Georgia-Pacific’s Approach to IT/OT Convergence

June 19, 2020
Like many industrial organizations, Georgia-Pacific was struggling with the loss of operating expertise created by a retiring workforce. Coordinating the company’s IT and OT departments is helping to solve the issue and improve the way the company operate

In virtual session during Rockwell Automation’s ROK Live DX Strategists Conference, technology executives at Georgia-Pacific explained how the company is changing the way its information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) departments approach the deployment and use of new technologies and manage its loss of in-house expertise created by a retiring workforce.

At Georgia-Pacific, the company’s long-standing operating philosophy centered on operator expertise, meaning operators carried the knowledge need to do their jobs and typically worked autonomously, making decisions on how machines ran. But as these employees began to retire in greater numbers, the company had to change its approach.

According to Steve Clancey, senior vice president of IT and chief information officer at Georgia-Pacific, a key way the company ensured this shift worked was to put workers’ process knowledge into a central location—known as the Collaboration Support Center. This allows operators as well as external contractors to gain remote-access into the system to help guide overall operations, focus on early recognition of problems, and optimize operations across Georgia-Pacific’s production sites.

“We feed massive amounts of data into this central location where we run models against the data to help us detect problems ahead of time or tell us how to run the machine optimally and process that data back into the mill to help us make the right decision,” said Clancey, who noted that the enhanced data flow enabled by the Collaboration Support Center has increased productivity by 30%.

Clancey also noted the reality that some workers are better at their tasks than others, which was highlighted when operations data were centralized. “Some people were very good at it [their tasks] and others were OK at it; and you could see differences between shift A and shift B just because the person on one shift was better at making those decisions,” he said. “Now we can pull that up to a level where it's standard, by passing on the best information to the mill.”

Before the implementation of the support center, Clancey said Georgia-Pacific had a siloed approach between IT and operations, leading the two departments to act independently of one another. However, the proliferation of IT and automation technologies, coupled with outside parties needing to connect to the process control network, along with the increased amount of information flowing between the IT and OT networks, forced a change in the way the company needed to view IT and OT moving forward, Clancey said.

“We kept laying all of this IT work on top of [process engineers]. We finally got to the point where we realized that we could help each other out,” said Clancey. “We could make sure that the IT work was done in a secure way, and we could free up the process engineers to work on more valuable activities, like making sure the factories continue to run and we’re making  quality product.”

This change is part of a larger change to the company’s technology ecosystem. These changes were designed with the help of the IT department to keep the organization relatively flat, meaning the knowledge of one part of the organization wasn’t siloed off from another, said Mike Carroll, senior vice president of innovation at Georgia-Pacific. “A large part of [the change] was the ability to spread operational knowledge across a much broader range of the organization, compared to how we had done it before,” he said.

With this high volume of technological change occurring at Georgia-Pacific, Clancey noted they made sure all employees were kept on the same page  through twice-weekly scrum meetings where tasks are delegated and workflow is made clear.

Carroll stressed that these changes to the organization have made an impact not only on the structure of the organization and how the staff gets work done, but how they view working at Georgia-Pacific. 

“How Steve and I know we’re successful, is when somebody asks, ‘Who do you work for?’ and their answer is, ‘Well, it depends on the problem I’m solving,’” said Carroll. “That’s the kind of organization we’re trying to build. Where, regardless of what your reporting structure is, we spread that [knowledge] capacity across [operator] capabilities and have them flow to the problem.”

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