IA’s very own Don Pearson sits down with Arnell J. Ignacio to explore the people-driven aspect of Digital Transformation. They discuss how Digital Transformation is more than just implementing technology and why motivated professionals are so important to its success. Don and Arnell also talk about the Digital Transformation effect on company culture, the processes people adopt, challenges people face, the business implications, and the business value. You may access a video version of this podcast here.
“In manufacturing, we're talking about hardware, machinery, production lines, heavy duty work with staff, but we can't underestimate the fact that people are what makes things happen.”
Don Pearson - VP of Sales and Marketing at Inductive Automation
Don Pearson brings over 35 years of management experience to the Inductive Automation team. His experience includes a broad business background of ownership and management positions in the food & beverage and hospitality sectors, and a business consulting partnership in the healthcare and insurance industries. Additionally, Don spent nearly 20 years in sales and management roles for a new-media company. He currently oversees Inductive Automation's sales and marketing initiatives and works closely with the management team to develop and execute the overall corporate strategy.
Arnell: Hello and welcome to Inductive Conversations. My name is Arnell J. Ignacio, and today we're gonna talk about a popular topic in our industry, Digital Transformation. Before we begin, I wanted to welcome our guest, Don Pearson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Inductive Automation. Welcome, Don.
Don: Thank you. It's good to be here, Arnell.
Arnell: Don, would you like to take a moment to tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Don: Sure. I guess I'd have to say for starters, I do not come to this job with a lot of background in the engineering side of the house. I started working with Inductive Automation, basically started a relationship with Steve, our founder and CEO. I was a group publisher, an executive vice president at a media company. I ran a group called the Government Technology Media Group. And that really dealt with the world of information technology in the public sector. So particularly the focus was on state and local government. So really my job was involved with a number of magazines, digital communities, government technology, governing, emergency management, these were all areas where collaboration work among public sector organizations was necessary to bring better services to us as citizens.
Don: So a little bit different area, we cross over a lot in the Digital Transformation side with water and wastewater and utilities, and those public sector organizations, smart cities, smart infrastructure, those areas. My background was really in that. Spent a number of years as a partner in a consulting firm, and always really been interested in the... I don't know… The elements of bringing an organization together and building a team, and really trying to get those teams focused on some sort of product with a purpose. So getting engaged with Inductive Automation at its very beginning has just been an exciting adventure for me, Arnell. And been through many many phases over the last 16, 17 years. And it's still exciting.
Arnell: Excellent, excellent. Well, you have an amazing background, Don. And you have a lot of knowledge in the areas of the digital world. And so in this podcast, we wanted to talk about Digital Transformation, and we've all talked about the technological aspect of it, the implementation, but I wanted to get your insight in more of the people side, more of the business side, which I feel like we could talk more about. First, we've had a lot of people talk about Digital Transformation and explain what it is. You have interviewed Remus Pop from Riveron who's talked about it. But can you explain to our listeners what the Digital Transformation is from your perspective? And why is it important?
Don: Sure. Well, I do think that as technology has been developing, and in some ways the industrial sector has not kept up as much with the developments that maybe IT has been more involved in. But really you're talking about a sector that has been building stuff and making stuff for centuries. But in many many ways, the methodologies used in building that, the organizational structures used in bringing together industrial organizations haven't kept pace with what the capabilities are. I heard it said one time about teaching, when you start looking at transforming teaching, that our classroom today looks about the same as a classroom did a couple hundred years ago before you started seeing a lot of evolution in the educational space. You had a teacher, you had a blackboard, you had some chalk and you had some students sitting out in front of him, and that's pretty much how teaching was done. But all the possibilities that could go on in the educational space by using technology, by evolving, have really had a huge impact and continue to in that area. You could see a parallel over in the world of industry. Manufacturing methodologies and ways people have built things and the ways they've organized their business have been pretty much the same based on how fast technologies moved in their areas.
Don: So when I think of Digital Transformation, I just think it's the the ability to take digital technologies and use those technologies to fundamentally change the way organizations run, fundamentally change the way they produce products, and use those technologies to accelerate change, to bring information to all levels of the organization so that you can look at all that information and you can make decisions faster and better. The overall goal then of course, would be the improved efficiency, the improved success of those organizations by deploying digital technologies throughout. And that may be a long-winded answer but I think it involves all of those kind of things for change to occur, and to your point earlier, of course, using digital technology also means people had to be willing to. They have to be willing to change and grow, and those are the kind of things that become, I think the challenges, when you look at Digital Transformation.
Arnell: There is evolution, and it's amazing to see as we move into this Digital Transformation, a lot of the organizations that we've worked with, and I've heard kind of the positive results that have come from it. And with the insight into a lot of these customers, how has IA approached Digital Transformation? How have we looked at it from our perspective?
Don: It's interesting, because in the very beginning of Inductive Automation from the roots, from our founder, Steve Hechtman, there was a goal to use IT technologies into SCADA or in the OT space. And that was an initial goal. And Steve had the thought that, "My gosh, if I could," to be simplistic here, "If I could just get data from PLCs bi-directionally to and from SQL databases, I could do tremendous things for my customers." He was an integrator, he wanted to help his customers solve problems, he wanted to deal with the pain points that they were experiencing and help them get beyond them. So that would be a very, very focused goal, but that goal then expands when you start thinking about it, because as soon as you bring IT technology and OT technology together, you open up tremendous possibilities in an organization.
Don: So when you think about it from IA, realize, Inductive Automation or IA has evolved over the last two decades also. So the word Digital Transformation wasn't even being passed around, we were just trying to get data to and from SQL databases and solve problems for customers, but then you start opening the door and you see what else the possibilities are, those initial products, they... In what was called Factory SQL, Steve used to call it the “Swiss Army knife” for an integrator. 'Cause once you got in, you could do so much, and then you see the evolution of the Ignition platform opening the door to major capabilities all the way from edge to enterprise as Digital Transformation as a topic starts emerging.
Don: So when you think about it from IA's viewpoint, it sort of evolved as our platform evolved, always trying to solve more pain points for that end user customer, and along the way, you realize you need to think about it as an overall architecture. You need to architect it properly so that you can migrate a legacy system, not rip and replace, but migrate a legacy system into a digital transformed, capable enterprise system, and that requires thinking ahead as you architect. And I believe that's what our sales engineers and the people working with our developers are all thinking about, they're saying, "How do we build a platform that gives the capabilities to look at the entire enterprise from access to data to the utilization of that data when something is done with it, to make it more valuable and have it put into context?" And I think that's the approach that IA takes to it.
Arnell: Excellent. Yeah, it's amazing to see how customers have been able to extend that vision. It's interesting you talk about data and context, we had a podcast with Blentech recently, and they told us about their story of how... There's a lot of companies that have access to data, but they don't know what to do with it, and they found a way to apply context to give them the ability to make those decisions. And so, to the point that you mean also, it's not about rip and replace, it's about improving the efficiency of what they have, and they were talking about some locations, they only use 50% of the machinery, but with the implementation and the solution that we have helped them put together, they're able to get almost 100% efficiency out of that machine without having to spend additional money on new equipment. So that leads me to this next question, what are some of the business implications of Digital Transformation, and why should businesses embrace it?
Don: Well, that's a very good question, and one that I often see organizations that are making decisions to spend money and put energy into this are asking, but I think if you really think about it, historically, organizations have built up a little bit too much in a siloed way. So you have a finance division, you have manufacturing, you have the manufacturing plant, you have the OT, the operations technology side of the house, and you have the IT side of the house, and unfortunately, historically, never the twain shall meet. There was often a little bit of... Lack of collaboration and coordination among those two sides. So when you think about the business implications, you realize that value can be gotten from all different aspects of an organization, but if the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, then you're gonna have a challenge to get context and make better decisions.
Don: Or if it takes so much time, if finance people are looking at reports that basically have a lag time of two months since they happened and manufacturing deals in milliseconds in terms of decisions they need to make to handle downtime and keep production going and get the value you were talking about with the Blentech, you need to bring together real-time information, historical information across the enterprise, and then you see many business implications. Yes, it has to do with their supply chain, it has to do with how they handle the production line and how they handle downtime, has to do with planning, it connects to the sales and demand. So there are so many things that bring business value that become real to an organization as they progress on this Digital Transformation journey.
Arnell: You talk about all these connections that are being made, how organizations are siloed in their own areas, and a lot of times Digital Transformation is spoken in terms of just a new technology such as IIoT and MQTT, but it's also about people in a new way of thinking, and I feel like this is something that we will wanna talk about more, is like how important are people in the Digital Transformation, how important it is to connect to everyone in Digital Transformation?
Don: Well, if you think about it, it's a little bit of a limited view when you use the word Digital Transformation because it's been said different ways, but you're really talking about the people, the processes and the technology or technology programs that come together. So it's people processing programs when you're really trying to make the full thing happen. So if you think about value, we were talking in the previous question you had there, okay, you get more information, you'd make a better decision, you're gonna handle downtime. But what about innovation? What about an innovative company, what about a company with a culture of collaboration? You need to open up your organizational structure so individuals have a chance to bring their great ideas and their great skill sets together to help the organization overall.
Don: So if you think of one of the major leverage points of an organization, yes, I do understand in manufacturing, we're talking about hardware, machinery, production lines, heavy duty work with staff, but we can't underestimate the fact that people are what makes things happen, and people take that information and make decisions with it, or they think about it differently to come up with a creative or a new idea. So when I look at this overall, and I think about it a little bit about the culture of Inductive Automation.
Don: We have a strong commitment to listening to our customers, not just as a PR message, but the ideas portal that happens where you create feedback loops, your customers give feedback back to your development team so they know what's needed next, what should they be doing, how are we gonna get this development out into the marketplace, you're listening to customers all the time. So you basically think about things from the viewpoint of “How do people and processes make something happen using the tools of technology?” I think many a project has failed because somebody somewhere in the organization really didn't want to really succeed.
Don: They had another agenda, they weren't willing to be flexible, they weren't unleashing the innovation of other people inside the company, there wasn't a collaborative spirit, so bringing people and process together, means you have to go and to think differently. What is that... I've heard I said it in many different ways. That definition of insanity is doing what you've always done, how you've always done it, and actually expecting a different result. That's not how it works, if someone brings in some technology, but the processes and the people are managed exactly the same way, then you're not gonna get a different result. So you wanna maximize your people, maximize your process change and maximize your deployment and utilization of technology. And that combination is a constant feedback loop that continues to grow as the organization evolves.
Arnell: Yeah. And that's important. And you've mentioned a culture, and so from what you're saying, a company culture is really important, you can't just say, “Oh, I wanna do... Or, I wanna implement Digital Transformation. Let's just go ahead and do it." There is a process that comes before that where it's a mind shift, correct? So what role does company culture play in Digital Transformation?
Don: Arnell, I think it's huge, I think it's huge. Particularly because you could say a Digital Transformation isn't a technology project, it isn't a destination, meaning saying, "Okay, we're gonna do Digital Transformation, now we're done," because we as people are evolving in terms of our ability to learn how to use the technology and how to work with each other in that process too. So it's... Rather than saying Digital Transformation is a destination, I prefer to think of it as a process. A continual thing. So just like you think about software, we talk to Carl and Coby in terms of the main development of our software, and you clearly hear it said, "The software is never done, it's a development process. You're always improving it." I would say Digital Transformation is never done, you're constantly improving the deployment, and that means you have to have a culture that accepts and welcomes change, that has a fluidity about it and really utilize its people very well, which also is what engages people who make some wants to stay with a company and be part of that process, 'cause they feel like they're able to use their skills, improve their skills and make a contribution with those skills.
Arnell: So when it comes to Digital Transformation, can an organization embark on that without approaching culture? Is that something that can happen or this culture just really important to change in order for this to work?
Don: I guess my short answer is, no. I don't think you could embark on Digital Transformation without approaching the culture and the people side, because a lot of the benefit it's gonna come from the evolution and how it happens. So I would say that when you think about Digital Transformation, you have to think about it in the context, and maybe that's my bias because my background is more on the people and process side, but I've also seen... It isn't just about technology, good technology running around looking for a problem, it's the people and the process challenges that exist that incorporate and bring the technology together that make it a workable combination.
Arnell: So in terms of Digital Transformation, is there something... Are there any aspects of it that does not get mentioned but should be addressed in conversations today?
Don: Well, I think if I look at that overall, I would say that they're still a challenge inside organizations to get a broader look at what it all entails to actually accomplish Digital Transformation. There's still a little bit, and this speaks to the mindset change that you were mentioning earlier, that people have to get out of fixed ideas, but very often at the high levels of an organization, they don't see all the way down to the lower levels of the organization, and sometimes at the lower level at the plant floor, let's say, or in the field, they're looking at it as a project. We have a project to get this new machinery deployed, we have a project to solve this problem. And I think it isn't taking time to really envision the entirety of what you're trying to accomplish, at least envision it.
Don: So you're building the proper architecture, so you're including the right stakeholders in the process, this becomes something that I think needs a little more attention as an organization to embark because people are gonna be growing and changing to the process, so you want stakeholders involved continually in that interaction as it evolves. And I think there was an author many, many number of years ago named Stephen Covey, who wrote a book called, I think it's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and he had these things that were part of successful people.
Don: I think they applied to successful leadership and successful organizations. And one of the things, one of those things that always stuck with me is he said, one of the seven habits is, you begin with the end in mind. You begin with the end in mind. And I think when you think about Digital Transformation, it's not like you know the whole path forward because it's a process that has many changes they should go along. But you would at least begin with the thought in mind of where you're trying to go, so you take your thinking above the level of just a project, and you go to a broader scope on that. There's a lot of folks out in the environment who are doing a lot of good work on Digital Transformation. Jeff Winter is one of them. I like following his work, and he really talks a lot about what it takes to accomplish Digital Transformation. And I think the more you read and study and look at people who are talking and doing things in that area, the more you get her a better vision of what's the end in mind that we should be thinking about for Digital Transformation? I think a little more vision needs to be worked through as you're working at the project level and still trying to transform the whole organization.
Arnell: So trying to translate that vision or express that vision to the organization is important. And do you find that to be one of the challenges... From a people perspective, do you find that to be one of the challenges, or are there any other challenges regarding people with Digital Transformation?
Don: When you think about, very often, you're trying to bring together IT and OT people who have different perspectives and have operated on different timelines. And I don't think you're gonna accomplish Digital Transformation by going, if you will, from the IT organization down to the OT organization. The Ignition platform has really empowered people in the field to do amazing things for the entire organization. But we often say that Digital Transformation is OT up, it's not IT down. When people say, "We wanna have IT/OT convergence," I wanna correct them and say, "No, it's not IT/OT, it's OT/IT convergence," 'cause OT takes the lead. Now, why does OT take the lead? If you think about organizations historically and you want people to come along and get with the program, you gotta realize that that person in the field, that person on the production line, they're the people responsible for the product of that organization. They're the ones that have to keep production going 24 by 7, 365 days a year. And any time there's a problem or break in that, it falls right on their shoulders. So you really have to get at the heart of where production comes from an organization and listen well and work well, so you don't have these grandiose ideas of Digital Transformation, and then it doesn't really help Joe or Mary or Pete or Samantha on the production line, we're trying to get things done.
Don: One of the reasons I think Gartner talks about the various phases and talks about that trough that comes after disillusionment, the new idea, you get disillusioned, is 'cause you don't take enough look at the reality of the person really making production happen and have yourself attentive to them with deploying change, because everybody needs to be on the same page. If you don't really have them working to make a better system that works for that operator, then you're gonna have a lot of trouble driving it from the top down. It has to be a bottom-up agreement to make Digital Transformation really occur.
Arnell: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think as we talked about this in terms of the people aspect, the Digital Transformation is making that happen. And as you said before, it's connecting people together, getting everyone on the same page, bringing the culture in line with, "We need to be connected as an organization to be able to make this happen and be able to communicate," not just with data, but also with each other to get to the greater goal, getting to a greater result with an organization. So from your insight, you've met with a lot of customers, you've seen a lot of projects come to life, you've seen a lot of success, really, in this area. So what feedback have you received in regards to implementing Digital Transformation from our customers? What have you seen out there?
Don: Well, I've had the privilege of working with our Community Alliances Division, which goes out and creates the success stories, Arnell. So it's been really very rewarding to see the evolution over time. And I would say that anybody interested just... I'm a little biased here, but go to our website and look at some of the case studies that we've done. But you know when I talk to people like Hugh Roddy from Chobani and I see what Chobani has done in their own Digital Transformation. They've clearly leveraged the Ignition platform in ways that are just amazing. But they just... The whole change of mindset, the whole change of process. If you listen to Hugh talk, you really see that they're talking about an entire organization operating differently. And they really, in my estimation, get it.
Don: Another food manufacturer, SugarCreek out of the Midwest, I think has gotten tremendous results by thinking broadly about what they're trying to do with all aspects of their organization. So if I look across the landscape and the opportunities that people are taking to really change their organization, it gets pretty exciting. I think you see orders of magnitude change in productivity, not just incremental growth. But if you're really engaged in that whole triangle of people processing technology and you really commit to the journey, then you're gonna find areas of growth in all different aspects of your organization that you wouldn't have seen, because you're listening to people in the organization who have the best knowledge and the best insight into where gains can be made.
Don: So as we see ourselves go from edge to cloud and wanna leverage machine learning and AI and AR more effectively and back down to changes in very real-time kinds of decision-making, you really can see that gain, we're not at the peak of this, we're just at the incipient stages of really pushing the envelope for what can come when you bring technology together with people who are gonna welcome it and really see its value inside their organizations. So I'm kind of an advocate, you can probably tell that a little bit on this area. But I get very excited when I see what happens to our customers. I'm really excited about our upcoming Ignition Community Conference. We're finally gonna gather people together in person for the first time in a couple of years. And it's gonna be great to get together with our customers and get a little better feel for the pulse of what they've been doing for the last few years.
Arnell: Yeah, no, it's exciting that we're getting back to in-person and just being able to meet the customers again and to hear their stories. It's amazing just to hear just a lot of the success that people have had with Ignition and just the... I guess you... I don't know if this is the right term but the relief. They've been looking for something to help solve whatever their issues are in terms of trying to improve efficiency, whether it be trying to increase production or whether to improve profits to see areas where things could be improved, and is just to know like, "Finally, I've found something that will work." And then the amazing part of that conference is the willingness to share. It's just amazing that people are trying to work together to find a common ground to find better solutions, so I think it's fantastic.
Don: Yeah, you mentioned earlier in terms of just different things about Digital Transformation and what I might say that makes it really work and about the Inductive Automation culture, but I really like Ignition Community Conference for exactly the reasons you said, the willingness to share ideas. I talked more today about just... Within an organization, but outside of the organization, other people in other fields involved in other vertical industries, learning from each other, how something learned in one industry can ever cross over benefit in another industry. These are all things that I think make the world of industrial automation, that Inductive Automation and the Ignition platform play into, so exciting at this time, because the amount of change that's happening, the amount of innovation that's occurring is really a welcomed sight to see, because organizations certainly are challenged, and having the tools and the process to get involved in to address some of that is pretty exciting times I would say.
Arnell: We've had a lot of organizations come up with all these different solutions. These are... Do you have any insight as to why now people and organizations are more willing to collaborate? Is there... Do you have any insight on that?
Don: Well, I may have some thoughts. I don't know if I'd raise it to the level of insight or no, but I would certainly call it the opinions. I got lots of opinions, you know? But I do think that the environment, the environment becoming more and more challenging has forced organizations to realize that... And technology has opened up the capability to have vehicles for really doing collaboration way, so there are more tools available. And I think of necessity to be able to compete and develop your organizations more and more... There've been more and more pressure to open up and listen. I would still say there are so many siloed organizations that don't listen, but you're seeing the evolution of the trend towards more and more Digital Transformation and more and more collaboration occurring, and as you that as sort of success breeds on success and people open up more, and so more collaborative organizations are involved in things. We're involved with the Eclipse Foundations Working Group for its Sparkplug specification. I really find that extremely valuable, all these different diverse organizations from end users and vendors of hardware and software coming together to say, "How do we build a better solution for transport of information and data inside the industrial sector?" And you'll learn a lot from each other, so I feel the timing is right for a lot more benefit coming from that kind of collaboration.
Arnell: In relation to the previous question that I asked in terms of the feedback that you've received from customers about Digital Transformation, do you have any insights to the business value gained from Digital Transformation? Any real-world examples, something tangible to show that there is success in implementing Digital Transformation?
Don: A lot of our customers will, when we do case studies with them, share different numbers, I'm thinking of one cherry manufacturing (company) down the Central Valley here of California, who reported in their case study like 100% increase in productivity, meaning they doubled their productivity with the same amount of shifts from what they were doing in terms of their Digital Transformation project. This is not full Digital Transformation, but it is an example. Chobani, major change in their ability to accelerate and grow because of using technology across their entire organization. So I think you would see that there are more cases of large pieces of growth and change, and also decreases in downtime and stress within the organization from having information throughout the entire organization. So I think it takes a little bit of digging to listen to these customers, but the main benefit of the commitment is that you end up with larger and continuous change increments as you go forward, because you're thinking constantly about improvement, again, from the technology, but also the people in the process. And so the insight continues to grow on itself over time, and I think that's where the real benefit comes from with Digital Transformation
Arnell: Now, as we wrap up our conversation here, Don, is there anything else you'd like to add in terms of the people in regards to Digital Transformation?
Don: I get excited about it. I mean, what's happening inside of our company, I'm excited about the fact that Inductive Automation has the opportunity to be at a central point in this ecosystem of companies, you know? Hardware, software services, integration firms, all these people committed to serving that industrial organization community, if you will, on their journey. And we have the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest across all different industries, and I watch what's happening with those industries, and I feel very privileged to be in the seat that I am to see what's going on across so many industries and see the unique ways that people are taking the Ignition platform for their industrial automation and Digital Transformation projects, and giving us feedback on how we can do a better job. So being part of the ecosystem and part of this community is something that I find to be a lot of fun along with all the challenges that go along with it, so I guess that's my thoughts, I don't think I have anything else to add to it. I appreciate the opportunity to have a chance to chat with you a little bit today.
Arnell: Thanks, Don. Yeah, I really appreciate you joining us today. Thank you for your insights in terms of the people and Digital Transformation and what organizations need to do to be able to be successful in implementing Digital Transformation. Well, again, Don, thank you so much, I appreciate you joining us today and have a great rest of your day. Thank you.
Don: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it, Arnell.