The measure of success

More than a decade ago, CONTROL DESIGN columnist Jeremy Pollard predicted that in five years, 40% of all control and automation projects would be done with PC-based control. Seems he was wrong.

By Jeremy Pollard, CET


 found an article I was interviewed for in 1992 About pc-based control. I said that in five years, 40% of all control and automation projects would be done with PC-based control. At the time, I couldn’t consider another outcome--the ideas behind the use of that technology were too compelling, I thought.

Seems I was wrong, but it was more about what my own definition of what the “success” of the technology would be. Although some will argue that PC-based control has been pretty successful, its overall adoption has not displaced conventional control, as it was first thought.

When I talked with people in companies that developed PC-based control software, at that time the feeling was mutual--success was defined by becoming the next Rockwell, or at the very least “putting them out of business.” Perhaps that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get my drift.

Based on those goals, PC-based control has been very unsuccessful.

However, some very good things came out of that detour. Many different user companies emerged stronger, as well as, a bit more skeptical. A smidgen of fear is good, because vendors judge their success on how well they can get you to buy into their story. Some, believe it or not, really don’t care about your successes.

Having said that, I think you have to have a target to measure your success by. All too often, it’s the money that defines the level of success.

I’m Canadian. NHL players are locked out over money at this writing. Like they don’t make enough already. My Saturday “Hockey Night in Canada” is in ruins.


In 1992 I said that in five years 40% of all control and automation projects would be done with PC-based control. Seems I was wrong.

But the real story is how the players and the league define the marketplace. The league is arguing that players can’t be paid more money because they don’t have it. Meanwhile, the players are insisting the owners pay them what they think they’re worth. There is a big discrepancy in the measurement of mutual success (money), and it just might wipe the game off the professional sports map.

I had a very interesting conversation with a buyer from an automotive parts manufacturer. His company buys 160,000 DC motors each quarter. They can’t buy them in North America due to the high labor cost component. The automakers are driving a hard bargain to remain competitive.

What about the industrial machine builder? What is its future if it has to sell at a loss? Simple, it’s out of business.

Call me naïve, but it really seems there are no longer any partnerships in the marketplace, just more hammer-and-nail relationships. Wal-Mart is an example of that in my mind.

In my ideal world, partnerships would be part of everyone’s formula to be successful. As dumb as that may sound, we should all be part of it.

I wrote before about unions and high wages and that they are a driving force of spending in the economy. But, how about the flip side?

Unions cost companies more because they are not part of the company’s success. They only care about their own success as defined by more money and “you can’t take my members jobs.” Can we be successful with this confrontational environment?

And what about change? This critical part of success--regardless of your definition--is not being exercised, and I think eventually it will cost us dearly.

PC-based control was relegated to “also ran” for various reasons. Many companies tried this new approach to control, and found out it was too much work. The bigger suppliers that claimed to be open, squashed customer notions that they needed to use a PC-based approach—the supplier’s solution was best for customer success.

Seems we are back at the same point now--using the same old methods for control.

There will always be new technologies, and criticisms of them, sometimes because the vendor you are talking to doesn’t see the technology as part of its success. Remember, he really doesn’t care about yours.

Awhile back, a friend of mine in the Radio and TV biz took a marketing job at Tim Horton’s Coffee (Canada’s Starbucks). The move was a bit of a stretch for him, but he was very good at it and responsible for the well-known “Roll Up the Rim to Win” ad campaign here in Canada.

So, it’s possible to rethink and redefine success. You may find that your “new” success will make sense to you, whether or not it makes sense to some of your suppliers.

I expect I’ll catch some flak for this opinion, but that’s OK. Let’s discuss it.

Jeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User ONLINE, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 20 years. Browse to or e-mail him at
Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments