Effective project management leads to successful projects. This is true whether the project is a huge automation capital project or a smaller project to improve manufacturing or production operations.
In this Emerson Automation Experts podcast, I’m joined by Emerson’s Robert Surwilo to discuss how Zedi SaaS SCADA projects are implemented from project kickoff through post-project support. These types of projects are well suited for oil & gas production operations, water and wastewater utilities, gas distribution, packaging, mining, and other industries working to digitally transform their operations to drive improvements in safety, reliability, emissions, and efficiency.
Visit the Zedi SaaS SCADA section on Emerson.com for more on ways to drive improved business performance in your production operations.
Jim: Hi, everyone. This is Jim Cahill with another “Emerson Automation Experts” podcast. In most recent years, especially right now, we’re hearing from our customers that finding and keeping skilled internal resources has become more and more challenging. Unfortunately, this phenomenon impacts every industry. So, today, we’re gonna get into what you can do to maintain or increase your profitability as an organization while moving forward easily and quickly with your digital transformation projects that will enable your success.
These projects will help you keep your eyes on your core business while still getting the technologies you need to be competitive now and in the future. With that said, I’d like to introduce you to Robert Surwilo, who is a Project Manager with Emerson’s Zedi SaaS SCADA platform. Thanks for joining us today, Robert. And I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey so far before we get into it.
Robert: I’m happy to be here, Jim, and thank you so much for the warm welcome. I’m Robert Surwilo, Project Manager for Emerson. I’ve been with the company almost 11 years in November. Worked multiple roles starting from Customer Success Manager. Currently, I’m a Project Manager. In the past, I was a Business Analyst when I had the chance to work with multiple individuals within the organization on business reporting and forecasting and financial analytics. But project management is my calling, and I have been doing that for the last six or seven years.
Jim: Wow. That sounds like you got a lot of background with, not only projects as a whole, but a really keen understanding of financials and the importance of what that can mean to a successful business strategy, not only, I guess, for North American operations, but really more from a global viewpoint. I think sometimes it’s easy for people with a financial background to really have a stronger understanding of keeping projects, not only on time, but on budget.
It’s also interesting from your experience you have seen how to drive successful digital projects that transform operations from manual processes into digital. So, let’s start with what exactly does project management do? Can you break it down to make sure we all get the purpose and function?
Robert: Yes, of course. At a very high level, we plan, analyze, recommend, and obviously manage the implementation of Emerson’s Zedi SaaS SCADA projects. During the project execution, we drive our actions to achieve customer expectations. Our project managers try to analyze every single impact to the project, positive and negative. This sometimes could be challenging due to unforeseen circumstances, but for the most part, while working closely with project stakeholders, we are able to identify and mitigate challenges and potential project issues.
Our attention is always focused on project success. Our ultimate purpose is to drive successful execution to achieve project goals within budget projections and operational targets. Some may see us as customer-trusted advisors when it comes to project execution. I will break this down into more detail for you as we get deeper.
Jim: Okay. When I think of project management from an Emerson customer perspective, it’s usually for one of those huge, super complex projects that need all hands on deck. Is this what we’re talking about for Emerson’s SaaS SCADA platforms as well?
Robert: No, not in this case, Jim. Most of the projects that we work with are to manage, implement things that a SaaS SCADA…for smaller customers and smaller operations. They’re not huge operations, so that’s why they need us to help them execute the projects. Their operations themselves are usually smaller in size, for example, for the oil and gas production operations. We will call them Tier 2, 3, or even Tier 4 size.
For other industries, for example, water utilities as towns or communities, not major cities like Paris, Manila, or Houston. So, we’re dealing with operations that range from few hundreds of employees to a handful that are responsible for the whole operations for the organization. These are the size of operations that are in the most need of digital transformation because of their growth and their expectations. The technology does help them with their operation. They don’t have project managers on staff, and, in many cases, they don’t have internal skilled labor or the expertise to drive those kind of projects. That’s why they depend on us.
Jim: Well, yeah, I guess that makes total sense. The smaller operations really don’t have enough people right now. And those people that they do have are flat out busy trying to do a tremendous amount of work to keep up and keep everyone safe. You know, that kind of makes for a catch-22 of needing and wanting digital transformation, anyway. The whole concept of needing more done by automation and gaining that valuable data and those analytics so you can still operate very successfully with the talent you have on board, yeah, that seems like a real challenge there.
So, I can see how proper project execution would play a much heavier importance in this space. So, how do these smaller organizations know what they might not know for these type of projects? Because, to your point, sure, projects may not be giant in scope. They can get complicated quickly when it comes to implementing any technology today. Are we in a position to help in any way?
Robert: Yes, we can definitely help in this area as well. Project alignment happens in our first phase of the commitment to the success of the project. When we initiate a project, we do a full discovery. This includes asking all sort of technical and operational questions. We want to make sure that we understand every aspect of the project, the full scope of work, and the expectations of the stakeholders.
We need to understand how many locations or sites or assets are included in the scope, what kind of data availability the customer is expecting, what kind of hardware or monitoring devices they have on hand or we’re dealing with in the project, things like sensors, gateways, controllers, instrumentation, communication, or edge devices. We touch on all those items to make sure that we capture all the details and we understand the full scope.
Sometimes, our customers install their own hardware when they purchase the hardware from different vendors. Sometimes, they have a third-party company handle that work for them. Occasionally, they ask us to help them install that equipment for them. In many cases, we have customers that have different types of hardware in the field that they procure from another company, from different vendors. And our platform is designed to handle all sort of monitoring devices. So, that’s actually one of the value ads for the Zedi SaaS platform. We are able to deal with many different types of devices and obtain data from those devices and put them on the platform.
For example, for oil and gas production, we offer autonomous rod pump management. If that’s part of the scope, we have a different depth of questions that we need to ask around the history data and where the rod pump has failed before. We have autonomous fixes we have developed for fluid pounding, gas interference, gas log, taking pump barrel, waxing, sanding, stack position, traveling valve problems. So, as you can see, there is a different layer of details that we need to capture when we are actually discovering the scope of the project.
During this phase, we also talk about reporting needs that our customers want. We do have on the platform tons of templates build out, but sometimes customers do request specific reports and specific data and specific format they would like to see the data on. So, we try to accommodate for those asks.
We also offer things like alarm management service where our people can manage alarms for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, complete with callouts and escalation of critical issues. This really helps our customers save on overhead as well. Most of the time, this service cuts down alarms by about roughly 90%.
We just want to make sure that the discovery phase, we become aware of all the details we’re working on to make sure that everything gets correct on time and installed properly.
The next phase is a planning phase, and this is where we prepare the budget and make sure that we have baselines established for execution, for timelines, for cost, and we can track the project according to specific expectations.
Jim: Yeah, you know, it sounds like that whole discovery phase is just critical, not only for identifying the scope of what needs to be done, but really setting those expectations for everyone involved in the project, and then to get the planning phase done and perform well. So, I guess it must happen at times, but is there any surprises that jump up mid-project that might throw everything off balance for timing in project?
Robert: Yes. Like anything in life, surprises do occur and become part of the project execution. That need to be managed correctly. Knowing that, we do use the Discovery or Initiate phase to potentially find mitigation strategies during the project execution. We never want to overpromise or underdeliver. And we have done enough times to know what questions we need to ask before we jump into any project.
Recently, supply and chain issues that everyone is experiencing have thrown a bit of a wrench in some of the moving pieces. But because how we handled communication and customer interaction, we were able to provide a positive customer experience. We are committed to the highest customer satisfaction, which sometimes is driven by forces that are outside of our control, but I guess being part of Emerson helps a bit, considering we have supply and chain pretty well figured out.
I can say that the moment we see new red flags, we are communicating to our customers immediately. Communication is really key to exceeding expectations. There’s nothing worse for our customers than not knowing something important. And we always stress the priority of that message to all of our project managers. The main point is that we can never possibly over-communicate.
Jim: Well, that’s a great point. Nothing irritates me as a customer more than a company just assuming I know something and doing something they think will correct the problem. As an example, like sending me the closest thing they had in stock, which sometimes turns out okay, but not when it’s something really specific. It doesn’t make the situation better if you don’t get what you expect. In fact, often, it can make things worse. I agree that poor communications between a customer and the company can really impact the overall experience. So, bottom line, yes, I could not agree more. It is really hard to over-communicate.
Robert: During this phase, we do the scheduling. We do the budgeting for the cost. We ensure the quality commitments are discussed and ironed out. Planning phase is very, very important. We develop a plan and give a customer perspective, a clear view of what is being expected and when. Customers will have the ability to understand what needs to happen at what phase, who’s gonna be involved. We are focusing to be as least disruptive to day-to-day operations as we possibly can, and many layers needs to be aligned. For us, operational effectiveness is very important.
Next phase we move into is the Execute phase. This is where everything starts to happen and all the pieces come together, and the end result begins to take its true shape. This is where the hardware needs to be installed, where all the locations are being commissioned on the platform. Data starts to flow. All the customer reporting that the customers would like to see are being built out. And we have access and we allow access to the users to use the software. At this phase, everything is almost complete. We do have few outstanding items that we touch on, on the Closing phase.
Jim: Well, that’s a really good description of how these projects flow. So, I’m curious on how your training for the Zedi SaaS SCADA platform comes into play in all this. Is it online, or how does that all work? I’m not sure what you mean by almost complete. Is there anything else to the process, or am I missing something? It sounds pretty complete.
Robert: Training is available in multiple ways. We offer it on video, sometimes on our system. Sometimes we have one-on-one calls. We have even material on YouTube. Customers have the ability to call our 24/7 support lines if they need help or have any questions. We also have an additional layer of support. We have Customer Success Managers assigned to each customer. CSMs’ main responsibility is to assist the respective customers with any inquiries. This is an extra layer of support that we believe helps our customers achieve their operational goals and have the confidence in the system.
The next phase is the Closeout phase. And that is one of the most important phases of the execution. We iron out all the loose ends and tackle missing pieces to the execution. But the most important for us is to ensure that you as a customer are happy with the end result, and so we ask for your feedback. Feedback we receive from our customers, we use to improve the process and the best experience that we can for our customers.
All these steps and workflows are designed to allow our customers take their organization to the next level with accurate data and analytics. As a customer, you can see how the system can help you save money, but helping you to provide the data and allowing you to automate your workflows and decrease, for example, wasted time with your staff with regards to not driving to remote locations that don’t need to be checked if the equipment is working correctly or not being aware if their equipment is failed remotely somewhere. A simple alarm can provide a lot of insight and give you a better position to make better decisions.
We allow, with our system, access to the critical data for our customers, the data that is getting to the right people at the right time at the right place. During the follow-up conversations, we also touch base on our way the platform is designed. Basically, it’s an evergreen software application, which means there’s no downtime and the customers don’t need to worry about cybersecurity or any updates.
Jim: That’s really good describing it out, and what you said about the customer success manager. I know with some of the applications that we have where we’re relying on third parties, really the importance of that person as it’s handed over to get up the learning curve, answer any questions, get connected with the right people. So, yeah, that’s a real critical piece and great to hear that’s a part of it.
And from what you’re saying, that really does translate into digital transformation pretty easily with project management involved. This is probably a pretty open-ended question, but how long do these type of projects actually take from Discover to Closeout?
Robert: You’re right, Jim, very open-ended question. Every project is different. It all depends what we deal with, with the existing hardware or equipment on sites. I’ve been involved with projects that from Initiate to Closeout lasted two weeks. And we had projects that lasted years as well. And that was based on amount of hardware, amount of locations, and the complexity of the project.
Usually, most of our projects are closed out within two months timeframe. We are actually currently running a project that’s over 1,500 locations. So far so good, and we’re hoping to close this out in the next six months or so.
Jim: Wow. That can really scale across the size of the projects, 1,500 locations, wow. Well, I think that’s completely understandable, and I’m certain speed is of the essence for all projects anyway, or you know that no one is really making the money they need to make. Especially First Oil, you want to get there as quick as possible.
So, one last question I had for you before we wrap things up today, especially geared at your financial analysis background. What does it look like from the financial end when you look at the benefits that companies see at the end of implementation into the Zedi SaaS SCADA platform?
Robert: Jim, I’m a numbers person. I like numbers, but I have to say I think the biggest gain after implementing Zedi SaaS SCADA platform is the gain of safety. Safety priority is number one in oil and gas industry. And the value of safety does not have a price tag. You know, knowing that your people are safer, knowing that the environment is safer, knowing that you have access to the critical alarms at your fingertips, the data, the ability to improve your workflows, all that is a secondary benefit. Safety, from our perspective, is number one.
Customers do experience, you know, increased productivity, better efficiency, faster response time. And all those little details are very important for small operations. They actually add up to the bottom-line profit. If you can improve your driving time or decrease it, if you can improve your decision time, all those little pieces of information help you to do that. And you have the ability to make decisions based on the accurate information, which helps as well.
Eliminating wasted time and creating a safer work environment goes a long way when you have limited personnel. So, having an access to the technology that can allow you to do that gives you a huge, huge benefit.
Jim: That’s great, Robert. Well, you’ve given us a great picture of what these projects look like from a project execution standpoint. And it’s been a real pleasure to chat with you today on how operations can really kickstart their digital transformation efforts and easily implement the Zedi SaaS SCADA platform into their operations with the Zedi Project Management taking on all this heavy lifting and really simplifying it for our customers.
If anyone has any questions after listening to this podcast, you can reach out to Robert directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow the links that I’ve added to the transcript in the blog post.
Well, thanks for sharing your experience and insights with us today, Robert.
Robert: Thank you, Jim. Pleasure was mine. Appreciate it.
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