Always have a plan

System integrators link ambitious projects from manufacturers and automation innovations, but they face a number of challenges in doing so. There are systems, however, in place to identify and overcome those challenges.

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System integrators are the bridge that links the ambitious projects of manufacturers with the exciting automation innovations of the supplier community. Under the best of circumstances, these integrators deliver the kind of cutting-edge solutions that move manufacturing forward into a new age of better data and greater productivity.

Integrators face a number of challenges in achieving these goals—from inadequate plant infrastructures to a general resistance to change. Overcoming these obstacles is part of the job. It's part of what continues to elevate the System Integrator Giants to continued growth, and it fueled the success of this year's System Integrators of the Year.

When the obstacles are humans or machines, there are systems in place to identify ways to work around address these situations. When the obstacle is Mother Nature, however, you're talking about an entirely different situation—and one many integrators don't often consider.

In 2017, we saw our share of natural and nature-enhanced disasters—from the northern California wildfires to the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. How do you help your customers bounce back from that kind of a setback? And more important: how do you deal with the situation when your own staff is impacted by the same disaster?

Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Texas Gulf Coast and moved inland to swamp Houston beginning on Aug. 29, was unsparing in its devastation. EVERYONE in Houston was affected. Once the 50 inches of rain finally stopped falling, the city and its residents had to start recovery efforts. This included putting those automation systems back on line.

Houston is the center of the oil & gas industry in the U.S. It also is home to many system integration companies. That challenge came even as the integrators responsible for performing that work were bailing out their own homes and rebooting their own lives.

The intersection between humanity and business isn't one we consider very often-although we certainly should. It's a fundamental business tenet that we value our people as the reason our business is successful, but how do you balance the best interests of your people with the needs of your business?

It was a question we wanted to ask in particular in the wake of Harvey. One answer we received was from Wood, one of this year's System Integration Giants, and a company not unfamiliar with these kinds of natural disasters. Hurricanes are part of life in the Gulf Coast; so is preparing for them.

Mark House, president of Wood's Automation & Control group, details the step-by-step process needed to prepare, endure, and recover from Hurricane Harvey in this year's Global System Integrator Report cover story. It is a textbook on disaster preparation. While the nature of any disaster-fire, flood, blizzard, power outage, and even terror attack-is different, the planning needed to recover from the event is much the same.

"Our ability to prepare, respond, adapt and recover was a real victory, validating that our planning, potential impact assessments, and preparedness were successful this time," House said. "We continue to learn, improve, and refine our decision making and preparation for the next one. Learn from the past, prepare for the worst, hope and pray for the best. But always have a plan: dedicated leaders and a caring workforce who can work together to make wise, timely decisions and act on those decisions when needed."

One thing automation systems have yet to replicate is the human spirit. It's not something you can program. It's something you feel, and automation systems don't feel. As we enter the age of robotics and artificial intelligence, it is important to remember our workforce will neither be robots nor artificially intelligent. They are the real deal, and they will be our heroes when we need them.

Bob Vavra, content manager, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.

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