Who are the automation thought leaders?

Which automation thought leaders are in your INBOX?
Nick Denbow
Nick Denbow muses over thought leaders and publications in the Automation Sector on both sides of the Atlantic.
(This article appeared in the July 2013 Issue of his publication Industrial Automation & Process Control Insider.)
Current Issue

Today was a brilliant day, a sunny day, but one at the month-end when I should be writing. So in an unusual day off, a few things became clearer. That ‘Automation Thought Leader’ – why should we only look at suppliers? There are plenty of others who make a call for attention in the automation community. But the ones with a major part to play are the editors and commentators, both on paper and on-line.

The thing about such editors is, mostly, they just don’t want to shut up. In comparison to the company ceo or technical guru, who retires, or steps down, one way or another, at – well maybe 60, possibly as late as 65, but often at aged 55 – these editors just keep on going. Maybe because the writing and opinionating is in their blood, but maybe because they need to keep earning some publication fees: one way or another they keep going.

But while we have seen a major change in the respected ceo list recently, fully reported, maybe another change in the editors and commentators, the major industry pundits, has also been happening, and we have changed some of our normal sources? So look at what you now read, and think whether the major media sources you follow, and people who you listen to, have changed in the last few years?

Plus, break your normal reader silence and tell me who you listen to, maybe we can learn something from one another!

INSIDER leads the pack
Looking close to home, it was around three years ago that Andrew Bond retired as the Editor of the INSIDER, after 14 years, in September 2010. In May 2012, Jim Pinto stopped his weblogs and automation newsletter (INSIDER, May 2012 page 5). As a part of the media hiatus following the crash in 2008 and the turmoil following the rise of the internet, the very successful UK-based Talk websites, where I was an editor from 2002 to 2010, all crashed out, after being acquired by a panicking publisher. Maybe the media publishers are still trying to find their new position in the world, after riding through that downturn of 2008, but not having the right approach for the internet based age that followed.

Patrick Raleigh

So in the UK we have the Process Engineering paper magazine that was about to be chopped, bought out of the publishers by a management group, who retained the services of the editor, Patrick Raleigh (right). Always a champion of reports written from the customer point of view, Raleigh has now decided to leave them and start a freelance venture of a newsletter in this format. (Though he remains in an advisory capacity – More on this story!)

USA-based magazines
Maybe the automation and control printing industry in the USA has embraced online content and websites better than in Europe and the UK. Or maybe they have more reserves, deeper pockets, and less freelance competition. To an ‘outsider’, it does seem that the main freelance web-based competition from the USA is more specific, topic led, like the blogs from Eric Byres at Tofino Security, or Black Hat and others.

However, there are two people that stand out, in editorial circles in the USA, and these are Walt Boyes from Control Global, and Gary Mintchell from Automation World. It was in the March 2013 issue of the INSIDER where we reported that Mintchell was stepping down from his role as editor-in chief at the magazine, the one he founded 10 years ago. While his photo still appears on their website, Gary has started a personal blog, Manufacturing Connection, as a freelance vehicle.

What was more of a concern earlier this year was that Walt Boyes’ regular contributions to his ‘SoundOff’ blog on  seemed to tail off! Lucky guy, he seems to have been able to take some time out. Now, despite some really off-putting major bugs in the ControlGlobal website over the last month, he seems to have come back in full voice, which is reassuring for us all. (Note: He had other things on his mind – including his wedding!) One of his interesting blog comments was that he was disappointed to not have Darius Adamczyk of Honeywell answer any of the Control magazine pre-submitted questions in the press briefing held at the end of May. Needless to say Adamczyk did not answer the question posed by the INSIDER either, but a written answer did follow, as reported last month, from Jason Urso. Where did the questions come from, that Adamczyk did choose to answer, one wonders?

The aging issue
These two guys in the USA, and at the moment, the INSIDER from the UK, and Read-out from Eoin Ó Riain, firmly grounded in a beautiful part of the west of Ireland, are the main editorial based sources from, with respect, relatively aging editors who don’t have to toe the company line any more, so are more than likely to say what they actually believe.

What seems to happen in UK magazines is that the ‘Publishers’ use relatively young (low cost?) editors, typically from another industry, to edit their automation/control magazines. Plus their actual column inch space for editorial is very restricted, the suppliers write most of the articles and pay for the pages. Plus after cutting their teeth in automation/control for a year or so, they are moved on to a different industry.

Where we can find exceptions in the UK and English language magazines are in the UK with Suzanne Gill, editor on Control Engineering Europe, and from Germany with Frank Jablonski on Process Worldwide. But whose articles do you read and appreciate? Let me know, I can’t read them all. In the USA, I have been impressed with some of the past reports from Renee Robbins Bassett, on Automation World, but I have not found many of her on-line articles traceable here recently.

So let’s look at some of the more interesting comments in the last month: Walt Boyes on the ISA topic – again To be honest Boyes was preaching to the converted when I read his comments on the appointment of the new ISA ‘presidentelect/ secretary’. On 23 June his report, said that he had stopped writing about the ISA some years ago, but this new event needed a comment. Back in the March 2013 issue of the INSIDER I also took up a similar issue with the ISA when suggesting in a review of their approach to wireless standardization that their commercial interests in the WCI organization had been the main factor behind their rejection of any WirelessHART compromise.

But the new guy, selected to be the future president of the ISA, is reported by Boyes to be an investment banker, someone in whose hands hopefully the investments of the large reserves of cash propping up the ISA will be made safely: he has already attained the leadership of the ISA investment committee. So maybe the ISA is to become a financial vehicle pure and simple, and ignore the membership: Walt knows about these things, as unlike me, he is still a member. Maybe the new president will also consider another name change – I suggest to the Investment Society of America – but probably that will not be on behalf of the membership.

• Readers might also like this blog item from ControlGlobal: Next-Gen Process Control Leaders (16/7/2013) and Process Automation Generations Talk to Each Other (5/8/2013)

One Response to Who are the automation thought leaders?

  1. Good list, pretty much all my favourites are on it. Obviously, I would have added Al Presher of Industrial Ethernet Book http://www.iebmedia.com 🙂

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