#pAutomator: Jason Pennington, Indiana IoT Lab, Indianapolis

Jason Pennington, Executive Director,  Indiana IoT Lab (Indianapolis) is our #pAutomator today. Pennington has been actively supporting and pursuing connected technology deployment, projects of interest, and development initiatives in the IoT space. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on building customer relationships in order to ensure production and operational excellence in an organization. Read on…

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How do you reflect on your journey in this industry? How did your career begin and how do you oversee the entire transformation in the Process Automation industry?

My career started in marketing for an industrial automation manufacturer.  We produced sensors, software, and basic services for companies in a variety of industry sectors.  Our goal was helping people manage, monitor, and improve their process control. Over the last twenty years, our devices became smarter, introduced multivariable aspects, and with digital I/O, offered users more connectivity.  

During this period, our services portfolio became much more customized and collaborative. As such, the possibility to offer more sensing functionality led to added visibility and informative insights to interpret from data. This capability really advanced my company’s presence in the market and further sparked my interest in IoT. 

You have worked on building customer relationships. How do you feel about maintaining good relations with a customer?

Building relationships with customers is important for a variety of reasons. Depending on an organization’s strategy, this can mean simply elevating customers into partnerships for the sake of sustainable business value. Or, it can evolve into shared learning.  

As more companies seek to adopt and deploy digital solutions, however, relationship-building becomes even more important. These relationships are not always the traditional supplier/partner roles we are familiar with. Rather, they can be a community of multiple suppliers, individuals, and end users that truly maximize the promise of IoT while connecting multiple systems or processes. All of these have complementary expertise.  

#pAutomator: Jason Pennington
#pAutomator: Jason Pennington

What should be considered to deliver operational excellence in the fields of Process Automation, Measurement, Safety, Sustainability, and Reliability?

Delivering operational excellence comes with awareness of the moving parts necessary to actually make it happen.  When we think about automation, measurement, safety, sustainability, and reliability, there has to be a culture of belief that all factors are interdependent and a well-communicated degree of common understanding.  It requires trust and really good people working together.

If you consider operational excellence from the customer’s point of view, the outcome should create more value than the sum of the suppliers’ parts. Of course, safety is important. But if the reliability of data or trust in measurement is not there, how excellent can the insight and subsequent decision making really be for the dependent stakeholders?

 In some ways, it is analogous to having the safest and most state-of-the-art production equipment with world-class operators, but not having raw materials to produce or a packaging line downstream.

In your current role, you are responsible for integrating academia and industry. Can you tell us more about how this collaboration works?

The key is to have the right industry partners involved.  We certainly cannot be all things to all people, but having industry partners willing to both mentor and accept input from academia is great for our environment.  As technology evolves, the industry is faced with challenges like bringing new innovations to market in an increasingly shorter time. There are also dynamics within the industry that help promote open innovation environments.  

image of #pAutomator: Jason Pennington
Image of R&D team

For example, how does industry balance increased customer expectations or evolving technical requirements while maximizing core R&D and Life Cycle Management activities from their internal development teams? When industry leaders are able to provide insightful problem statements to academia and entrepreneurs, the results can become tangible development efforts in the spirit of open innovation.

 Even if the destination or outcome is the same as an established company’s R&D team, a group of academic or entrepreneurial technical resources with no background in the sponsor company often produce a different journey to the same destination. That path can teach us a lot.

How do you see the use and implementation of IoT in the industry? Can you give us some examples of this?

IoT as a whole seems very targeted and fragmented today.  There are many that suggest IoT has been deployed for 20+ years or even offer examples of very innovative solutions from before we started calling it IoT. While there is a lot of truth and benefit in those examples, they communicate a task-oriented history for IoT.

image of #pAutomator: Jason Pennington
Image of IoT

Some have deployed solutions to minimize downtime or reduce work orders or even optimize supply planning. However, IoT at its full potential offers additional insights beyond these immediate outcomes.  Think of it as the sphere with many layers. As we move further away from the core task or problem at its centre, the data and information continue to develop layers around applications.

They combine or reference their information against other processes. Every process has an input and an output. When we move further away from the core of that sphere, layers of data and information continually produce new insights for different stakeholders in the process.

From the actual deployment of decisions from process inputs at edge and fog layers making more complex cloud insights available, IoT can become even more powerful. In principle, many of these aspects exist. The execution and deployment of IoT and especially IIoT at scale is more complex.

This perpetuates a degree of sharing and openness beyond the traditional partner/supplier relationship. This happens as layers expand to support even larger processes or ecosystems.  Security, data integration concerns, and non-standard data legislation all present very real barriers. Therefore, full IoT deployment required to truly approach operational excellence remains targeted and fragmented for most companies.  

Moving ahead, do you have any piece of advice for the next generation of engineers?

Be a great team member, be critical in thought, and improve design thinking skills. Build relationships with experienced people that are willing to mentor you.  Don’t be afraid to stand-out in a certain area, but be open to collaboration at the same time.  IoT connects so many disciplines to realize its potential. IoT will continue to change the way we work from design and development environments through the outcomes or improvements applied to products and services in practice. Above all, don’t be afraid to fail.  


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