10 things: Digitalization at AVEVA World Conference, Houston edition

Feb 21, 2018 | Hot Topics

I spent the last week with AVEVA at its North American user conference. I haven’t attended one of these in years, mostly going to the international Summit events (here, here … search the site for more). The Summit is strategic; it’s about IT and economic trends, forces shaping the end-industries AVEVA addresses. The Conference has a bit of this but also very specific roadmap sessions, down to what’s in coming point releases. It was fun and interesting to hang with users and department managers — their interests are specific and often short-term.

The keynotes were focused on the theme of the event, digitalization. Yes, it’s hard to say, but it’s oh so important to consider. Tom Singer of Aker Solutions, Justin Weaver of Southern Company and Terje Maanum of Statoil spoke about how digitalization changes their enterprises. Aker, for example, creates template-based design concepts that enable them to quickly and accurately generate quotes and preliminary designs, and then feed directly into more detailed work if they win the contract. Southern Company is working to replace job boxes (the steel container in the title photo) full of paper drawings with boxes that contain touchscreen monitors to enable the same view and markup but also walkthroughs and other techniques designed to help trades better understand what they’re working on. Finally, Statoil is really impressive, managing all of the data on over 70 assets with a team of 8 people — but most gee-whizzy was the fact that this single-source concept leads to downstream technologies like augmented reality, which helped identify equipment that had been installed incorrectly. Statoil’s EPC was able to find and fix the problems before the plant commissioning, averting a disaster.

This kind of forward-looking technology use was present in all of the sessions I attended, whether on how to become an EPC 4.0 (a cute play on the whole Industry 4.0 thing) to how handover standards can and will change what and how we model. But there was some really detailed tactical stuff in the roadmaps, too, to show how AVEVA plans to move its products forward.

With this background, here are ten things I think I think about AVEVA World Conference, North America. In no particular order:

  1. Unlike many of its peers, AVEVA invites prospects to this event. That’s very confident of the company, since no one can control who these prospects speak with or what they, therefore, learn. I sat with one gentleman who was interested in one of AVEVA’s lesser-known offerings and was surprised by the sheer size of the rest of the portfolio.
  2. The elephant in the room, AVEVA’s merger with Schneider Electric’s software assets, wasn’t addressed all that much — the deal is about to close, likely on 1 March 2018. A new CEO starts this week. More than that, no one seems to know. But expectations are high and the excitement was real. As in Cambridge, people are looking forward to seeing what this much larger software company can do.
  3. That much bigger product portfolio will address the entire life of a production plant, from front-end conceptual design via process simulation, through detailed design, operations and ultimately, into decommissioning. It takes the AVEVA toolset from short-term to lifecycle-long relevance — and many attendees are thinking about how that will change what they do.
  4. Will they design differently if that model can/will be used in operations? There are systemic problems in the process industries that make that far from commonplace right now, but the greater scope of AVEVA’s offering has the potential to finally shift that — and the keynotes examples highlight why it’s such a good idea.
  5. Many in the audience in Houston were tactical–users who needed to get a job done. In many cases, EPCs who use many if not all of the products on the market. They were there to talk to product managers about what’s in the next point releases — and told me that, in general, they’re happy with their AVEVA product(s) and that it stacks up well against the competition. They use whatever tools their clients specify and try to keep their skills sharp across the products.
  6. AVEVA has taken a slow roll approach to cloud, reasoning that many of its users and projects are in areas where WiFi is uncertain or where security concerns prevent adoption. The company showcased partner Orinox, which offers a one-stop shop for cloud virtualization of AVEVA’s products. Joint customer Southern California Gas spoke about spinning up an AVEVA installation for a project in 2 weeks. They had more users than anticipated, which meant tapping into the flexibility of cloud licensing, using 1D, 2D and 3D products as well as incorporating laser scans into their workflow. it was ambitious and ultimately successful: the company plans to roll out its AVEVA cloud to more projects.
  7. Another presentation in that same session could not have been more different — and showcases how AVEVA has been working to add cross-vertical products for longer than many people realize. Northwest Fabricators told how they transformed their business via AVEVA’s Fabtrol. They’re a 40,000 shop that cuts steel and welds pipe, serving customers on large and complex projects via Excel spreadsheets. Can you imagine? A 30 MB spreadsheet that opened so slowly, people were afraid to breathe while it did in case they jinxed it. They had problems in procurement, material tracking, progress tracking and reporting, billing — all of the things that one could presume Excel to handle just fine, but not at this scale. Implementing Fabtrol to manage estimating, drawings, materials and production was a big deal, since they needed new IT infrastructure, training, changed processes to be more modern— the speaker said it was “sheer terror”. Today, Fabtrol does estimating, procurement, material receiving and nesting, and they’re adding Bocad to streamline detailing. Lots of cost and time savings, lower waste on materials, and the security of a modern IT infrastructure. I hope AVEVA turns this into a case study, because the speaker highlighted truly business-changing effects of the implementation.
  8. This theme, that AVEVA is more than 3D (MT3D) has been a cornerstone of AVEVA-speak for several years. The company really got its start with its PDMS CAD offering —always underpinned by its Dabacon database— but has struggled to make a name for itself outside that arena. For those not following so closely: Fabtrol for managing steel fabrication. Procon for contract management. ISM for standards management. ERM (Enterprise Resource Management) to track materials, labor and other project assets. AVEVA Net for information management — and to feed into AVEVA Engage for a visual front-end to Net’s data. I may have missed some products, but my point is: there’s much more then PDMS and E3D.
  9. This plays out well in the Americas, where AVEVA’s business sounds fundamentally different from inother parts of the world. Americas EVP Amish Sabharwal told attendees that revenue in the Americas is growing at 25% per year (as opposed to 15% for the group overall); MT3D accounts for 50% of revenue (versus 25% overall) and that oil and gas represents 20% of the business in the Americas, compared to 50% for AVEVA as a whole. That’s a point to watch as the Schneider combination takes hold: how can the new AVEVA capitalize on what the Americas are doing to move beyond AVEVA’s traditional upstream oil and gas?
  10. Finally, Southern Company’s job box is awesome. Mr. Weaver was speaking on stage, powerpointing away, and then walked down to the steel thing no one had really paid much attention to until that point. He opened the doors of the box, and we were all expecting a pile of paper drawings. Maybe a tablet. Nope. A huge, gorgeous display stole the scene. It was a great reveal, but with a serious purpose: doing what you’ve always done, in ways that are comfortable and familiar, won’t work much longer. Will digital technology replace all paper, everywhere? No. But the digital job box Southern Company showed us enables a lot of new ways to interact with design intent–and that can only lead to better outcomes, on this case, on the construction site.

Digitalization is a huge topic. It means many things, as each implementing company takes stock of its current situation and figures out its strategic directions. Do we want to bid more quickly and reliably on projects? Steal Aker’s templates idea. Digital job box? Manage CAD models and associated data with a view to making them available at the construction site (or plant operating floor). Giant spreadsheets too risky in your steel fabrication shop? Fabtrol. It’s a change in mindset that requires thinking beyond the immediate task to the downstream uses of the data being created, and being willing to take extra time to add in what those processes might require. The AVEVA user crowd at the event was at many different points in that thought process, but events like this move the needle forward every time.

Note: AVEVA graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is of Mr. Weaver and Southern Company’s job box, courtesy of AVEVA.

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