Interview: Keith D. Nosbusch, president, Rockwell Automation Control Systems
'Never lose focus on the customer and the need for the customer to be successful.'
Keith D. Nosbusch, president Rockwell Automation Control Systems, spoke to Control Engineering at Automation Fair 99 , Dec. 9, 1999, in Long Beach, Calif. Excerpts follow.
Q. Please discuss several things in Rockwell Automation's past that have become vital in where the company stands today and how it's positioned for the future.
There are many areas we could discuss. I'll highlight four.
1. Forming an independent software business. This helped us focus on a very important portion of company development, mindset, and culture to succeed in the software business.
2. Deciding to open up our networks. Historically, we've had a proprietary environment, with tendency to enjoy protection from competitors. We've had to consider what customers needed, and how we could address their needs. Open networks required that we open up and compete in a different way. At the time, not everyone agreed that's how we should have proceeded. It has since proven to be a smart move with formation of Open DeviceNet Vendor Association and the ControlNet International organization, leading to the entire concept of open automation. The decision to be open, in the broader prospective, bodes well for us in the future. It's really changed the tone of what's happening in the company.
3. Splitting business with services independent of Rockwell Automation products. This helps us meet customer needs and expand the scope of services to customers any time, anywhere in the world.
4. Forming Sourcealliance.com , which provides a very strong leadership position for integrated supply of electrical commodities. Customers were seeking ability to buy from the electrical category of products from one source. As we did with the formation of DeviceNet and ControlNet organizations, we'll be the catalyst for an independent organization, but then will step away from having controlling interest. This is a forward-thinking move, without consideration to protecting the past. We think we should provide leadership in this area.
Q. What are key factors in customers' environments today influencing how Rockwell Automation goes to market?
There's more effort put into solving and meeting customers' business needs and problems. We're less focused on products for products' sake. Many customers don't have a large engineering staff and are looking for suppliers to provide that expertise, allowing customers to focus on core competitiveness. We have to help customers examine the total cost of ownership.
As a company, we're moving beyond acquisitions to sell across the businesses, creating solutions at higher levels in customers' companies. Mainly, we've focused on the plant floor; now it's the CEO and CFO as well. There's great value and impact resulting from integrating customer processes at multiple levels. A lot of customers are looking to consolidate their customer base and reduce costs.
Q. Isn't it a dichotomy that customers would seek more open systems and fewer suppliers? Wouldn't a goal of embracing open systems be to have more suppliers?
Customers want a single-point of responsibility. Openness helps create the best value proposition-having the ability to replace a vendor creates leverage. The threat is healthy. If we don't have the best product, then customers can go elsewhere. Such a structure drives costs out of customers' systems. When you drill down to what customers really want, it's a single point of response. It's like the Cold War premise of trust, but verify. To adapt, Rockwell Automation has been changing and reshaping, changing our culture, and driving to the new model.
We've initiated the process of continual growth, and, as a company, have done a very good job of it a number of times. One good example is the transition from electromechanical to solid-state to software, and the expansion into services.
We'll continue to take advantage of market changes and never lose focus on the customer and the need for the customer to be successful. We need to respond to customer needs, listen, and never be arrogant.
I'd like to think that whatever happens in this company, no one would ever get fired for helping a customer. If we take care of customers, they'll reward us. We have thousands of stories of how our people have gone to extraordinary means to care for customers.
Q. How do industrial networks fit into the open concept?
NetLinx provides common services while remaining media-independent from device through the Internet, via DeviceNet, ControlNet, and Ethernet. A common set of services can run on all of them with producer-consumer technology providing a seamless migration between. This is an important differentiation we have in the marketplace. We've seen global acceptance of our network strategy-open, using commercially available protocols. It's a great competitive advantage for customers to get at any information from anywhere in the architecture. We're not afraid of Ethernet on the factory floor. You've now seen our first Ethernet PLC, not a demo, but a robust solution for sale now.
Q. What are some other technologies or products changing how customers think about and implement automation and control solutions?
The next evolution is tying the shop floor to business systems to improve the agility of customers. The next thrust for customers and the company is in the services side, integration and asset management, helping them to do things in their facilities and on the plant floor. In addition, our control platform integrates multiple disciplines, driving out cost, and improving time to market. There are so many great technology examples. (I get in trouble when I start naming them, because someone always feels left out.) Some of many current technology examples at the show here include Manufacturing BusinessWare, RSLogix, RSLinx, the PowerFlex family of drives, and Zero-Force touch buttons.
Q. What are among the most difficult challenges for customers today? What advice or assistance can you offer?
With the accelerated pace of technology, suppliers are being asked to do more. Fewer customers are automation or technology experts, nor do they want to be experts.
We're helping customers connect to product information. Among our 'what-next' Internet efforts, Rockwell Automation has augmented its own e-business site, www.rockwellautomation.com , while orchestrating the multivendor supersite, www.sourcealliance.com .
On our site, we've added another way for customers to access the distribution channel. More than 99% of our distribution channel supports what we're doing. Continued success requires change in how we do business; we can't just ignore these changes, or they would have passed us by.We're making these changes in conjunction with our distribution channel. Local sources provide pre- and post-sale services. These changes make customers more effective in assets and inventory and they lower transaction costs.
E-commerce will play a role, but no one can predict how it's going to end up. Web sites are more than just selling. going to a site is become an experience, providing information and self-help. We're not focused on moving all business to direct Internet-based sales. We want to enable customers and the distribution channel to be more effective. This is one way to help serve customers and distributors.
About Keith D. Nosbusch, president, Rockwell Automation Control Systems
Keith D. Nosbusch was appointed president, Rockwell Automation Control Systems in November 1998. He is responsible for Allen-Bradley products, Rockwell Software, systems solutions and value-added services.
Nosbusch was previously senior vice president, Control and Information Group. In this position, he was responsible for the introduction of the ControlLogix platform, which is the Rockwell Automation architecture for a contemporary, integrated control and information solution. This platform provides customers with improved productivity and agility across a wide range of industries and applications.
Nosbusch also provided leadership in the formation of two new businesses that are targeted for substantial growth in Rockwell Automation: the Process Business and the Product Services Business.
Nosbusch's business career began in 1974 when he joined Allen-Bradley as an application engineer and later that year was appointed controls engineer, Industrial Control Division. In 1976, he was promoted to application engineer and in 1978, was named marketing development specialist in the Industrial Control Division.
In 1980, Nosbusch became senior market planner, Corporate Planning and in 1982 was appointed manager of business planning for the Motion Control Division. In 1983, he was named manager of the division's AC drives projects and in 1984 was appointed development engineering manager for this division. He was promoted to director of product planning and development of that division in 1985.
In 1988, Nosbusch was named vice president, Presence Sensing, Automation Group. During his tenure, he successfully completed the ECA acquisition integration and dramatically expanded the proximity and photoelectric product lines. This business grew 10+ percent per year. In 1994, he was named vice president, Control Logic, Automation Group, where he focused the business on global growth and positioned it to compete more effectively in open architectures. This business grew 18 percent per year.
Nosbusch earned a bachelor's degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1974. He earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1978.