John Ross is only just over three months into his role as chief executive officer of Citect, the Australian-based developer of automation software that is now a part of Schneider Electric, of Rueil-Malmaison, France. Ross exuded confidence and enthusiasm during a recent exclusive interview with Automation World Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell. Citect, a provider of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and manufacturing execution system (MES) products, was purchased by Schneider Electric in March 2006 following a bidding war. Ross was appointed to his position on April 3, switching from Schneider Australia.
AW: How is the transition going from leading Schneider Australia, which is mostly a hardware company, to leading an international software company?
John Ross: The transition is going very well. Actually, I have sold SCADA applications in the 1980s and ‘90s as part of programmable logic controller packages. The technology has changed, but the sales process is similar. Further, I have the complete support of Schneider Electric’s senior management team. With the financial and organizational support of Schneider, we’re going to be around for a long time.
AW: We’re told that Citect will operate independently. This hasn’t always been the track record of Schneider acquisitions. Why are you so confident?
Ross: Senior management has assured me that Citect will remain an independent organization except for the usual financial reporting and so forth. I look at [Schneider’s] acquisition of computer manufacturer Digital in Japan (Proface and Xycom in the United States). It operates independently and is performing well. Schneider has already invested $(Aus)50 million in Citect for its SCADA product and we hope to obtain additional investment for continued development of our MES product. We will have many new products coming out quickly.
AW: How will you interact with the Schneider organization from a sales perspective?
Ross: We will have access to the Schneider worldwide sales channel, and we will have a version of our SCADA product branded for Schneider’s Vijeo line. Schneider is also excited by our MES product, as well as our professional services offering. These fit well with its new direction toward being a complete solution supplier.
AW: Selling MES is different from SCADA, isn’t it? How are you planning to increase sales in that area?
Ross: We have been reworking our business plan and marketing strategies since I came on board in April. Our goal is to be a serious player in MES. We have already invested heavily in software developers and consultative selling. This does require selling at a higher level of the customer’s organization. It also contains a change management element to assure the customer obtains a good return on investment.
AW: MES is a very broad solution. Are there particular product areas that customers react to first?
Ross: They are looking at downtime management and metrics first.
AW: We’re seeing some new product announcements in a product area called performance management. Does Citect have any products in that category?
Ross: We have a product in beta testing now. In fact, we’ve actually patented parts of it.
AW: Could you describe what you offer under the term “professional services?”
Ross: We have teams of engineers in various geographic areas managed by a team in Sydney. We can offer a complete solution, including implementation of our SCADA and MES products. We handle project management, and sometimes subcontract third-party equipment. We have some customers who want a single-point solution, but at the same time, we also work well with our systems integrator partners trying not to compete with them. The focus lately has been on MES.
AW: What is your focus right now?
Ross: Growth is first. We see a fantastic growth opportunity in the United States, for instance, through our SCADA, MES and professional service. Next, we want to be efficient and effective in everything we do as a company. Above all is customer excellence—everything is driven by customer satisfaction.