Kevin Roach and the Rockwell Software Vision
I had not seen Kevin Roach since he left GE to become Vice President of Rockwell Software. In fact, as I reminded him, I had a long-arranged phone interview with him the day he resigned at GE, and he blew me off.
Kevin is one of the very smart people in automation, and it is always good to hear him talk about his vision, which has been remarkably consistent, whether he is at GE or Rockwell. His vision, of course, is of realtime manufacturing: a single unitized control schema, from the plant floor to the enterprise.
At Rockwell, he intends to achieve his vision using a services architecture called Factory Talk. Exactly how this differs from other services architectures, like Archestra, System 800XA, and so on, he tried very hard to make clear, but as near as I could tell, it involved being Rockwell and therefore better. This will be a big marketing challenge: differentiation of Factory Talk from the rest of the architectures.
Kevin showed a great slide from IBM, which looked like an etch-a-sketch on drugs and said that this was the best and clearest description of manufacturing processes he’d seen. Yeeeech. I know he’s right, but you have to see this slide to believe it.
At least 40% of IT budgets are spent on integration…building the interfaces between applications…Roach noted.
One of the biggest problems is that projects are not pre-thought how to declare a win. Often there are no benchmarks or KPIs that allow you to declare victory and go home.
He drew the familiar cloud diagram of the “space north of the plant and south of the enterprise.” This is the “holy grail” space, because it is the part of manufacturing where automation (in the broadest sense) can grow.
And, where companies like Rockwell can grow, without killing themselves against SAP, IBM, and the Big Consultants like Accenture.
So, Kevin’s plan for Rockwell Software is to deliver an integrated suite of plant-wide information software. It is not an accident that this is also John Berra’s plan at Emerson, Mike Calliel’s plan at Invensys, Jack Bolick’s plan at Honeywell, and so on and so forth. Companies like Rockwell understand that they need to become services providers as well as equipment providers, and the tea leaves say that the money will be spent in the integration of the plant floor to the enterprise, and not on the plant floor in the next few decades.
Roach noted that RA has made over a $100 million investment in Factory Talk so far.
He proclaimed that the cloudscape he wants to penetrate is full of little tiny companies that simply can’t cut it with multinational end user companies, and that only companies as big as Rockwell, et al, would be able to make this market, and make it go. He reminded us that he was a student of Jack Welch at GE, and told the story of Welch being told that “GE had lost the Internet war.” Welch replied, “Heck, we haven’t even showed up to the ballpark yet.”
Now, said Roach, it is time for the big players to bat aside the little guys and take the market.
As he proposed a standards-based architecture, he also commented that “you’ll never get the performance of a system design from loose-coupled applications on a common standards backbone.” We are to understand that he means Archestra and System 800XA, and the OPC/.NET architectures. Paul Studebaker, Editor of Plant Services asked him about this obvious contradiction, and didn’t really get an answer.
Rockwell, as it has for its hardware Encompass partners, will lift its software skirt for a new set of partners, similar to Encompass, in a program to be announced at a later date (Q2 2006).
One of Rockwell’s very useful thought exercises was to divide the manufacturing world into sets of interactive disciplines…vertically, rather than horizontally…and by doing so, making the “chasm” between the plant and the enterprise disappear. Nice idea. Going to steal that, Kevin. Thanks.
Another very interesting idea is to begin embedding data management in lower level hardware. “You’ll start to see stuff like an embedded ‘microhistorian,'” Roach remarked.
Rockwell is partnering with anyone and everyone who can help them either stave off competitive threats from ABB, SAP/Lighthammer, or whoever. With IBM, they’ve created an as-yet unreleased product called Factory Talk Integrator, which will be released next year. This, Roach said, would enable the Rockwell Software architecture to easily interface with SAP, IBM and other Enterprise systems.
Bottom line, can Rockwell transform itself from an automation hardware company into a services and software company that also makes a lot of hardware? Sure it can. If it wants to, and it certainly looks like it wants to.
What do YOU think?