Integrator Panel

44 min video  /  38 minute read


Chris Fischer

Integrator Program Manager

Inductive Automation

Elizabeth Hill Reed

Senior Engineer

DMC, Inc.

Jason Hamlin

Cloud Services Manager


Sean McFarlane


DSI Innovations

Barbara White

Controls Engineer

Shambaugh & Son, LP

Sydney Bosworth

MES Programmer

NorthWind Technical Services, LLC

Nathan de Hoog

Senior Automation Engineer


Which new innovations will prove vital for future success and which flash-in-the-pan trends are destined to be forgotten by ICC 2024? During this panel discussion, some of the Ignition community's most successful integration professionals share how they are responding to emerging technologies and techniques that are driving the evolution of the automation landscape. 


Chris Fischer: Nathan de Hoog is a Senior Automation Engineer at Cromarty with 10 years experience in industrial automation and application development within a wide range of industries, including water/wastewater facilities, food and beverage, gas utilities, manufacturing, and renewables. Over the last six years, Nathan has led Cromarty's renewables team to deliver many solutions powered by Ignition, including enterprise and local SCADA systems, containerized and cloud-hosted deployments with Git and version control, API development and integration, historians, database and data warehouse systems, MQTT, and edge connectivity to over 35%, 9 gigawatts, of the renewable assets in Australia. Welcome Nathan.

Chris Fischer: Sydney Bosworth is an MES Programmer at NorthWind Technical Services. Sydney has been with NorthWind Technical Services for seven years. She started on the service team, troubleshooting customer systems and programming small projects, then moved into the engineering department, programming and commissioning control systems. While in these positions, she developed her knowledge and experience with a variety of processes as well as a variety of software packages, including Ignition Vision and Perspective. From there, she went on to become the Primary Standards and Templates Programmer, where she was responsible for maintaining and developing new templates for NorthWind and OEM partners. She's now bringing her experience to their MES team to develop their MES offering using Ignition Perspective. Welcome, Sydney.

Chris Fischer: Alright, so let's get into some questions. Let's go, start going right down the line here with you, Jason. What is currently your biggest challenge, period?

Jason Hamlin: That you wouldn't let me have whiskey on stage. No. Recruiting people. Recruiting talent right now, that's our biggest challenge. We're water industry, and our pay scales don't always match or align with others, so it's been... We've lost some good people to other industries, and yeah, I think the biggest challenge right now for us is recruitment.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I would say, in my opinion, our biggest challenge right now is maintaining high quality standards as our Ignition team quickly grows. I think we had 30 to 50 people on board this summer, and so trying to keep the high quality of finished product while also growing our Ignition expertise across the company.

Barbara White: My biggest challenge is finding time to get to all the work that my customers want done right now. We're overwhelmed with work, it seems, and you don't wanna hire too many people because you don't know how long this is going to continue. So it's kind of a balancing act at this point.

Sydney Bosworth: I would say, or is this kind of finding the balance of we would like... There's a lot of new ventures we would like to get into and stuff we'd like to develop. We have a fairly large, concentrated R&D team, but I think there's a lot of things we want to get into. And so the MES stuff, we're finding the best way to break into some newer things and deciding which technology to do, like cloud stuff, and putting the adequate resources towards developing that part, but then not getting distracted from the customer jobs and finding that balance between R&D and customer work, and that's a fun game.

Nathan de Hoog: We're similar as well, like Jason said, resourcing. There's a lot of work with limited resources that we have, so that is our biggest challenge. But like you said, the R&D and finding time to develop and utilize these new technologies and features that are Ignition-ready.

Sean McFarlane: I got the same sentiment, recruiting the right talent. Sure, a lot of people in this room, as long as everybody on the panel we gotta wear a lot of hats as integrators, recruiting the right skill set, the right attitude for this kind of work is definitely a challenge. We're also, we consider ourselves platform agnostic, with a big caveat that everywhere I go, I'm trying to get them to switch over to Ignition, and it's a battle sometimes trying to force out some of those really entrenched software platforms that everybody here knows, but we're getting there.

Chris Fischer: I'm hearing a little bit of a theme with talent and recruiting. Let's linger there for a second. What's your strategy to attract new talent to your company and the industry as a whole, anybody.

Nathan de Hoog: Yeah, we try and have a tie with some universities or colleges; I think they're referred to here. In Australia, we have several offices across multiple states, so bringing on students that are doing fine on your projects and giving them an opportunity to have a bit of real-world experience, that helps us and helps them as well.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: Yeah. Similar, DMC hires a lot out of colleges as well, and I think the biggest thing is finding people that like to learn. As system integrators, you're not only learning new platforms, but you're learning new processes. Be flexible with what industries you can support, and so people that can learn and learn quickly, I think, is really important with recruiting.

Barbara White: We've been hiring people. Generally, what we'll try to do this hire them as interns while they're still in school. So we can give them the tools to start. We throw Inductive University at 'em and say, "Hey, take a look at this for a little bit," and see how they do, and that gives you a chance to check number one, if they like working in control systems, and number two, if they're going to do well with that, and that's what we've done the last few years.

Jason Hamlin: Yeah. I was gonna say, I learned something from my former company too. We look at alternate resources, so we went and did a presentation at Job Corps, where they have kids learning IT track services, and now we're working out to intern some of them. And starting to look outside of the traditional methods of where we're finding people is bringing us a pretty wide variety, which is awesome.

Sydney Bosworth: Yeah, we've had to kind of pivot to more of a long game. That's what I can call in it. We've gotten more of a concerted effort to go into the local. So I guess NorthWind is in a, I should kinda start this with NorthWind is in a very... Headquarters is in a very rural area in Kansas, so it's a town of about 2,500 people. So you take a kid from Kansas City, a larger city, and say, "Yeah, move to this town of 2,500 people," and it's a hard sell, unless like I'm from a very small town. Those are the easiest ones to get fully integrated into our company atmosphere and enjoy working there, and really the long term, like I'm gonna work there for two years and go find a job in the city. So we have a partnership with a college that comes... They do a automation camp in the summer at NorthWind, and we bring in local high school kids because they don't know what automation is. Most of the time, we don't have a ton of tech programs in the school, so we have to show them what it is. We bring them in, and we kinda teach them what we do when they're in high school, kinda trying to put the feelers out there very early, so you're talking more long game, so we're kind of trying that a little bit more here recently. And then, of course, the college fairs like everyone and trying to get a good company atmosphere going.

Sean McFarlane: We put in a golf simulator. So, I make sure everybody, when they come in to interview, we walk through that work from first, like... But we've had to change how we recruit. We're also partnering with local colleges. We started up a partnership program with them where we take in some of their students for three months, bring 'em into the panel shop so they get experience doing that. And if they have interest in software and IT, we can kinda go from there. But as far as recruiting, it's a different skill set that we need to recruit for now. It's not just PLC HMI systems; it's web technologies. A lot of kids in college these days learn Python, which is great, so we can immediately advertise that and say, "Hey, you can work in Python and you can build these great systems to control things," and that seems to work.

Chris Fischer: And since the time that you all started in the integration business, have customers pain points changed, or are they pretty much the same? Let's start with you, Sean.

Sean McFarlane: I think their pain points haven't changed much. A lot of what we hear is like yearly maintenance costs for the systems that they have. And some of the systems we come across, their costs are just astronomical, and it blows us away, like, I can't believe you guys are still doing this and you're tolerating this. We have such a better way of doing things now, and that's a big selling point for us, the licensing structure that you guys offer, it really helps us present to our customers a new way of doing things that's way more cost-effective, but that's been the same story ever since we started working with Ignition. It hasn't changed.

Nathan de Hoog: They have changed. That's the nature of the beast, and what we see a lot of is the number of companies are having less skilled staff and engineering staff. So they don't necessarily understand the systems that they need, if they're scoping them or wanting to change things. They have limited knowledge. For us as well, cyber security is a massive pain point that's changed over the last couple of years, and it's continuing to change. So, cyber security is a big one for us and for the clients that we serve.

Sydney Bosworth: It's a little hard for me to speak on it, 'cause relative to many people in here, I've been around for... I'm an infant, so about seven years in it. From my perspective, it's a little different too, 'cause I started out doing more boots on the ground start-up working directly with the operators, and now a little bit removed that from that, so I'm seeing different pain points. But I think one of the things I've noticed too is there's... Six years ago, when I would be on-site a lot, there'd be kind of... They use trends and all that, but I think now there's a lot of places that have a lot of data, and now they're like, "Okay, what do we do with all the data that we've spent the last five years? Like knowing we need it, but now we need to figure out what we're gonna do with it." So that's kind of the biggest observation I've seen, but haven't been around a long time.

Barbara White: I've been around a long time. A lot of my smaller customers, at least their problem is they don't have the talent in-house to do what they need to do, and some of them are trying to get it, but it's like us; it's difficult for them to hire somebody who understands controls and IT and can do all of it. Now, the bigger customers have different pain points, but the smaller ones, I think that's their biggest challenge: trying to know what to do. And when they bring in an integrator like me, then I try to point them in the right direction to what are some of the things they need to do to upgrade their systems and get more secure systems. But I think not having that in-house makes it a difficult sell for their management teams because they don't have somebody they trust to, that I am just not trying to sell them something. So it's sometimes a difficult sell to get them to upgrade the systems they need to upgrade, but...

Elizabeth Hill Reed: Similar to echo Sydney's point of... My first project was food and beverage. I think they had very basic reporting, no historical trending, and nowadays I did another food and beverage project about a year ago, and they have all this great data, very detailed data, and I swear I'm on calls with them, and I'm talking about this report, and they have no idea that this report exists. And I was like, "You guys asked for it. The data is there. Please use it." So having a lot of difficulty getting people to know the data exists and use it in meaningful ways.

Jason Hamlin: Of course, I'm in water, so we lag behind, which is beneficial 'cause the pain points we hit somebody else has already solved five years ago. So we just adopt that, but one of the biggest ones we see is a change in the class of operator or the class of the end user. I'm not judging anybody's age here at all, but when I started, the iPhone didn't exist, so the end user is using SCADA at the time. Compared to the end users we're seeing now that when you're recruiting people into the water sector and they're coming in, they're coming in knowing how to use technology in a way that never existed in an industry that's still really lagging. So pain points of getting automation still exists. Now they're struggling with recruitment 'cause you're bringing in people who are looking at, "What is this archaic stuff? Why can't I run this from my iPhone?" I literally had a customer ask me, "Well, could you gamify our system to keep our younger people engaged?" I'm like, "You want me to gamify water treatment? What happens if they don't high-score? Do people get sick?" So yeah, that's some of ours.

Chris Fischer: Just a little trophy.

Jason Hamlin: We'll give them little trophies. We could do that. Gamifying water treatment is the scariest request I ever heard.

Chris Fischer: Alright, so what industry trends are most relevant to your business today? Anybody.

Sean McFarlane: I think integrating the business systems with the plant floor is becoming extremely popular. Basically, every new customer that I talk to, that's one of their top requests. They don't wanna have separation between the automation systems and their ERP or their MES up above. So the tools that you guys give us in the guys from Sepasoft, those are opening up doors that just weren't there a couple of years ago.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: Yeah, and I think that people are becoming more comfortable with the cloud, so I think that's finally getting a little bit more traction and adoption that we're seeing.

Barbara White: My customers seem to want, they want their data and they want it wherever they are, so if I'm in the middle of the night, I get a text that says I have an alarm, I just wanna look at my phone. I don't have to go get my computer out or anything of that sort, so that's what they are asking for.

Chris Fischer: On demand.

Barbara White: Yep. On demand, where I'm at.

Jason Hamlin: Analytics for us, AI, and analytics in the water sector starts to really enhance the power of treatment and what the operators can do and then... So that's probably the biggest one. And then for us, personally as an integrator, more automated tools for converting and doing projects faster, those type of accelerators. Because we can't recruit people, utilizing somebody who can automate conversion or those type of high-level functioning people that can speed up some of the process of integrating is probably the biggest thing we would love.

Sydney Bosworth: Yeah, that's with us too is the, kind of seeing the centralizing everything, being able to connect plants that are physically the same or in the same location, and kinda being able to look at everything in one place and where you want it, when you want it, and then kinda in-house automation too. We're getting a little bit more automated, like our panel shop has automated systems in it, so where we need less panel builders and doing more with less people. It's pretty big everywhere, it seems like.

Nathan de Hoog: It's similar in renewables as well. It's been a lot of data collection at a wind farm or a solar farm, but that's never been... Data haven't really been used very well, and everyone now wants to use that data and see that data wherever they are, and provide meaningful KPIs with that data.

Chris Fischer: So thinking about the new and emerging technologies that we see today, whether it's containers, digital twins, AI, blockchain, whatever it may be, in five years, which ones do you think will still be relevant and which ones will be old news?

Sean McFarlane: I'm curious in what context, Jason, you've been able to get results with AI in actual deployments, or is it something that customers are still just feeling out, they wanna know what is available.

Jason Hamlin: We had some successful pilot studies. I'm trying to think of what I'm gonna get myself in trouble saying.

Sean McFarlane: I didn't wanna put you on a spot or anything.

Jason Hamlin: No, no, no, it's not. We have some successful pilot studies because we have massive amounts of data to draw from, so we're so focused in water/wastewater, so for instance, managing and running a wastewater plant. Some of those tests take five days to run, or you're gonna run a BOD test, it's gonna take five days in the lab to get that. We now have a company we're working with that is using machine learning to predict those loads in real time by harvesting other sensor data and doing it fairly accurately. So we're starting to see some of that. Chemical usage would be like the biggest one for us. And then some, like flow predictions on East Coast CSO plants. So now I'm just speaking in garbled terms nobody knows, combined sewer overflow. But anyway, we're seeing some minor successes on that.

Sean McFarlane: We've had some customers reach out to us, and they ask about AI and machine learning for doing predictive maintenance. And most of the time, my response is something along the lines of, do your maintenance techs actually want this? Is it something they're gonna utilize if we put it in for you? And it'll be a lot of trouble to implement something like that. But it's really the application that matters. If you sense that a motor is going bad, if they don't replace it until it fails, then it doesn't matter anyways. But if it breaks, that's when they replace it, so I'm curious to see how that technology develops. One that we're actively using and very excited about is containerization. We work with a lot of different customers. We have many different projects going on at once, being able to spin up a new container for Ignition. Shout out Kevin. I don't know if he's here. But the work that Kevin Collins did is so helpful for us as integrators. I mean, we use it all the time.

Barbara White: It makes spinning up development servers so much faster. Yeah.

Nathan de Hoog: Containerization helps us in our production systems to manage our deployments. It's a lot nicer to upgrade and to monitor those solutions. I can see AI... It's a hot topic now, but it's hard to see where it can go. I would love to be able to see it being used in the Ignition. A user, for example, wanting a dashboard on a wind turbine or an inverter or a motor, and they can type in a prompt, and it could build a little dashboard or widget. So I can imagine that being really powerful. I don't know whether that will ever happen, but...

Jason Hamlin: Talk to me after the session, 'cause I can't sales pitch here. Of course, wind turbines aren't water, so I don't really care about that problem.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I don't know if this is in the next five years; might be a little bit longer, but I'm curious to see how like AR plays out, especially with operator training, work instructions, things like that. I think that has the potential to be pretty powerful. I think we're a ways away from that, but I'm curious.

Chris Fischer: All right. Well, thinking about the theme of this year's ICC, elevate, what's one way that Ignition helps you elevate the customer experience?

Jason Hamlin: I mean, I've been promoted to Cloud Services Manager. How much higher you want me to get?

Barbara White: Well, my customers, they can do more with what they have. I mean, in the past, if they wanted to add tags or servers or whatever, they want more data, they had to get more licenses or whatever. And right now, with Ignition the way things are, they can elevate and get as much as they need and as much as they want and get it in their hand right now. And that's what they're asking for.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I think it really to build upon that idea; it expands the user base of it. It's not just a subset of people. You have five front-end client licenses, you can really get more visibility into the data. You can have the plant managers, like more of the business-side people, accounting, quality. They can all look at the SCADA system. People can have it up on their computer when they're in the office and just monitor it and so yeah, expanding that, I think, is huge.

Sydney Bosworth: Yeah, I think on the main MES drive we've been working on, it's been great 'cause there's a few there kind of in-house database people that we've given the LinkedIn Inductive University, and they've gone and watched the videos, and I think they've been playing around kind of with the reporting, and it gets them to buy into it a little bit more when it's something they can look at it, log in. And they have enough background; they can kinda look at the designer and start to figure it out and see the possibilities of it themselves. And not just rely on us saying, "Oh, did you know you could do this? Oh, you could do this." And it's just like, take your word for it. You can see what you can do and play around with it. And it's gotten them to be a lot more on board with it and easy to pick up and all that.

Jason Hamlin: My serious answer is gonna be helping end users that see how much more Ignition is. It's not just SCADA, and that's especially in the water industry. Again, there's a Firebrand Award here for the Room in the Inn where that whole project is... That's not SCADA at all. That's not control. That is amazing. And that's built on Ignition. And like, we have a water user who look at that, like, "Wait, that's the same SCADA software I have. Well, could we use that to manage employee timekeeping, and could we build something to like, check people coming in and out the door?" And I'm like, "Yeah, actually, Inductive does that at their office. Like, let me call someone and see if they'll send me that project." And they were like, "No." I'm like, "Okay, that's cool," but...

Jason Hamlin: That's fair. But when they understood, yeah. That elevates their experience 'cause they, suddenly, there's a whole platform of new software you don't have to buy and manage. We can build that or contract to somebody that knows that side of it better than we do. Partnerships, that's the other thing... Yeah, I should mention that too. The other thing that really helps us elevate is partnerships with other integrators. And we've worked with other integrators because they have skill sets and expertise that we don't, and like this community is where that exists. I've never seen that anywhere else. I won't name any competing product names, but I would never be able to like, share with one of their integrators to do a job. They think I'm crazy, but on the Ignition side, yeah. All day long, which is really cool.

Sean McFarlane: Yeah, I think Ignition's embracing of open technologies helps 'cause they don't... Customers don't have to stay within the Ignition ecosystem, even if I really badly want them to. They can use other tools to access the same data, and the whole philosophy that other companies have of having like a walled garden just doesn't exist anymore when we give a customer access to Ignition's powers. And then I mentioned it earlier too, the maintenance costs, they get really prohibitive with other software packages, and our customers are very, very happy when they see the numbers for a competing Ignition system.

Chris Fischer: Yeah. Before we get into a little bit of Q&A, I want to hear what's a lesson or a success story from the last year or two that you'd like to share. Anybody?

Nathan de Hoog: For us is moving production systems to cloud-hosted and containerized solutions. For us it was a big step, and I'm sure Jason's done all of that but it's very nice.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I think from this past year we've really made a push to do more of an agile method with projects. And so getting that high-impact feature to the customer early on so they can really see the value of Ignition. They get excited about it, they wanna do more, and you just continually build on all of that. So moving away from more of the waterfall where it's the high upfront spec phase and it's a long time to where you see results and moving more towards the agile and a lot more of our projects, I think, has been pretty impactful.

Barbara White: Well, with my company, we're still very heavy in some of the other SCADA systems, unfortunately. But one time I was headed up to a customer, and my boss told me, "Well, he really wants this one," and I said, "Well, can I just mention it? Can I just mention Inductive?" We got up there, and I just mentioned it and said, "Oh, by the way, just go to this Inductive University... Go and take a look at it. All you gotta do is sign up; it's free, go look at it." Two hours later, the customer came to me and said, "This is what I want. This is what I want." So, part of it is just breaking through these last few years. I'm really starting to break through some of those barriers of people who are hooked on to something that's been around for a long time and not changed, and to go to something new, it's not so scary, I think, as it was years ago. So definitely a success there.

Sydney Bosworth: I think ours would be. We have a customer we've done a lot of work with and kind of done all the automation in their plant so far. And this past year we've been, mainly my job has been kind of working through their MES system with them, building out some custom stuff for them. And we've been able to get rid of a lot of their pen and paper equipment checks and all this stuff and automate a lot of stuff for them and centralize a lot of the things that they're going to their ERP system and then our batching system and three different places to get. And it's helped them a lot being able to do that. And then it's helped us a lot being able to learn more of the ropes of that and a lot of... Doing a lot of Perspective development, for me personally has been great.

Sean McFarlane: Yeah. Earlier this year, we got introduced to a new customer. I went in to meet with them. Originally, I was just supposed to be looking at upgrading. It rhymes with schmackberry schmuck.

Sean McFarlane: And first, it was just that. And then, so yeah, basic HMI application; no problem, I could do that. Oh, there's also this data collection system over here that we need to upgrade because it's being maintained by some guy that doesn't work for the company anymore. And it's all visual basic, it's completely obsolete. And, oh, by the way, there's another HMI over here that we really need you. And so it got to a point where I was like, "Guys, the solution is to move to Ignition." And so we've been working on that for the last six months, and we didn't have access to any of the source code for that visual basic application, but it really didn't matter. We could replicate all of the functionality and stuff that they were doing before. And they were very happy with how quick we were able to get this new system up and running on top of replacing their other HMIs that desperately needed to be upgraded.

Jason Hamlin: So my biggest win is being invited up here by you. I can't believe you're that brave. You just don't even know what I'm gonna say. No, actually, we're in the middle of merging four companies. So, life is chaos. I couldn't even say what our biggest win is, but I'm gonna say my biggest win was actually here at ICC. We contributed something to the [Sparkplug] Data Dash. Little camera sending images over MQTT, just something we put together real quick. People have seen it. Well, I reach out to my friends at Opto 22, and I'm like, "Hey, would you throw this at your booth?" And he says, "Yeah, sure." So Benson [Hougland] does that. Well, then Alex [Marcy] from Corso [Systems], like, posts some stuff that he's on an airplane. He's like, "Yo, that looks really cool, but it would be way cooler if it's stored the images and we could do something with it."

Jason Hamlin: And like, he messes with it on the plane, lands here. All of a sudden, they have taken this [Ignition] Exchange resource, enhanced it already. And he's like, "Hey, here's the code we use to store all these images." And like, while that's really cool, when everyone's loving it and you go up there and take pictures with yourself, what he doesn't know and anybody else knows is that we actually have a contract with a customer to build this thing and store the images. So I just got all that free labor.

Jason Hamlin: Biggest win.

Chris Fischer: Smart guy.

Audience Member 1: 45 minutes.

Audience Member 2: Is that a recruiting strategy?

Jason Hamlin: Ask me after the session.

Chris Fischer: Well, on that note, let's get into some Q&A. We can hand mics out to you guys here. I see the first one right here in the white shirt. Oh, go ahead, Don.

Don Pearson: I can start first. Okay, good. It may be you that I want to get an answer from, Elizabeth, but I wanna go back to the earlier question about recruiting and personnel. And it's a little bit self-serving, so I wanna get some insights. I wanna get some free labor, like you just got, Jason. But one of the things that we have seen when people become integrators with Ignition, they have this struggle. Maybe that you just said, Barbara, of like you do everything you're... We say we're vendor agnostic, but not vendor indifferent. But somehow or another, you gotta be able to say, as Steve [Hechtman] used to say, value engineering; we'll just give you an option and you make the call. It's difficult to do that, to get through an organization and grow up, but our integrators tend to grow up, and they have teams.

Don Pearson: You started, as you said, doing programming, doing the work, whatever. But all of a sudden, if you recruit it and just recruiting, it's onboarding, it's development, and your job description can change. All of a sudden, I mean, Colby doesn't get to do any of the things he used to do that he loved. That was the biggest barrier to him wanting to do what he does now is, well, wait a minute, I love doing this. So how do you address scaling? We have integrators with 200 certified people; didn't start with 200 certified people. How do you scale an integration firm to gain Ignition expertise, spread it, bring on, onboard? 'Cause people have to change their job description and evolve in their careers, and they have to want to. You can't force that. How do you develop the desire to grow Ignition teams of multiple levels of expertise and change your own job description along the way? Does that question make sense?

Elizabeth Hill Reed: Yeah, and I think that's a really good question that we are still figuring the answer out. So DMC has a really big emphasis on technical capabilities. All of our interviews are very technically focused, but like you said, like the job description changes. I do mainly project management and sales now instead of engineering, like I don't really program anymore. And when you have an organization that you're trying to scale, like we're in a problem right now where we have a lot of, like, more senior people and they all wanna do technical things, so how do you develop the interest in doing sales or more project management and both in an organic way and maybe a little bit more of an encouraged way? I think that we've gotten better at hiring external senior people. That's a shift that we've done in the past couple years where we try and make more of an effort to hire more senior people that already have some of that skillset. We still don't have separate... We don't have sales engineers. All of our engineers or salespeople are very technical still. Yeah, I think that's still a challenge. I'm curious if anyone else on the panel has solved it, but...

Barbara White: Well, mine still says controls engineer, because I don't wanna even want that senior word in front of them. I said, "No, no, that just makes me sound old." So I don't want that at all. So I'm still a programmer, and that's what I wanna be. And I mean, we have other people who have moved into program management and that, but it's only if you want to. It's not something that we're pushed to have to do.

Don Pearson: Well, I think you make a good point, and I wasn't even insinuating that we want someone to do something they don't want to do. You love what you do, and you're really good at it. The challenge with Ignition is it's accelerating fast in organizations, and it forces the need to have those other skill sets if that integration firm is gonna be able to build out their expertise.

Barbara White: I think part of it is you gotta have to hire the people who have some of those skills. And I think, I don't remember who said something about you have to look in different places instead of just looking for a controls engineer, let's look for IT people and bring them on.

Don Pearson: Good point.

Sydney Bosworth: We've played around; we did the, I don't know if anyone's familiar with the PI, predictive, not predictive. I don't remember the name of it, but it's a PI thing. It's kind of a personality.

Audience Member 3: Predictive Index.

Sydney Bosworth: Yeah, it is that, okay. We did that within our company, and it's a call it personality, professional personality thing. So take that for what it's worth. But everyone did that, and it kind of gives you this scale. It gives you like an identifier word, like operator, maverick specialist. There's certain... It'll tell you what your maybe weak points are, kind of tell you what maybe your job should be, so we kind of went through that as an experiment this past year. Everyone in the company did it, and then it kind of revealed some people that like, okay, well, their job description lays out as this PI profile, but when they filled out the question, they lay out as this profile picture.

Sydney Bosworth: So I think the idea in theory is to maybe try to use that to be, okay, well, this person is showing some values that would be very good in a leader. This is showing some values that'd be good for that. So then you can kind of let those people have a little more... I learned some stuff about myself from it, so get some insight into where you might wanna go in the company based off of that, and then also as a hiring tool to get an idea of where someone might fit in the company. So we're hoping maybe that kind of helps clear a little bit of that up, but...

Don Pearson: Cool. Thanks.

Jason Hamlin: If I could answer that too and actually tag right off of that. Yeah, the direct answer I'm gonna give for your question, it's gonna be the most serious thing I say this entire week. How do we build and accelerate these teams? It's servant leadership and managers with the right soft skills. Because as soon as we have managers that realize people are more than just assets; they're more than just resources, and they manage holistically, the people naturally can grow. Case in point: somebody calling me, "Hey, I know you're at ICC. I've got these really bad technical questions I need to answer. Yeah, no problem. I've also got some stuff in my personal life, but you probably don't have the time to hear about that." And I said, "Whoa, back up. Let's talk about that first." Like, let's do that. And when you... When they realize we want to help you with every aspect of your life as an employee, that makes the difference.

Jason Hamlin: And then the growth scales organically because your team wants to perform. And thanks, Don, for making, like, Inductive University and easy tools for us to teach people. Like, that's amazing. But yeah, that would be the biggest thing I would say. Managers with the right soft skills.

Don Pearson: Thanks.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: Yeah. Well, like giving people room.

Sean McFarlane: I wanna piggyback... Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I was gonna add, just add like giving people room to grow if they want. Not micromanaging, like giving them opportunities to expand their role if that's something they're looking for.

Sean McFarlane: Yeah. I wanted to piggyback off of what Jason said. When I joined the company seven years ago, we were about 20 people. Now we're about 70. So we've had that growth that we've had to manage. And it's a balancing act between, like, do you feel like you're too top-heavy with senior guys? You gotta hire more juniors. Do you feel like you need to hire more seniors to mentor the more juniors? So we've had that battle constantly over the last few years. But Jason said it starts with good management at the top. Our retention rate, I think, is well above industry average, and our average years of service is pretty high, and it comes down to management and then growing the team.

Sean McFarlane: What I did was I identified all of the things that I had to learn over the past few years in order to be successful at developing Ignition projects like the database skills, the Python skills, the user interface skills. And I started using tools like Codecademy and Udemy. I'm sure people in here are familiar with both of those. And I just, I came up with a training course of like do Inductive University, and then once you're done with that, do all these, and you'll be ready to go. As opposed to being like me spending four years just grinding it out, trying to figure out what I actually needed to learn to be good at this stuff.

Don Pearson: Sure. Thanks.

Chris Fischer: Yeah. All right, next question. I saw a hand go up over there. You could shout it out if you want to. It wouldn't be a problem.

Audience Member 4: Piggybacking on the same thing. Through COVID and maybe working in different offices, remote teams, as your businesses have been growing, what strategies have you guys tried to use to build and maintain a good culture? I know in controls, you get a melting pot of personality types. Some people are people people and some people want to be put in the dark room and write stored procedures all day, so with all of those challenges, what sort of... What's in your toolbox for building a good company culture?

Nathan de Hoog: Brunch Club.

Nathan de Hoog: It's hard during COVID. In Melbourne, I think we had nine lockdowns. I think and it was hard for everyone, and that culture has to be built up now that we can work in the offices again. But during COVID, as... Well, I'm not a manager. I'm an engineer as well, but there are people under me that I would regularly call to see how they're going. Always ask them about how they're feeling, and not necessarily personal personal stuff, but having that connection before then starting to discuss the technical or the work stuff. So COVID was hard, and continuing a good working culture was even harder. But I think we've come outta that now.

Sean McFarlane: Let's hope so.

Elizabeth Hill Reed: I think we're just starting to bring some more stuff back from COVID. There's kind of a pause. Where it's like, alright, we're gonna stop doing in-person events, and then we're slowly starting to bring that back, we try... So we have, I think, 14 different offices across the United States now, so we're very spread out, but we try and do like office gatherings to where like, you can meet people from different offices, like we just had one in Texas this past weekend where we had a bunch of people fly from different offices. They all get to meet and hang out in a bit more relaxed, non-work-focused way to build those relationships. 'Cause I think that is an important thing to have is those relationships that aren't just, hey, what's this technical question? What we've all been saying is have that personal relationship to where you almost, you feel connected with them and you want them to succeed and do well both professionally and personally.

Jason Hamlin: You can't force culture. You can grow it and foster it and nurture it and trust me, merging four companies together, like, it's not just a, okay, how do we grow this really fast? You asked for a tool; specifically, we use the StrengthsFinder assessment tool to identify like people's top five strengths. You can Google it, but we use that, and our managers use that to try to isolate and understand, if I'm giving somebody something that they're not naturally strong at, they're already setting them up for failure. So, we tend to try to align and merge our teams to work using and complimenting strengths, and that's ours.

Sean McFarlane: Yeah, I think COVID definitely changed things for us. It was tough at times to maintain kind of the comradery of your organization, but I think it also revealed to us that it's okay to be a little more hands-off and let people work and let people do their job, and you just trust them that they're gonna get the job done. I was working full-time from home for about a year when the lockdowns started in the US, and one day I just messaged one of our admin people and I said, "Hey, do you know when they're planning on, like, bringing people back to the office full time?" And she was like, "That was three months ago." And I was like, "Oh, no one told me. I was just at home, getting my job done." But the company culture thing, it's really important. It is something that comes from the top down, and I think we've done a good job just maintaining a healthy work relationship with everybody that... Everybody feels like their time is valued. They feel trusted to get the job done. They don't feel micromanaged. That's kind of the key, I think.

Chris Fischer: Yeah. Well, folks, I hate to say it, but we are at time. I want to thank you all for joining the Integrator Panel. Thank you, panelists, for joining today. Find these guys, ask them more questions. Enjoy the rest of ICC. Enjoy the Build-A-Thon, everybody.

Posted on December 8, 2023