Risk is the Card that Trumps Everything

Gordon Lawther Modernization Program Manager

Gordon Lawther
Modernization Program Manager

Author: Gordon Lawther

In the world of aging automation systems and infrastructures, there are always new features and capabilities that we’d like to have. HMI’s [human machine interfaces] more akin to our home computers, intuitive engineering tools with pre-defined libraries incorporating functions that used to require dozens of lines of code, smart diagnostics to replace iterative troubleshooting.

Human-Machine-InterfaceAnd then there are constraints that truly cause a business to become less competitive. Maybe there is no spare I/O to add measurement and control to improve product quality or integration with business systems is not possible with legacy technology.

Even with a strong business case and all the right reasons to fund a modernization project, unmitigated risk will almost always be a trump card to delay or kill a project. The cost of extended or unscheduled downtime as a consequence of doing an automation modernization project can dwarf any return on investment.

The answer is: mitigate the risk to a point it is tolerable. Simple right? If it was, automation suppliers would not be scrambling to extend the lives of legacy systems well beyond their original retire dates so that manufactures can plan to modernize.

In order to mitigate risk, you have to know what the risks are, and to know what the risks are you must have been there before. Like the first time a child touches a hot surface.

So, just hire a company with the most experience and expertise doing similar projects. Same industry, process, size, platform and world area. All the risks will be known and mitigation plans can come “off-the-shelf”. Problem solved, trump card off the table. Well ok, but it is one thing to provide a reference for a certain type of project and it is another to mobilize a team to match it exactly.

Global, highly matrixed companies must manage resources in a functional way to satisfy project requirements and address risk. Disciplines such as project management, electrical and instrumentation (E&I) design and controls engineering have their own workflows and certification programs. The respective risk areas around things like change management, real estate constraints and control optimization are well understood within these functional areas across the board. It then falls to process and industry consultants to round off the risk identification and mitigation plan for a specific project.

Leading companies will be able to assemble a team from these functional areas to assess and mitigate risk for any project and execute successfully.

These companies will also have a long term vision of talent development, mentoring and training to ensure knowledge is passed down and retained. Even in down economies, this is an area that should not be compromised. The continuity of “knowing what the risks are” should never be lost.

From Jim: You can connect and interact with other modernization experts in the Improve & Modernize track of the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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