Interstates Control Systems, Sioux Center, Iowa

Interstates Control Systems is the 2017 System Integrator of the Year for the Large System Integrator Technology. President Jack Woelber shares some of the company's success stories and advice.

By CFE Media December 14, 2016

2017 System Integrator of the Year

Large System Integrator Category (more than $15 million system integration annual revenue)

2016 System Integrator Giants Rank: 33

Jack Woelber, president of Interstates Control Systems, Sioux Center, Iowa, talked about how his organization has grown and changed throughout 2016 and how those changes will affect his business and the system integration industry into the new year:

CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2017 System Integrator of the Year award. What does this award mean to you and your organization?

Woelber: It’s a great honor for our whole team to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication they have put in to make our organization what it is. It has been a crazy year for us. These past 12 months have been like none ever before. It feels really good to us and for the growing Interstates family to be recognized for excellence through the growth and business that we’ve experienced lately.

CFE Media: Right now, the system integration business continues to grow in importance to manufacturers looking to upgrade their plant operation. Assess the state of the system integration industry as a whole.

Woelber: The system integration industry continues to mature and add more value to our clients. Technology changes more quickly all the time. As if technology wasn’t difficult enough to keep up with, we’re starting to realize the true benefit that happens at the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). It seems to add a level of complexity.

For us, though, it’s just the beginning. Yes, technology is advancing at a rapid rate. Yes, there are new products and feature sets added to our toolbox every day, but that does not mean that we’re going to sit back and simply enjoy the ride. We will never be completely satisfied. We will always push to pursue a better way.

These are interesting times for manufacturers and processors. It is tough to keep up with all of the different offerings available. So for the integrators to be able to help our clients determine the best solution, to come alongside them as partners, and provide that guidance, it adds a tremendous amount of value to them.

CFE Media: What are some of the key markets you are focused on? What are some of the specific solutions your customers are looking to implement today?

Woelber: Historically, our markets have focused on food and beverage, specialty chemicals, and consumer packaged goods. In addition to the traditional plant floor automation, our clients are increasingly looking for help with their plant floor IT infrastructure including cybersecurity, whitelisting, antivirus, and virtual offerings. As they continue to collect more data by adding more Internet Protocol (IP) devices to their network, the infrastructure only becomes more important.

The good news is with the advancement in technology, platforms are more versatile and flexible than ever. That versatility means that more of our services and offerings can be applied in new and different areas than ever before. The challenge for integrators will continue to be whether or not we are simply bringing knowledge of controls and automation, programming and design, the brass tacks of our industry, to those new clients or whether we can truly understand their businesses and objectives.

World-class integrators will continue to find ways to learn and truly understand even new client’s specific needs and deliver the unique version of that solution to maximize their investment.

CFE Media: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is an important strategy for manufacturers. What are your customers asking you about IIoT, and how are you reaching out to them with information?

Woelber: IIoT has created a lot of buzz in our industry. At some level we have provided IIoT-type offerings for years, but with more wireless and less expensive IP devices available, our clients are collecting more data than ever before. With all that data, being able to present it in a meaningful way is important.

We have two different teams of folks whose responsibilities include not only helping clients acquire and organize that data, but also analyze and interpret that information. Data is an incredibly powerful thing, but only in the right hands. There’s a big difference between having a goldmine of data and a landmine of data. If you’re unable to disseminate actionable information out of this data, you’re likely dealing with the latter.

Our approach to IIoT is mutual learning. More and more of our sophisticated customers are asking about it and trying to understand the potential value it might hold for them. A few exciting things that we’ve done in response to those requests include partnering with them on R&D projects. Something really special happens when you get a group of experts in different fields working together for mutual benefit. Through that collaboration we’re able to help them improve their businesses but also gain more knowledge ourselves about the practical application of how we can better leverage the technology.

CFE Media: How quickly do you see IIoT being adopted in manufacturing? How quickly should it be adopted?

Woelber: As with all new technology, some will adopt it more quickly than others. However, I think the progressive manufacturers are already evaluating how they could benefit from IIoT.

Consider Everett Rogers’ bell curve in his 1962 book on the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. I’d suggest that we’re somewhere in the area of innovators and early adopters, perhaps even transitioning into the early majority. The trick will be balancing that transition while the technology itself is so young. Those who’ve experienced the benefit of IIoT understand there’s already a tremendous value, but we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. It’ll be fun to watch and a fascinating ride for integrators to be on.

As with any investment, the clients will need to work with their supplier to determine the return on investment (ROI) on any type of investment. If they add a lot of infrastructure and collect a lot of data but don’t leverage the information, the value will be minimal. However, if they are working on projects and anticipate using more IIoT technology in the future, it is worth considering what infrastructure they might want to put in place today to save the rework at a later time.

CFE Media: How can system integrators help with IIoT adoption?

Woelber: Outside of our current implementations, our R&D group continues to evaluate new technologies and tools used in the IIoT space. Through that evaluation we have determined some of the strengths and benefits of those offerings. With that knowledge, we share that with our clients in helping them determine how to best offerings for their application.

CFE Media: Manufacturing is evolving from a process-driven occupation to a data and analytics-driven business. How has your training and implementation strategies changed in response to this new generation of plant equipment?

Woelber: We continue to spend energy on our traditional offerings, but we have increased our attention on data and analytics. We have gone to several training sessions, but we also have kept the dialog going with the vendors of these offerings. Because the market is relatively immature, there are changes happening constantly with new features along with consolidations and acquisitions. Because of that, we are doing our best to keep current on the offerings and how to apply them.

We continue to spend energy on our traditional offerings, but we’ve seen a significant increase in our attention to data and analytics.

Teams inside our business intelligence division help customers with data acquisition and analytics. This curation of data provides tremendous value to our customers.

We’ve gone a step further than data analytics and have begun helping customers with applicable business analytics. Combining our new knowledge via data with our in-depth understanding of our customers’ businesses and industries has led to unprecedented value for our clients.

In one recent instance, through the use of business analytics, our team saved 2 hours of run-time per day at one of our customer’s manufacturing facilities. That’s 2 hours per day they aren’t running equipment, paying to keep the lights on and delivery trucks running. It’s pretty simple math when you consider the savings they experienced and continue to experience every day. Those are significant numbers, and we’re just getting started.

CFE Media: As we face 2017, what’s your overall outlook for manufacturing?

Woelber: In my opinion, manufacturing looks to be strong. While the economy is not as hot as it was back in the mid-2000s, it continues to grow, and we anticipate that will happen for at least another year. With some manufacturing moving back to the U.S. from off shore, it should present opportunity for the U.S. as well as internationally.

The good news for integrators is that when times are tough, being operationally effective is crucial. We simply must do more with less, and that’s where automation and these next generation solutions can add significant value to clients.

On the flip side of that coin, when things are going well, when the economy is humming along, consumers are spending money, seeking out the latest and greatest technology and features from our manufacturers. This allows them to push the envelope even further with their processes, their designs, and their products. And we love nothing more than getting to be a part of that creative process.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.