Talking Automation with Invensys CEO Sudipta Bhattacharya

Nov. 8, 2010
Burst of new consumer technologies are driving change in the automation world.

Invensys Operations Management CEO Sudipta Bhattacharya has a vision of linking automation with information technology. Enterprise Control Systems represent a key enabler of this, integrating business systems with manufacturing in real-time.

IndustryWeek caught up with Bhattacharya at Invensys' OpsManage'10 in Orlando last month, where he discussed the closing gap between business enterprise and operations, the evolution of automation technologies and obstacles manufacturers are facing in adopting automation.

IndustryWeek: Where do you see the current state of automation markets and how is automation technology changing as it merges with information technology?

SB: The automation market is shifting and it's shifting very, very quickly for various reasons. New technologies are coming about from the consumer world, where you are seeing advances in computing capacity and chips, and all that is starting to impact automation. Where we're seeing it especially is in information management. What was once a relatively slow-moving industry is suddenly starting to see a burst of activity from technologies that have become mainstream in other markets. These technologies are impacting the automation world and driving a lot of change.

Sudipta Bhattacharya, CEO, Invensys Operations Management
One way you see this is the way in which technologies have enabled customers to think differently. The more tightly you can link the customer order and what's going on in the plant floor, the smarter the decision you can make. That means you can be more productive and more responsive to customer's needs.

IndustryWeek: There was a great deal of high expectations several years ago for advanced planning and scheduling using real-time information for operations management. But in a lot of ways, it never lived up to that hype. Why was that?

SB: Planning is great as long as you have a steady state world. If you do, you should buy planning tools and you'd be fine. Unfortunately, the world is not a steady state. Customer demands are always changing, suppliers' shipment patterns are always changing and things don't work as planned. You have to take a holistic look at a value chain and make sure that once you have a plan, you are ready to feed that plan with real-time information. Because we have not been able to that, the planning solutions didn't take off like it should because we couldn't feed it the right type of information.

IndustryWeek: What have been some of the obstacles you have seen in users adopting some of these new computing technologies?

SB: Part of it has been the recognition of the need. After that, a company has to weigh if they have the capabilities to fulfill that need or if those capabilities are going to come from one single provider or from multiple providers, where I'd have to stitch all of those pieces together. To stitch them together is hard.

[Companies need] to be able to connect, control, measure, standardize, model and scale and do all that in one system. But here's the thing: our customers are not IT companies that have all the expertise, so it needs to be far easier than it has been.

Therefore, this whole integrated platform approach that takes into account areas like virtualization, cloud computing, software-as-a-service, domain expertise of the control world, domain expertise of the safety world, that is why we've taken a platform approach. That's the way we think the future is going.

IndustryWeek: Do you see an analogy between the emergence of Enterprise Control Systems and the evolution that took place with ERP in the IT industry 20 years ago? How are they similar?

SB: I think the similarity is, 30 years ago people would call in an IT company to stitch all their various systems together like HR and accounting and logistics. Then came along the need to take material information and connect it to financial information. By integrating them, that led to the emergence of the ERP world. But with that emergence, people turned their attention to the next bottleneck, which is the supply chain. And the supply chain is a far more real-time world.

Every time you solve a problem in a value chain, you create a bottleneck which emerges a new pinch point. And the pinch point that emerged after that is manufacturing. It's great to have an optimal supply chain, but if I have a great supply chain, am I feeding it the right information to make it effective? And the right information is real-time information coming from the plant floor. In that way, it is very, very similar to what we saw with ERP and supply chain.

IndustryWeek: How are they different?

SB: The difference is ERP operations are far more centralized and are far more transactional than supply chain operations. Managing centralized information is always going to be easier because I have one database where I can keep all that information. The supply chain world is less centralized than the ERP world, but it is more centralized than the manufacturing world.

The manufacturing world is a polar opposite of the ERP world because it's decentralized. Every single plant has a profile and every single plant has hundreds of incidents that are happening in real-time. So every plant, in a way, is an independent entity. How you manage a distributed set of plants, where you have hundreds of real-time events happening, is that next bastion that people are trying to capture.

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