It's All About People

One of the core philosophies that forms the editorial mission at Automation World is the concept of the automation team.

When Jane Gerold and I sat down in early 2003 to figure out what would define the magazine, we pooled our collective experiences in manufacturing with what we had learned from years of talking with suppliers and users of automation technology.

One thing we noticed developing over the years was that people from many disciplines were increasingly involved in making automation buying decisions, and then in implementing the resulting project. Where once an engineer would do some research, perhaps run a small pilot experiment somewhere and then pitch the capital expenditure, a supplier sales team today typically faces a conference room full of people when it makes its “big pitch.”

This hasn’t been an easy topic to write feature articles about, but this issue points out the force of the team. As I researched my article for this issue, I started with a problem and a technology. The problem is how to get more from a currently operating manufacturing facility. This is a core problem facing every employee in manufacturing who wants to keep that plant running in the face of global competition. The technology I wanted to research was a suite of software applications called manufacturing execution systems. What I discovered was teamwork.

I talked to half a dozen people actually involved in the implementation of these systems and got their stories. After I read all of the stories again, I was struck by the fact that all of them talked matter-of-factly about the implementation team. With all the things you hear about people from manufacturing and information technology departments fighting it out, these stories showed the two—and other departments—all working together for the common cause.

Jim Pinto has started a company, sold it and become an angel investor. I asked him to share what he’s learned from the experiences with others out there who either are starting a new company or perhaps thinking about it. Here’s what he had to say about teamwork: “When I invest in a start-up, the first thing I ask is, ‘Where is the team?’ I look for a balance among all the functions. If there is no team, I look for an exit. If there is a team, I look for teamwork—people who complement each other and are not dominated by one function to the detriment of the others.”

Another thing I saw consistently happening as I gathered the stories was that the technology was placed at the use of people. There was not a case of putting in a project for the sake of getting better technology. They were all cases of how they could help their people make better decisions and do better jobs. Peter Martin is an Invensys Process Systems vice president, but he’s also a philosopher of manufacturing. He told me, “Let technology do the repetitive things so that people can do the things they do best—make decisions.”


Attitude adjustment

This is a big shift in attitude. In the 1980s, we were discovering how to consistently automate loops and machines. In the 1990s, we got caught up in the power of computer technology and increasingly powerful software. Today, it’s increasingly about people. And
if it’s all about people, then we need to expand our studies to what makes people more effective. My latest reading is David Allen’s “Ready for Anything.” Allen is a guru of helping people be more effective—surely a good topic for a time when we are empowering people. I recommend this book and similar ones in this age where we truly are striving to get the most from our people assets. 

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