Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Them versus Us?

In the old days - in the early 80's - when I was a control engineer at a large complex manufacturing site in Canada, where we had staff functions such as process control or minor process changes in a separate engineering department, and not a part of operations, there was a bit of us versus them. However, during a major shake down in the mid-eighties the organisation was re-aligned, so process control people, instrumentation people and process design people became part of operations groups. The them versus us talk disappeared instantly - almost!

However, discussion on LinkedIn the talk about whether process safety should be a staff function or be part of operations appear again and again. Of course in large corporations there will be a need for experts for example in process safety, that serve the worldwide business. But even they are properly located at a plant site to be close to operations and other resources, and not in a corporate head office. Even in the largest of to-days corporations the need for such corporate wide specialist - or problem solvers is properly limited to less than a handful of people. This makes it a challenge to pick those persons and ensure they get the experience to become the worldwide process safety expert one day.

Such experts could in my view not function without being close to operations. If they tried to, then they would rely to much on theory and to little on practice. Experts are experts because they know how and when to combine theory and practice. Therefore is was a good thing, when our site engineering department disappeared in the mid eighties, and all engineers became part of operations. After the re-organisation the handful of control engineers on the site still had a need to talk with each other about process control problems and socialize together. We did that by introducing mentors and having lunch together each Friday.

Unfortunately since the another area with a them versus us attitude have been allowed to appear and group in many corporations. I am thinking about the IT-group. Lately I have been attending a number of one day events or conference about a particular aspect of IT, e.g. Big Data, Could Computing, Cyber security etc.

It has been a striking experience how much time is spent talking about IT and the LOB - i.e. us versus them! I simple don't understand why IT don't see themselves as part of the business, just like accounting or logistics. It is my impression, that IT people talk too much to each other and too little to others. Where this is less so innovation appear to thrive.

Maybe it would be good for business if IT people were closer to their customers within the organization and a bit further from other IT-people. But what do you think?

By the way today I attended a seminar, which reminded me how costly it can be not to pay attention to cyber security. In April 2011 Sony's PlayStation customer database was hacked using a known SQL-vulnerability. The cost to the company was half a billion dollars - equivalent to the cost of some of the largest process safety events. A few months later in 2011 the Dutch company DigiNotar lost its most valuable asset: customer trust! Three months later the company was bankrupt. But I believe it is easier to develop a security culture by having IT people integrated with their users, than by having an IT group or department attempt to communicate the culture message to other departments.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Do you have housekeeping issues at your site?

Everyone knows that bad housekeeping can lead to incidents or near miss event. But it is often difficult to communicate this fact so it is understood. Here is a video made by Mafell for Holzfachmarkt Gerschwitz. The company apparently sell power-tools.  If you are discussing near miss at a safety meeting consider showing this video - it is less than a minute long. Here it is: