JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 134 : 15 Oct. 2003

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Schneider Electric - aggressive French giant

With annual revenue about $10 billion, and 75,000 employees in 130 countries, France based Schneider Electric is high on the world list of major automation companies. Many people have been asking me - "Why not Schneider weblogs?" This omission is hereby rectified: My new book "Automation Unplugged" includes an article on Schneider, with a weblink here. And the Schneider weblog is now active.

Schneider operates in 3 sales regions: Europe (51%), North America (29%) and International (rest-of-world, which includes Japan and China) generates 20%. Schneider has an ambitious corporate mission to support a strategy of faster, more competitive growth, beyond its own geographic and cultural limits. To stay competitive, its R&D percentage is 5.2%, relatively high for an automation company (most companies typically invest only 2%-3%).

Schneider acquired Square D and Modicon in the US and is still almost hyperactive on the acquisition front. The French giant is apparently unafraid to acquire interests in relatively small companies and is making deals that adapt to the needs of the entrepreneurs involved.

In the US, after acquiring Steeplechase (PLC control software), Schneider decided to contribute Steeplechase Software and a minority equity position in Think&Do, a relatively small start-up, to create a new company called Entivity (ENabling ProducTIVITY). Credit is due to the leadership of Schneider's Automation Business in the US for being flexible enough to consider forming a strong and independent, yet linked, combination.

Schneider does not have special magic with merging corporate cultures. Depending on the progress made against growth and profit expectations, layoffs and changes occur that are often locally detrimental. This is understandable, but leaves many good employees feeling abandoned, subject to remote and unfamiliar corporate dominance.

A few years after the acquisition of Modicon and Square D, during the recent business decline when objectives were not met, Schneider started pulling in its horns by dismissing several people. The once respected Modicon, with its strong development team and world-class production facilities, also started disappearing into the French woodwork.

Schneider has deep pockets, and is aggressive enough to buy almost any company that complements their products and market focus. It is unlikely that they will acquire Rockwell - there is too much product overlap (Telemechanique, Square D, Modicon) and anti-trust problems could result.

With significant building automation operations, Schneider will clearly be one of the primary bidders for complementary Invensys companies (like Climate Controls) that are now up for sale. Indeed, Schneider is probably also eyeing Honeywell IS, as a means to get into process control systems, to broaden their discrete automation leadership. But, Invensysí Foxboro (with Wonderware in tow) would also provide a significant market entry.

Click Schneider - Aggressive French Giant

Click NEW Schneider weblog

Click JimPinto.com weblog Index

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"Automation unplugged"
- Marketing, Sales & Distribution topics

The new Pinto book is now at the printer, and will be available on the bookstands at ISA Expo, Houston, TX. October 21-23, 2003.

Here is the Table of Contents for Section 2

    Marketing, Sales & Distribution perspectives:

  • Introduction by Frank Williams, former President, Action Instruments
  • The Changing Face of Automation
  • Old dead-ends, new directions
  • Products vs. Services
  • Product Development Speed in the Internet Age
  • Marketing Speed in the Internet Age
  • Why is Industrial Automation Declining?
  • Industrial Automation eBiz
  • Disintermediation-Distribution and Sales Channels
  • Disintermediation-The Customer Perspective
  • Disintermediation-The Manufacturers Perspective
  • Competing in a Global Environment
  • Relationship management
  • Never, Never be the Lowest Bidder!
"Automation Unplugged" is now available online from the ISA website as well as Amazon.com and others (see weblinks below). Books will be shipped as soon as they become available (next week).

I'll be at ISA Houston, presenting and autographing my hot-off-the-press book. Come visit with me (Tuesday 21, Oct. 03) at the ISA bookstore. Or register now for one of the limited number of online seats if you cannot be in Houston.

Click Read the complete Table of Contents

Click Buy the book on the ISA website

Click AutomationTechies.com - taking orders

Click Amazon.com is already accepting advance orders

Click Readout - UK and Europe shipments

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Robotics technology trends

When it comes to robots, reality still lags science fiction. But, just because robots have not lived up to their promise in past decades does not mean that they will not arrive sooner or later. Indeed, the confluence of several advanced technologies is bringing the age of robotics ever nearer - smaller, cheaper, more practical and cost-effective.

The number of robots in the world today is approaching 1,000,000, with almost half that number in Japan and just 15% in the US. A couple of decades ago, 90% of robots were used in car manufacturing, typically on assembly lines doing repetitive tasks. Today only 50% are in auto plants, with the other half spread out among other factories, labs, warehouses, energy plants, hospitals, and many other industries.

Robots are used for assembling products, handling dangerous materials, spray-painting, cutting and polishing, inspection of products. The number of robots used in tasks as diverse as cleaning sewers, detecting bombs and performing intricate surgery is increasing steadily, and will continue to grow in coming years.

Sales of industrial robots are rising to record levels and they have huge, untapped potential for domestic chores like mowing the lawn and vacuuming the carpet. Last year 3,000 underwater robots, 2,300 demolition robots and 1,600 surgical robots were in operation.

A big increase is predicted for domestic robots for vacuum cleaning and lawn mowing, increasing from 12,500 in 2000 to almost 500,000 by the end of 2004. IBotís Roomba floor cleaning robot is now available at under $200. And there are more revolutionary robots coming... You might like to read my new article: "Robotics Technology Trends" which is on the AutomationTechies.com website.

Click Robotics technology trends

Click Rodney Brooks - Flesh and Machines - How robots will change us

Click Marshall Brain essays - Robotic Nation, Robots in 2015

Click MIT-Tech Review - iRobot growth story

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The age of cyber-politics has arrived

Vermont is the second-smallest state in the US (lowest population, more only than Wyoming). And yet, Howard Dean, Vermont's former governor, is one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination and has already raised more campaign funds than anyone. This success is due primarily to savvy use of the Internet by his campaign staff.

Howard Dean is being called the "cyber-candidate". Like FDR with radio and JFK with television, he seems to have the personal style that best suits this new age media. He has already raised more money online than any other campaign in US political history. His staff is using weblogs to create a more intimate, real-time relationship with supporters, and deploying "flash group" tactics to launch quick rallies around the country. Dean won 40% of the vote in an online "primary" run by MoveOn.org - an event that attracted more voters than the 2000 Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary combined.

The Internet was already significant in the 2000 election. By Nov. 2000, 64% of all registered US voters were Internet users and 90% of US Internet users were registered voters. Clearly, the web was going to be the least costly and most effective means of reaching and mobilizing voters.

In 2000, Steve Forbes was the first to announce his presidential campaign on the Web. Arizona was the first state to allow online voting in its presidential primaries. Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican John McCain set party records for online fundraising - records that Howard Dean has now smashed. Nominating conventions were webcast, and both major parties used the Web to issue real-time e-rebuttals during debates. Computer modeling allowed both campaigns to know where their voters were and to realize that something had gone wrong in Florida. Among users below 30, 50% said that information they had gained from the Internet changed how they voted. Voters' desire for information is fueling this phenomenal growth.

In this election year, every presidential candidate has a website. Independent of candidates or political parties, there are information websites. Political marketing is no longer just about direct mail, lobbying and door-to-door petition drives. Today, it means Internet links, video streaming, e-mail and virtual votes.

For example, C-SPAN.org allows users to search its archives for videotape of particular speeches or events. USAdemocracy.com tracks legislation and users can send e-mail to specific members of congress. Users can also be alerted, by e-mail, how their representatives voted on any particular issue in Congress.

Forget the TV media talking heads. Go online for information!

Click MIT Tech Review - Enter The Cybercandidates

Click The Online Campaign Trail

Click Political sites flood cyber-space

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What would $ 87 billion buy?

This year, the US budget deficit has climbed to about $500 billion - about 5% of GDP. That is more than the GDP of all but 17 countries in the world. The recent tax cut will cost the federal govt. about $300 billion this year alone. In addition, Congress is now considering whether to spend $ 87 billion in Iraq - $67 billion for support of US troops, plus about $20 billion for re-building Iraq. That's not a loan - it's a "grant", paid by US taxpayers..

$87 billion is more than the GDP of all but 40 countries in the world. To bring some perspective to that number, NEWSWEEK has imagined what the federal government might do in other key policy areas if it had $87 billion lying around.

Here are some real-life comparisons of what $87 billion means:

  • More than the combined total of all US State budget deficits
  • Two years worth of all US unemployment benefits
  • Enough to pay the 3.3 million people who have lost jobs $26,363 each
  • More than double the total budget for Homeland Security.
  • 87 times the amount the Government spends on after-school programs
  • More than 10 times all Govt. spending on Environmental Protection
  • Hire more than 2 million new teachers, or new police officers, or new firefighters, nationwide
  • 58 times the proposed federal funding for community health centers
Think about it.

Click Newsweek: What would $87 billion buy?

Click What would $87 billion buy?

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John Brewster [jbrewster1@houston.rr.com] disagreed with Dick Morley's sentiments about manufacturing being driven offshore by NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitudes:
    "Almost any North American city would love to have a new assembly plant (with the possible exception of cities in California). The fundamental problems are two-fold: (1) our workers are not price competitive for assembly line jobs. We have systemic problems due, in part, to labor unions. The cost of benefits has made our workforce uncompetitive; and (2) (Dick has this right) our regulatory and tax regimes have discouraged new businesses and factories from locating here.

    "I would suggest that a more correct assessment of the situation would be: During the last 10-15 years, the blue-collar economy (especially manufacturing) has inexorably relocated to Mexico, India, and increasingly to China. This is a fact of life that will not be reversed. The causes are basically what I have cited. We can lament that fact and blame politicians and others, but the true reasons are clear. The US is becoming a merchant of intellectual capital. We must become a nation of ideas. This is the home of the dot.com revolution. We are designers and innovators - no longer tool and die manufacturers. Manufacturing labor is cheaper and better overseas. But, it is NOT because our cities and citizens have a bias against manufacturing."

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Stan Abbot [Stan.Abbot@Invensys.com] was horrified by Roy Slavin's suggestion that the only way to balance executive greed is by having others be greedy.
    "The idea of employee greed and retaliation is pretty disheartening. Fighting greed with greed will simply deepen the gulf and polarize employee and employer. When someone sabotages the accounts receivable, employer's won't simply say, "Oh dear, I guess I was wrong!"

    "I don't feel I'm being naive about this. Yes, there are very serious problems in corporate relationships. But, abandonment of all motivation except selfishness and greed is the wrong answer. There's a middle ground between "looking out for #1" and being a corporate doormat.

    "The poison of greed is a temptation to which we are all subject and, if allowed, will permeate through all aspects of life. When pushed, friend will betray friend - when greed is the motive. I know of a small office with the situation: "either nobody gets a bonus or someone gets laid off. Vote on it!" What do you choose? What do you choose if everybody knows who the "someone" is?

    "We all have a choice to make. If greed is bad, why choose it? Aren't there other values for which we would want to be remembered, other principles that we would want our kids to inherit? Wouldn't it be better that they inherit integrity, than a big estate?"

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Canadian Jerry Van Ee [Jerry.VanEe@conocophillips.com], joined the protest in support of Dilbert:
    "Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert, would probably be amused to find out that he is the agent of "an evil foreign power". This implies a fairly highly developed sense of xenophobia. Would the "evil foreign power" happen to be Canada? (I doubt it, because Dilbert is just as popular north of the 49th.) I do not know Scott Adams personally, but I am sure he embraces "American" capitalism as a way of life. Dilbert and everything associated, has probably made Scott a millionaire many times over.

    "What I do know about Scott Adams, is that he has a keen sense of observation and an acute sense of humor. These are two characteristics that allow him to create cartoons that people in corporate America can relate to, and laugh at. Would I hire Dilbert? No, but neither would I hire Homer Simpson or George Costanza. One of the things that distinguishes humans from lower life-forms is our sense of humor. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a defense mechanism that can keep a person sane in the workplace.

    "Reflect on this comment by George Bernard Shaw: 'Life does not cease to be funny when people die, any more than life ceases to be serious when people laugh.' Life is serious, but there should always be room for a little laughter."

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