NorthWind Technical Services, Sabetha, Kansas, is System Integrator of the Year, 2019
NorthWind Technology has earned a reputation for technical excellence and has focused on smaller manufacturers. Mike Bosworth, president, NorthWind Technical Services, talks with CFE Media about how his company continues to grow by delivering big solutions to smaller manufacturers, and how their needs aren’t as small as you might think:
CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2019 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.
Bosworth: We are very honored to receive this award. It’s a big deal for us and our entire staff was very excited to hear the news. NorthWind has grown an average of about 30% per year for the past five years, and that growth has come because of a lot of hard work by our team. This recognition is a testament to the hard work of our team members and the award is verification that we’re doing things right.
CFE Media: A smaller manufacturer in revenue still has big needs for technology adoption. Talk about how smaller manufacturers can take advantage of an integrator’s expertise.
Bosworth: Oftentimes, a smaller manufacturer has built its business around the functionality of individual pieces of equipment or small islands of automation. They may not have had the luxury of seeing their entire process tied together into one system. Our company’s process experience is often the key to helping smaller manufacturers bridge those gaps in their process, creating efficiencies that they weren’t able to recognize before.
CFE Media: What do customers most request as a project begins? What are the keys for a successful project launch?
Bosworth: Most customers want the same thing when a project begins: assurance they will get a functioning system that meets their schedule. For us, the key to a successful project launch usually takes place early, during the sales process. Our technical sales staff does a great job of making sure we understand the customer’s needs and sufficiently define the scope prior to starting the project. At that point, our project team develops a plan and schedule that provides those assurances to our customer. Our customers can also feel confident in knowing that when our engineers walk off their jobsite at the conclusion of the project that they will not be left alone. We have a dedicated service team available day in and day out so that if issues arise with their system, we can keep them up and running.
CFE Media: What do customers want to accomplish with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)? How do you assess their IIoT maturity, and how can you help them toward a successful implementation?
Bosworth: The Industrial Internet of Things means accessibility. Cell phones and the IIoT have made us all crave more information, and that information must be instantly available. The same is true with IIoT on the plant floor. Customers are beginning to expect immediate accessibility to information and to notifications from their equipment or instrumentation.
Even so, change like this isn’t always greeted with open arms in our industry and some customers aren’t even aware of the options available to them. Fortunately, we were early adopters of IIoT standards and have a good set of examples and tools available that are easy to implement. This helps increase IIoT adoption by our customers and creates a greater level of comfort with how to use large amounts of information gathered from the plant floor to their advantage.
CFE Media: What are the challenges to finding and retaining young engineers? What are particularly innovative or unique recruiting and retention techniques that have helped?
Bosworth: In this industry and job market, finding and retaining good staff is a challenge for everyone. However, we face some additional challenges because we’re recruiting to a small business located in a small town in Kansas. We have always put a heavy emphasis on our recruiting process to make sure we’re finding the right people because this is absolutely essential to our success as a company.
I still personally conduct the first interview during the recruiting process, which typically takes place the next day after we’ve met with prospective engineering graduates at a university career fair. Needless to say, it is pretty rare that a company president is involved this deeply in the interviewing process, but I do this because I firmly believe that our business is really an extended family and I want to have that personal connection with every person that we may hire.
After the initial interview, we invite candidates to our facility in Sabetha. There we drill down a little deeper into each candidate’s interests, skills, and expectations. We also give them ample opportunity to visit with our engineers one-on-one to see the work that we do, ask questions, and learn what the day-to-day work at NorthWind entails in a relaxed atmosphere. We also give them a tour of Sabetha so they can see what our city offers. Interviewing this way takes a lot of time and effort from everyone in the company because most of the staff is directly involved in the process, but it pays off by giving the applicant a really good feel for our company culture and the workings of a growing business.
Fortunately for us, it has also translated into greater hiring success and better retention because both NorthWind and the prospective employee have a good understanding of each other before an offer is even issued. This has also allowed us to grow our business with a good foundation of young, talented engineers that have bought in to our company.
CFE Media: What is the most overlooked part of a system integrator’s value proposition for a manufacturer? What don’t most plant leaders know about an SI that they should know?
Bosworth: Certainly for us, the most overlooked part of our value proposition is our process knowledge. When we meet a new customer for the first time, they often think of us as nothing more than hired programmers. But what they may not realize is that our years of experience working in many different industries has given us an unusually good working knowledge of their process.
In some cases, we understand their process better than they do! That process experience translates into a more efficient operation for our customers. Once a customer realizes this value, they can quickly see how that translates to greater ROI, and those are the customers that keep coming back for more of what we can offer to them.