused on trying to help our customers experience that in a simpler way and make it much easier for them.

Larson: Makes a lot of sense, I guess on a related topic, I've long really admired Rockville's efforts to help refill the worker funnel for manufacturing, which is kind of been been in crisis for quite a while with retiring folks and unfashionable perceptions of manufacturing out there. Can you share a little bit about what Rockwell has been doing to encourage more young people to consider a role in industry and manufacturing and what strategies are proving most most promising from your perspective?

Saitz: Yeah, I'm so glad you brought this up, Keith, because it's a area that's near and dear to my heart. And it's one of the things that's so appealing to me about Rockwell because we're both a manufacturing company and we're a supplier of technology to other manufacturers worldwide. And so, you know, solving the skills gap is critical to the continued growth of our business and the business of our customers, and we really need to do that in a collaborative way.

So, we have a very multipronged approach to closing the skills gap. One is around upskilling our own employees. And so there's a lot of we have offerings for our organization, both leadership development courses, and self paced elearning capabilities that are available to individual contributors as well as managers throughout the throughout the world throughout the company. We're also doing a lot of work around reskilling military veterans. We have this Academy of Advanced Manufacturing, which is an immersive 12 week program that trains military veterans and provides opportunities for them in high-tech roles in advanced manufacturing production, and that's been a great program. I guess it's been around since 2017, and there's a very high placement rate, something like 95%, which is fantastic.

And then, you know, we partner with academic organizations and government agencies throughout the country. And a big area for us is around young people, and how do we get more and more young people interested in STEM professions? And you may be aware that Rockwall is a strategic partner with FIRST, which is a organization...

Larson: I love that organization as well.

Saitz: Yeah, so FIRST is fantastic, right? Because it starts at kindergarten, it goes through high school, it crosses socio-economic, race and gender boundaries to build that interest and enthusiasm at times when children are forming their first impressions, right? They're forming their impressions about what is interesting to them, and their perceptions around what careers could be in it as they get older. And so, getting them when they're young and providing them with opportunities to see that STEM professions are cool and fun and exciting. FIRST is such a fantastic program.

So you know, Rockwell is heavily involved. I think we have we have 150 teams that are that we're sponsoring this year across five countries, nearly 2,000 students participating, and these teams are coached by Rockwell employees. So, it's one of these wonderful examples of creating shared value where it's important to Rockwell, it's important to our customers and prospects, it's important to our partners, and it's important to the communities that we are in by helping to drive this interest. And so I'm super pleased that Rockwell's is so involved in that.

Larson: Yes, me too. I've been longtime admirer of all they've been doing for many years and have followed that. But I do have to say also, as a middle aged white male, myself, I can attest to the fact that the industrial automation business may be one of the few that's actually less diverse than the tech sector, and that's hard to do, but even more so. But your appointment as CMO of one of the largest automation providers in the world, certainly, though, confirms Rockwell's commitment to DEI initiatives in its own ranks, certainly. But maybe from your perspective, you can share what more can be done to rehabilitate our image as an industry sector that is really more of welcoming, more fashionable, obviously, but also equitable and inclusive of all types?

Saitz: Yeah, yeah. So, this is another area that I've been quite impressed with Rockwell on. So you know, more and more companies are being intentional about their DEI initiatives, and I think that's necessary to move the needle. And like I said, I've been with Rockwell for just over a year now, and I'm so impressed with our commitment to DEI. Our strategic framework starts with our culture, it doesn't start with the numbers that we have to hit, but it starts with our culture, and our culture is led by our commitment to DEI. So, the first component of our culture is around our commitment to DEI and that we want to create a place where people are enabled and inspired to do their best work, and that we win in the right way, and we reflect and support the communities where we live and work, and we value the differences and how that diversity makes us more innovative.

So, I love those words, because they are taken to heart by every leader in Rockwell. Every manager in Rockwell, every individual in Rockwell, we live those words, and so that's I think, really important. There's all sorts of ways that we reinforce that. Our managers globally participate in inclusive leadership training. We have a number of employee resource groups with, I think, 60 chapters globally, and those employee resource groups (ERGs) really help employees find their colleagues who they share common interests with and backgrounds, creating this welcoming and inclusive environment, so people can find their people, so to speak, and people can learn about other groups and their interests and their backgrounds. So, it's they're very inclusive groups, even though they're sort of organized in kind of cohorts.

And then, we already talked about Rockwell's commitment to increasing the pipeline of STEM professionals. And I think, Rockwell has to create this very inclusive environment and a commitment. And I think we do that, and lots of companies are doing that. But as I said earlier, and we talked about, we've got to get these kids when they're young. We have to get them when they're forming those interests and perceptions, and it's really why I love that program FIRST. But there are many other wonderful programs out there that are trying to do the same thing. So, I think companies can, particularly technology companies that are trying to change that perception, demonstrate a much more inclusive environment. It's well worth the idea of investing in STEM programs to inspire those diverse groups and get those kids while they're young. And that's, to me, the way we can move the needle because if we wait, if we don't do those kinds of outreach programs and inspirational programs when they're young, it's going to be really hard to convince them when they're in their teens to get involved. It's not to say that it's impossible, but I think that's a very important part of changing the perception of manufacturing and making it a much more welcoming environment.

Larson: Yeah, agreed on all counts. And on behalf of the rest of the automation community, thank you for all that you and Rockwell are doing and we will be doing in the future, I'm sure. So, I really appreciate it.

Saitz: Oh, thanks, Keith.

Larson: And thanks so much for sharing your perspectives today and good luck in all your other endeavors the new year holds for you as you get settled into your new role, and of course, the rest of the Rockwell Automation organization as well.

Saitz: I really appreciate you inviting me to join your podcast. It's a lot of fun.

Larson: It's been great.

Once more, my name is Keith Larson, and you've been listening to a Control Amplified podcast with my guest today Robin Saitz, chief marketing officer for Rockwell Automation. Thanks to all you who have listened and thanks once again to Rockwell Automation for sponsoring this episode. If you've enjoyed it, you can subscribe to Control Amplified wherever you find your podcasts. Plus, you can find a full archive of past episodes and a transcript to this one too, at Signing off until next time.

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

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