Fully Engaged

Dec. 11, 2007
It’s been a great year in the automation industry.
The lowest growth rate of the companies that I cover was about 6 percent. Most were in the double digits in growth percentage, especially in key markets. Ingredients for growth included focus on core business, targeted acquisitions and innovation. When all are growing, it’s hard to pick out the winners in the competition. I’m such a firm believer that strong competition is best for customers, that I believe at the end of the day, we’ll see that it was a good year for Automation World readers, too. At least from the point of view of getting new generations of products and services that will impact profits positively.  This year, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with the chief executive officers, either corporate or North American or both, of the 10 largest systems suppliers. I’ve found all of them focused on growth and winning. Some are growing by acquisition. While a few pundits in the industry are hoping for a blockbuster acquisition, every executive I’ve talked with is more interested in acquisitions that fill open spots in the portfolio. Take, for example, Rockwell Automation’s acquisitions of ICS Triplex for its safety solutions, and Pavilion Technologies for advanced process control and other technologies. Look for more of the same in 2008.  Another focus of these 10 companies, as well as many smaller companies, was growth through innovation. Because our columnist Jim Pinto and I often discuss and write on innovation, I’m always curious about how companies in our industry innovate. I’ve had the opportunity to interview many of the industry’s top technology people. In my October editorial, “Innovation’s Reality,” I reported on conversations with Wonderware’s Pradaj Mody and National Instrument’s John Hanks on innovation.  Last month, I had the opportunity to talk with Rockwell Automation’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Sujeet Chand. At least once a year he gives an update on technologies that he’s investigating. This year, I also asked how a company the size of Rockwell could foster innovation. He told me, for example, that the company had recently gathered together 150 engineers and senior management to recognize those engineers for their innovations. Since Keith Nosbusch has been chief executive, he has not missed one of these gatherings so that he can personally congratulate each one. Wherever top management puts its time and emphasis, there you will find employees placing their efforts. Obviously, Rockwell management is completely supportive and encouraging of the innovation effort. Technologies and trends  Looking at technologies and trends for 2008, I’ve taken comments from Chand and others and compiled this list of things to cover more deeply in the next year. Regardless of your political persuasion, green thinking is undoubtedly on everyone’s mind. A similar trend is called sustainability. On the hardware side, there is a resurgence of interest in programmable automation controllers. Expect to see more about Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and object-oriented programming on the software side. Another trend is increasing use of the Web for software application delivery and collaboration.  I really like the quote Jim Pinto came up with in this month’s column because it describes so many of the people I’ve met with and interviewed this year. “Winning is important, but what brings real joy is being fully engaged,” said basketball coach Phil Jackson. This full engagement with the industry typifies not only people in the vendor and user communities, but also all of us at Automation World. But every once in a while, you must pause and refresh yourself. So, I hope your holiday season is a time of relaxation, refreshment and renewal.