We’re talking to Greg Cantlon, the Client & Consulting Leader for Brock Solutions, to discuss driving value and improvements to operations in water & wastewater and becoming a disruptor in the integration industry. We’re discussing building long-term partnerships with customers, the biggest pain points that motivate customers to upgrade their systems, creating a SCADA master plan, minimizing risk, and where Ignition fits in.
“We’re taking an agile development approach into this space, into the whole landscape, and Ignition is a great platform.”
Bio: Greg Cantlon, P.Eng., has over 20 years of experience at Brock Solutions focusing on the real-time operations space, applying technologies to drive value for clients. Greg serves many roles at Brock Solutions as part of the leadership team: client executive, consulting practice lead, industry lead, and staying on the forefront of various innovation initiatives. Greg has been involved with a variety of clients and industries, understanding their business and manufacturing goals, defining benefits and ROI, and marrying this with how they should effectively apply technology through development of roadmaps and governance. Greg has worked with many of Brock’s long-term clients across a wide variety of industries including water, metals, automotive, aerospace, pharma, and CPG.
Travis: Welcome everybody to Inductive Conversations. I'm Travis Cox. I'm the Co-Director of Sales Engineering for Inductive Automation. And I'm joined today with our guest speaker, Greg Cantlon from Brock Solutions. Hey, how are you doing, Greg?
Greg: I'm doing good, Travis. Nice to talk again.
Travis: Yeah, nice to talk again as well. Greg, go ahead and give us an introduction. Please tell us a little about Brock Solutions and your role there.
Greg: Okay. Brock Solutions is a professional services and system integrator company. We're over close to 600 people, one of the largest system integrators, a privately owned company. We've got offices in Kitchener, Ontario, down in Dallas, Vancouver, and then also we have some overseas locations around Australia and the UK. So we're very widespread. And we work a lot with our customers, deriving value and benefits for them. So myself, I've been with Brock over 20 years. My current role is client and consulting leader, so I work with our customers to understand their business, operational goals, and then from that, help them to find a roadmap and approach to where they can effectively apply technology to achieve goals.
Travis: Yeah, that sounds like a really interesting role. What is the most interesting part of your job?
Greg: I love getting to work with a variety of different customers overall, and I get to see them at all different stages of where they are in their journey. So in doing those roles, it makes me stay at sort of the front of industry trends and innovation and how do you tie technology overall to value. And with that, like I've worked in a broad number of industries, I've worked with a broad number of systems, so it's really good and getting to see that variety.
Travis: Yeah, it's always nice to stay on the latest and greatest and help customers see the value out of those. I know you guys been working with Ignition for quite some time, but when did you start working with it and why?
Greg: So with Brock, we started working with it as a pull from one of our key customers, so they were frustrated with their existing HMI platforms, looking at alternatives. They were a very innovative and progressive company and wanted us to do an overall evaluation and initial impression. And as we got into that, we started to see that we could drive things a lot faster. So we were previously... The customer is faced with, how could they ramp up? How could they qualify new production lines? And they were getting a lot of pressure from their leadership. So we were able to take in the Ignition solution and we were collecting data within hours, and with that new line started up, we were able to really get a immediate value and focusing on... We increased their production 30% within a week of starting to use the technology. And now it's an enterprise-wide SCADA system, millions of tags, reduced their SCADA costs by over 70%. With myself as well, I've seen it used across a number of different industries, and beyond just traditional HMI and historian. So we're starting to see it move more into operational efficiency, MES-type applications, how do you use it around analytics. And even I had a case where we're tying it into machine learning overall.
Travis: Yeah, with your role and helping customers with the latest trends, how do you see Ignition fitting into that in terms of a platform? And what is your impression of Ignition?
Greg: So I think the biggest thing is just what you said, it's a platform, so it gives us a toolset that we can stay within, and we're breaking down a lot of the traditional boundaries, where you would have a set of software for your HMI, a set of software for historian, another one on the MES, and we can work all within one single environment overall. And then especially with the latest versions, the easier integration into mobile type applications overall.
Travis: Right. Well, I know Brock Solutions is taking a unique approach to sales in the water/wastewater space in particular. Can you talk a little bit about what you do and how it differs from a traditional sales approach?
Greg: Yeah, so a lot of times, in water/wastewater, it's replying to traditional RFPs, RFQs. And we've been taking the same approach to water as we do with all the industries. So we don't wanna just respond to blanket questions, replace things one to one as they are, we wanna actually understand what are the problems that regional water companies and the agencies are trying to cope with, and then how do we help drive value and improvements to their operations and customer base. So it's understanding what's the cost of water, where do they see their cost, what are impacts of leaks, and then starting to bring forward ideas and technologies to help give that monitoring and give broader insight into what they've seen. And because of this, we're starting to become a disruptor in the integration industry, just like Ignition is a disruptor on the technology landscape.
Travis: It seems like it's all about partnership. I know that, yeah, long-term relationships that you have with the customers and really being a key part of their digital transformation strategy. I know that's something that's really near and dear to Brock. Am I right?
Greg: Yeah, that's our whole core focus, is we see these as long-term partnerships overall with their customers, we don't see ourselves as just a system integrator or a vendor that goes in, does a project, and moves on to the next. So we work with them, wanna understand what it is they're trying to achieve, and then we hold ourselves to high standards to make sure that they start achieving what we said they would.
Travis: So I know that over the years, when working with the customers, you experience listening to different pain points that they have. So what are the biggest pain points that motivate your customers to upgrade and replace their SCADA system or other systems?
Greg: A lot of times, SCADA and HMI has been seen as a black box. It's this unknown entity, it sits there, and it just runs. But more and more customers are starting to see, and we're helping them understand that it can help drive further efficiencies and start driving operating profit. As well, a lot of people are hearing around industry 4.0 and machine learning and AI, and everything, but to get that you need a lot of the foundations. And a platform like Ignition helps to give that foundation and give a system that's flexible, it's repeatable, you can expand on it quickly without having to get into a lot of questions on licensing restrictions or what happens with different environments overall.
Greg: And especially, as we look at water overall and the way they've done a lot of their traditional SCADAs, they're very isolated environments. And to try and drive more value, you wanna make them more interconnected, make the information more available, but you definitely wanna do it in a very strong, cyber-secure approach overall. And take that same approach we do with a lot of other industries and take it to water, where there's a deficit in billions of dollars in infrastructure spending that's been happening, which leads to huge losses on water annually. And we're looking at this as a way we can say, "Here's a technology, here's an innovation platform, here's how we can give you more secure visibility."
Travis: Awesome. It sounds like, because the needs have really changed for SCADA, SCADA is not what it used to be. There's a lot more demand and more types of functions that it needs to do these days, is that right?
Greg: Yeah, that's absolutely right. Again, people used to look at SCADA just as running their systems, running their operations, and now, it's really a way to drive further value across the systems and start to interconnect and give a lot more insights overall.
Travis: Absolutely. Can you talk about creating a SCADA master plan when you're working with your customers, and how do you go about that process? And where does Ignition fit into that?
Greg: So, with a SCADA master plan, we take a step back, and again, the same as what we've been talking about through a lot of the podcast so far is, we wanna understand what are their goals, what are the drivers on the businesses, where do they want to go, and what are some of their frustrations. And as well as understanding the future state, how do they want to sustain, what's their high-tech operations and maintenance approach overall? And then, as we look at that, we go beyond, again, a one-to-one replacement and focus on, what are best practices, where can we drive new innovation and efficiencies into this? And where Ignition’s start to fit into this is, while we're applying the master plan, we're looking at something that's cost-effective, minimizes risk, is easy to roll out.
Greg: And it's gonna be something that's a future technology that's continuing to be invested in, it's gonna have a 5- to 10-year life span, a lot of these systems. So, we take Ignition as that single platform that can replace a multitude of legacy systems. It can all be done in a very cyber-secure method. It's leveraging edge devices, redundancy, store-and-forward approaches, and it's very economical overall. So, it sets that foundation for the future growth, new functionality, adding facilities, and ideally going to the realm of machine learning, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. So, there's just so much flexibility that we're seeing.
Travis: Absolutely, I know since March in this year, all of our lives have been quite impacted with COVID and how to work remotely, and things have changed overnight, it seemed like. But how has COVID-19 affected what you guys do? And are there any lessons that you've learned from this crisis and that you think will be helpful in the future? Especially for your customers.
Greg: Yeah, I think with many companies, we had to quickly transition from working from home to support our customers who are providing essential services overall. And we were actually fortunate that we already had a lot of the tool sets and approaches overall. Myself, I would always be traveling. So I was constantly on the road, I'd be to customer sites three or four weeks in a month. And suddenly, this all stopped and now I'm at home, but with always having been remote from the one side at our customer sites, we were able to switch and say, "Now we're working remotely with customers from home."
Greg: And what we're also seeing is, and especially around water-type environments, is as they're trying to go around, they're realizing they didn't have, maybe the remote visibility, they didn't have the strong digital infrastructure that they were looking at. So, what we've been finding is, this is a great way to prove out the value of these systems, and people that have invested in some of this technology, they're able to see that they are able to continue operations very effectively. And ourselves, we've been able to keep pushing forward with customers on workshops, using a lot of collaboration tools, videos, and we've even been able to remotely do acceptance testing and commissioning projects.
Travis: Yeah, there was this really great cartoon that I wish we could show here in the podcast, but it's a cartoon that shows the C-level folks, for some of these industrial customers who are saying, "Oh, digital transformation, it's years off. We don't need to think about that for a while," and then there's this big wrecking ball of COVID-19 hitting the fence. And I think a lot of customers realize they didn't have the technologies in place to adapt to the changing times. So, for your customers, have they been able to keep relevant and be able to continue manufacturing and working during these times? And because you guys are so up on the technologies, are you guys really focused on getting mobility, getting data to people no matter where they happen to be?
Greg: Yeah, we've got a number of customers that, from upgrading and implementing these systems over the years, they were able to have the connectivity they needed, the visibility they needed, all within a secure environment overall. So, what it allowed is their operation folks were still on the floor doing the critical roles, going in and keeping things running, and then a lot of the operations, the R and D folks, the engineering team and maintenance, they were able to connect in and see what was happening with the systems. They could go in and monitor in real time what was going on, and ideally, a lot of them could do it from mobile devices as well. The ones that had invested in that infrastructure and the innovation were so much farther ahead. And that's how we'd like to help our companies and customers.
Travis: Right, yeah. Connectivity is such a key right now, especially with everything that's going on. Now, I'll look into the future, I know you guys are working on a lot of exciting projects out there. What are some of the exciting ones for you?
Greg: Yeah, so I just completed a SCADA master plan with a water authority. And right now, we're actually transitioning into that implementation stage. With that, I'll be starting to support the project team, ensure that they get the value. And a lot of what we're doing with that customer is starting to set their smart water landscape. It's to take the learnings, to take the innovation from all these other industries and bring them forward to the water industry.
Greg: Also, working with some other customers in consumer packaging, for example. And what does that mean for bringing forward an Ignition platform with them around doing things on visibility, on OEE, on tracking waste and scrap, and quality issues? Between that, with the water and other customers, it's around, what are we doing with IoT devices, for sensors, for connecting things, leak detection for water? So, things right on the edge of, what's their current cost overall? So, I think a lot of this is just the beginning, and it's finally that tipping point we've been talking for years on, customers need to get digital. And this is really that momentum that is making it happen. So, looking forward to be on the edge of a lot of this.
Travis: Yeah, it's kind of a big springboard. It's fun to see customers want to adapt these technologies and use them now, and that we can really get those out there and people can see the value of what they can do with their data.
Greg: Yeah. And one of the quotes we got from our customers through this that helps say it all is, they have their own internal view of how things are done, but didn't really understand what else was out there to be more efficient. They were in the water business, not the technology business, and needed someone to help steer them where they were missing out on those advancements, capabilities, and being impartial at looking at their technology landscape.
Travis: Yeah, it's a complex world, especially if you wanna get into the analytics and the machine learning or hybrid solutions with cloud. There's a lot for end users to have to understand and support on that. And so, I think it's really important for having partners like yourselves who can really show them the technology, show them... And the value and be able to create POCs around that so that they can really work towards their digital transformation strategy.
Greg: Yeah, and it's so exciting. And one of the things, too, where we've done a bit of disruption is, it used to be large-scale, traditional water-quality projects. We're taking an agile development approach into this space. So, into the whole landscape. And Ignition, again, is a great platform that allows us to take that quick-to-value rapid approach, tackle things, and get them implemented and seeing value, and then expand it across their whole system.
Travis: Right. Yeah, you can remove some barriers, you could just focus on the implementation, focus on the technology, focus on what the outcome is gonna be for the customer.
Greg: Yes, and that's the key, what's the end outcome that they're gonna get from this.
Travis: Yeah. Well, I really appreciate our conversation here today. Anything else you'd like to mention before we wrap up?
Greg: I think we covered it a lot. I know we really enjoy the overall partnership that we have with Ignition and Inductive and everything we've got to do with the platform, and we're definitely looking forward as new, innovative, next-generation starts to come out and see how we can apply that.
Travis: Absolutely, yeah. We've really enjoyed the relationship as well and the partnership. And, I guess, one more quick question. What would be your number-one tip to give to end users who are looking, trying to develop their digital transformation strategy?
Greg: I think it'd be, understand what it is you know, take a look at partners that are out there that can help you on the journey, and look to ones that are interested in how you operate as a business, and where you can get value out, and they're not just pushing technology for the sake of technology.
Travis: Yeah, great, great. Well, Greg, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it, having you here and your insight, and it's really exciting to see what you guys are doing with your customers, and I am too, looking forward to the future here and know how we can really get more value to customers at the end of the day.
Greg: Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity and the chat today.