In this conversation, we get to hear from a SCADA and MES specialist with a background in marketing about some different ways to bring those skill sets together to run a successful integration business. We’ll discuss utilizing your engineering team in your content marketing strategies, building trust with your customers, maximizing content, and showing a passion for what you do. You’ll also hear about the exciting shift towards enterprise projects as more industries look to sync their facilities, some upcoming projects for Vertech, and a challenge to “come at us” at the next ICC.
“We have more business than we’ve ever had. Our engineers love these jobs. Our customers love these solutions. So I think it was a win.”
Chris McLaughlin is a SCADA & MES Specialist for Vertech, with the proper balance of business strategy, process improvement, and engineering knowledge to serve Vertech's clients. He is well-versed in process automation and control, MES strategies, and advanced Ignition implementations. Vertech is an Inductive Automation Premier Certified Integrator based in California, Arizona, and Tennessee, providing world-class automation solutions that turn data into actionable info for industrial clients.
Lauren: All right. Well, hello, and welcome to Inductive Conversations. I'm Lauren Walters, and we're sitting down today with Chris from Vertech. Chris, would you mind giving us a quick introduction to yourself?
Chris: Sure. This is Chris from Vertech. I'm officially a SCADA and MES Specialist. And unofficially, it just means that I love Ignition and work for an integrator, and I do SCADA and MES stuff.
Lauren: Well, we love to hear that, and we're so glad you're here today. Thank you for joining us.
Lauren: You actually started in marketing, and yet now you're a SCADA and MES specialist. What was the roadmap that got you to where you are now?
Chris: Sure. Part of that roadmap is that my family has been in integration. And so when I was 2 years old, my dad and uncle started an integration business. And I would do summer internships in high school and I told them, definitely, that I will never get into this business, like never, ever. And so I got my marketing degree, and then after coming back from living in Sweden, decided that, "You know what, I'll give it a shot." And so I promised two years in engineering. I was very stubborn, and I got out and went back to marketing. And then there was something that happened, and shoutout to Trimax, but they had some bad stuff, a mutiny occured, and they wanted me to come back and be a partner, and that got me back into the industry, and it's 15 years later.
Lauren: Oh, you really showed your dad, didn't you?
Chris: I know. I made it!
Lauren: How did you come to find Ignition?
Chris: We've told this story a few times, but just as a reminder.
Lauren: We always like to hear it again.
Chris: I know. I feel like I've told a lot, but maybe the people haven't heard it. There was a water district in Southern California, Western Municipal Water District, and this was in 2010, just right after Ignition was released. And they said, "You have to check this out," 'cause we were doing a SCADA master plan for them at that time. And for us, it was Wonderware, all the way, and we're like, "What is this product? There's no way that it could be good because I've never heard of it, and nobody that we talked with has heard of it. But fine, we'll humor you. We'll talk with them." And so Travis puts on a demo, and you're like, "Wait, wait, wait. This thing is amazing. Why have we not heard about this?" And so we do this full comparison of three different softwares, and the ultimate winner is Ignition and it shocked us. But we're like, "You need to convert your entire district to this software." And after that, after doing it several times, the projects just sold out. We're solid Ignition people forevermore.
Lauren: Wow. You were a quick convert, it sounds like.
Chris: Oh, yes, and pushing it everywhere and everything. You're able to talk about what you love. I can go into any situation. And when using Ignition, I know that it's going to be able to accomplish it. I know for a fact what its feature set is, and that it's gonna be able to be flexible enough to do what it needs to do. And therefore, I can preach it. I can put it into solutions, we can make that happen, and just that, yeah, assurance is what got us into it.
Lauren: Absolutely. Now, I happen to also know that you were a big champion of Ignition when you started at Vertech. We talked to Titus, President of Vertech, earlier this week, and he gave you a big shoutout in terms of bringing Vertech on board with Ignition. How did that happen? What was that like?
Chris: Yes, shoutout to Titus, too. A wonderful boss, great owner, really just love working with him and the team. And so this was a number of years ago that, when I came on, obviously, Ignition was everything that I wanted to work with. And I showed him some of the projects that we had done, what it does for us as a company, and how our engineers will like it more, they'll be able to do more, and customers are actually going to like their solutions better. And so it didn't take hardly any convincing. It was just, "Okay. Let's do it. This is your strategy. We're gonna get into MES. We're gonna do high-level SCADA projects. Ignition is gonna be our product of choice. Let's make that happen."
Lauren: Awesome. He made it sound like it was more of a fight than it was, I guess.
Chris: Well, we made some people mad.
Chris: And this will happen with other integrations, too, of course. Yes, there are other unmentioned softwares and distributors out there that the more that we were on Inductive Automation webinars, and the more that our marketing seemed to be tailored toward Ignition, we didn't make too many friends, but I gotta say it all worked out. We have more business than we've ever had, our engineers love these jobs, our customers love these solutions, so I think it was a win.
Lauren: It sounds like it. You kind of mentioned marketing there. Vertech has some really awesome marketing, how do you connect those two industries together? You worked in marketing, you've worked in MES and SCADA. It sounds like they might inform each other a little bit in your practice.
Chris: It's my other love. With marketing, it's mostly just about showing off what your company is passionate about, what your secrets are to success, and what those solutions and experiences are all about. And so it's taking what we do on the SCADA and MES side, and bringing it over and being able to show it off in videos, in case studies, in white papers, and doing it in such a way that we can show everybody and even bring people to this content so that they know what Vertech is capable of.
Lauren: Absolutely. Can you share any quick marketing tips for our listeners, anything that they should implement sooner rather than later if they're looking to bring their marketing up a level?
Chris: Yes. There are too many buzzwords and I'm gonna try to stay away from that. Content marketing is the way to go. And what I mean by that is really build out your website, include as much content as you can on it, have your engineers writing blog posts, writing white papers. They are totally capable of it with just a little bit of structure. They are the experts in this. And with a little bit of creative writing, you can edit what has come out of them and put that on to your website, and just put it all out there for everybody. Don't be afraid of giving away content. You are gonna feel like you're giving away secrets, and it's your special sauce, but it's not. Copy Inductive Automation and what they have done. They've put everything that they have up for free. They show it all in webinars. Everything about them is on their website and open to the public. Do that, and I promise that leads will come around, people will trust you, people will see what you are good at and what you're passionate at.
Lauren: That's an awesome tip. And I can imagine it can be challenging to get some engineers to write but maybe they find their stride eventually.
Chris: Simplify it. If you just give them a format of "We're gonna talk about this topic. It's gonna be this many words, and we wanted to cover this kind of cadence or how the solution worked out," they can tell you what technically occurred, and why it was important, and why the customer liked it. And then somebody else probably is going to edit that and get it website-ready, but they have all the content at that point. It's about getting the content out there.
Lauren: Totally, that's an awesome tip. I know we love to bring that kind of content to people as well, so it's good to hear that integration firms are starting to do that and that you're not just giving away your secrets by sharing some of your strategies, sharing your implementation, all the different design techniques and tricks that you use, that actually can lead to a big payout with the customer.
Chris: Completely. And it's worth it. It sounds scary and it is a lot of work in the beginning, but then once you have it as basically an automated mechanism of "We just put out these many case studies and this many blog posts, and, oh, that's a good part," you'll notice that you can make one piece of content as a white paper and then drill it down to that equals five blog posts and 10 different social media posts, and it was all off of one white paper, one idea. And so you can get on to a cadence of quarterly or monthly or whatever feels most comfortable to you, and just keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it. All of a sudden, you'll realize that we have this plethora of information on our website for people to go check out.
Lauren: Yep, maximizing that content. And I know a lot of that starts with some of the awesome projects that Vertech does, and you guys do a great job of highlighting them. Can you talk about any exciting projects that you're working on right now? You don't have to name names.
Chris: Yes, some of my favorite ones lately are on the MES side, and also just that blurring of the lines with SCADA. We've been getting into this more and more of, okay, you connect everything that's out there, all the different PLCs and controllers and... But then getting into connecting ERP systems and CMMS systems, and their quality, and bringing that in with OEE numbers. And so you take a full facility. And one thing that we've done lately, I don't know if you guys are familiar with a CMMS product, it's called eMaint. It's an off-the-shelf one that's gonna do maintenance management. It's pretty rad, but integrated with Ignition. So, what we've been doing is we are tying it in and doing auto ticketing, ticket escalation, sharing runtime hours of machines back to the maintenance system, pulling in maintenance numbers, and then comparing it with how the performance is going on the line, so that you are able to get this powerful interaction and see if your maintenance is actually taking effect. You're going to increase your efforts in preventative maintenance, and then, oh, let's get crazy with you and tie it in with Seeq. And then you could also get into the point of predictive maintenance, and feed that all back into that maintenance tracking system that is gonna be working with your employees and operators.
Lauren: That sounds pretty sophisticated. It sounds like you're getting a little bit into that AI machine learning kind of space maybe?
Chris: Slightly, which is very buzzword and so...
Lauren: We love a buzzword around here.
Chris: We do, we do. But it is that simple of it's something that clients have been asking for forever, and is completely possible within Ignition. It doesn't have to get into the crazy hypothetical level. It literally is just connecting the pieces so that stuff isn't manually entered, stuff isn't having to be kept up with by operators and letting Ignition make that connection between systems.
Lauren: Right. And how do you find your customers? Are they all in with this kind of stuff? Are they more hesitant upfront?
Chris: I wish that they were all that forward thinking. I have some really forward-thinking ones, shout out, you know who you are. But I think that it's a progression, so there are phase one projects and then there are things that increase after that. And so we've seen a number of these clients build a solid foundation, get onto Ignition, get onto different Sepasoft modules, and then build on to that with feature sets. And a lot of these customers are very involved, but not only us, but with Inductive Automation and are open to what comes next.
Lauren: So, even if it kind of starts small, you can scale them out to a really interesting and exciting place?
Chris: We are big fans of phase one and then phase 1.1 that includes a lot of those bonus features. And then solid phase twos, the things that they were not ready for in the beginning, but needed a good foundation, take a step back, and then come back with a lot of interesting things.
Lauren: That's really an interesting way to think about it. Shifting gears a little bit, I am always struck by Vertech's kind of fun energy and the level of enjoyment you all bring to your work. You all came to ICC in motorcycle jackets. Titus was reticent to have his picture taken in the motorcycle jacket, but we did get him to do it. How do you think you guys approach that kind of fun work environment?
Chris: That's it. You said it, we're going to have fun. And we talk about this on a daily basis with clients and everything else we like what we do. We're very passionate about this, and we don't take it so seriously and rigorous. There is a great culture, and we like being around the people that we're with. The people that work for us, we say it all the time, they are the best and brightest out there, and also they are just culturally fun. These are the people that enjoy what they're doing. So, yes, we're gonna do stunts like the motorcycle jackets, because why not? We're gonna stand out, we're gonna have a good time, and it's a conversation starter.
Lauren: Totally. And it gets guys noticed at the conference, for sure. That's another marketing strategy within itself, right? Just wear things... Crazy things to trade shows.
Chris: Yes, it is an annual tradition at this point. Fake tattoos last year, bright yellow Polos the year before, so...
Lauren: It's all marketing.
Chris: That's the challenge to anybody else out there of... Come at us.
Lauren: Yeah, bring it next year at ICC. You can see Chris personally about your best ICC get-up.
Lauren: Well, Chris, thanks so much. I am curious if you have any exciting plans for Vertech for the near future, anything you guys are getting really excited about?
Chris: Yes, I am getting more and more excited. You've noticed that there's a shift towards the enterprise, and this is matching Inductive Automations, what they've been noticing trends for. This is also reflected in Sepasoft's 3.0 modules with the enterprise. We have noticed so many of our customers wanting to include all of their facilities and then rolling it up to an enterprise, or linking information between plants. We've noticed, both water wastewater and solid waste, that they want to link all of their sites, and this is huge. This is something that we've been doing for years now, but the magnitude of it and the scale of it is increasing, and so the tools it's very nice that that is being reflected within Ignition and Sepasoft, and we've been doing the same at Vertech to help promote this.
Lauren: Super exciting. Final question for you. I heard there was some interest in visiting Area 51 this upcoming weekend. Are you a fan of Area 51?
Chris: No. I am not, but I am a fan of psychology. And just to see a huge group that was going out and doing something probably pretty stupid, but being able to watch a huge group do that, I came so close. We're in Folsom right now, and I did Google it. It's only seven and half hours. I could have driven through the night and gone and seen it, but since I'm doing this podcast in Folsom, on the 20th, you know that I didn't make it.
Lauren: I guess we roped you in, and you're gonna take a motorcycle ride with Bobby this weekend instead?
Chris: Yes. Mark French and Bobby, and a whole group of us are going to ride up to Tahoe and enjoy the day. I'm excited about that instead.
Lauren: It sounds like a better plan.
Chris: Way better, way more responsible.
Lauren: Well, Chris, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. We really appreciate it.
Chris: Sure. Thank you.