Companies and Experienced Employees Can't Survive With Out the Other

ISA Automation Week Focuses on the Human Factor and Gray-Hair-Club Component of Automation

By Jeremy Pollard, CET

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I gave a presentation at ISA Automation Week in Nashville in November. It was on the human factor and the gray-hair-club component of our business.

Knowledge is power, so they say. But it is so much more than that. Just ask Research in Motion. The company kicked much of its company knowledge out the door without any consideration for what actually was being lost. Those walking libraries will kill Blackberry at some point (if they haven't already).

SEE ALSO: Knowledge Recommended

Everyone now is a walking Edward Snowden, and companies had better be very aware of what information is resident in the minds and desks of those less-than-important, loyal and diligent employees.

Paul Galeski, CEO and founder of system integrator Maverick Technologies was the conference's main man. He wants the business perspective considered in the technical side of things. My first slide suggested that the ability of a company to do good for both people and the business might not be mutually exclusive.

I was honored to share the presentation space with Chad Harper, Maverick's director of technology, and Lieven Dubois, director of sales and marketing for a Dutch company, UReason, which is an operational intelligence software firm.

Dubois began by discussing physiological issues surrounding the role of operators in industry. He talked about many aspects of human nature, remembering that the session focus was human elements related to process automation. He talked about Rasmussen and the SRK. Huh?

Well, I learned that Jens Rasmussen defined three types of operator performance and three types of associated errors: skill-based, rule-based and knowledge-based. This is good, I thought, because it "proved” that letting experienced people go for reasons such as trying to save money is an exercise in diminishing returns.

His three rules are life lessons. You can't be where you are unless you've been where you've been. Expecting someone with less training and/or experience to have the same level of success as a veteran is absurd.

Harper went on to talk about managing the lifecycle of the department, in which people are the only constituents. Why people are so easily expendable is unreal.

Because of that, Harper suggests that we will not have the expertise to manage and migrate the existing legacy to newer platforms because the reverse engineering that will need to take place is formidable without the resources of those gray-hairs.

He's convinced that the number of available experienced people who know process and legacy automation are few and far between, and any window of opportunity to get them involved is shrinking rapidly.

Remember that processes seldom change drastically, but the need for speed does. That's why automation is such an important component of business success.

I got the impression from Harper that once you migrate to newer systems, the new kids on the block can manage just fine, and the gray-hairs can go.

As it was about to be my turn, an audience member said, "I don't want to tell anyone what I know because that is the only reason I have a job.” Oh my, I couldn't have paid anyone to give me a better lead- in.

My focus was the simple: Companies can't survive without us, and we can't survive without them. So what's the problem? I called my talk "What Ya Gonna Do When I'm Gone?” — a song title from a Canadian band called Chilliwack. It applies to both sides.

Yes, we need to share, but at what point do we say we won't share because we fear the outcome. I've mentioned before that when a new VP came on board, he told me to do a brain dump to be sure that the people around me would learn all I knew. "Do it well enough to put yourself out of a job,” he said.
I'll get right on that. Moron. But the remark is indicative of the mindset of the management of a non-forward-thinking company.

In the final discussions I was asked about companies that now are run by accountants. You know the answer to that one. In those instances, people are not important simply because the people making the decisions have no idea of who is protecting their company and ultimately their job.

It was a great session, but it also was one of the hardest messages for me to develop because of the turmoil of the past five years.

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