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The Sound of Automation: Looking Ahead to CSIA 2022

Posted on May 27, 2022 by

Bryan Powrozek

Bryan Powrozek

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In this episode we talk with Lisa Richter, Director of Industry Outreach and Growth at Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) .

Lisa and Bryan look ahead to the CSIA Executive conference taking place in Denver, CO on June 27-30, 2022. They share with listeners what to expect, who will be there, and the discussion panel topics focusing on this years’ theme “The Future of Work”.

Podcast Transcript:

Lisa Richter, Director of Industry Outreach and Growth: 

A conversation about the future of work would not be complete without discussing the impact on people. How are system integrators adjusting their approaches to attracting, recruiting and retaining talent? 

Bryan Powrozek, Sr. Manager Industrial Automation: 

There’s just so many conversations about the best way to do that. The ability to recruit anywhere is one solution, but now everybody can recruit anywhere. So first, how do you define what your culture is? If you’re not actively laying it out and saying, this is who we are, and this is what’s important to us, you’re going to develop a culture whether you are intentional about it or not. So how do we help define a culture, identify who we are and therefore, who do we want to try and recruit into our organization that’s going to align with those values and kind of think the same way. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

How do we develop that hook and that culture that makes them want to stay in spite of the fact that their day to day may not look any different regardless to where they go. So this is such a huge topic. There’s so many different avenues you could take it down angles. You could take it… 

Announcer: 

Welcome to the Sound of Automation brought to you by Clayton & McKervey CPAs for growth driven businesses. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Hello, and welcome to the Sound of Automation. I’m Brian Powrozek with Clayton & McKervey and I’m excited today because this is my very first crossover episode. I have one of my other favorite podcast hosts, Lisa Richter of CSIA with me today and Lisa hosts, the host Talking Industrial Automation. So Lisa, how are you doing? 

Lisa Richter: 

I’m doing great, Brian. Thanks for having me on. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Well, I had to return the favor you had me on Talking Industrial Automation so great. I’m glad to have you on excited for the conversation. And before we get into our discussion just in case any of the folks listening out there aren’t familiar with CSIA, can you just give me a little background on CSIA? 

Lisa Richter: 

Sure. Well, first of all CSIA is Control System Integrators Association. That’s probably a good set point right there. Right? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Exactly. 

Lisa Richter: 

And it’s an association really focused on helping system integrators build better businesses. We know there are organizations out there that can teach them all the technical stuff, but where we see the opportunity is to help them build their business. They may start out one or two guys in a garage somewhere and they start to scale and they’re looking at each other do you know how to read a P&L? Do you know what kind of insurance we need? Do you know how to do sales and marketing? And that’s where we come in. We’ve got the best practices manual, and all kinds of other resources to help system integrators build their business. 

Lisa Richter: 

But what’s really, really unique about this organization, and I say this as somebody who’s been working with associations her whole career, and I’m not going to say how long that is, but take a good guess. I’ve never seen one where the members are so willing to help each other, even if they might be competitors, they are so willing to share their bumps and bruises and be really transparent about what their challenges are and help each other out. We’re going to talk about the conference in a minute, but one of the most popular sessions there is something like lessons from touching a hot stove. Where basically system integrators, get up on stage and talk about how they messed up. 

Lisa Richter: 

Now, there’s always a happy ending. Of course, we always provide the resolution as well, but I just think that’s something really unique that people are getting good to get up on stage and share the not so happy stuff that doesn’t happen very often. But I think that’s really what makes the association so unique. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Exactly and in my role, I get to work with a lot of different associations and that’s one of the things that’s always really impressed me about CSIA is the focus on, there’s always some technical elements to it and things like that, but then there’s also a real focus on how does the business owner grow their business? Improve on their operations, get to that next level and as you said, there’s always those folks who are a little bit further down the road, who are happy to help try and pull some of the younger integrators forward and help them learn from their lessons the times when they touch the hot stove. So that’s fantastic. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And you brought up the conference which is another thing I’m pretty excited for. This will be my first year getting to go to the conference. I was supposed to go two years ago, and then we all know what happened from there, but there’s still time to register. So let’s tell people a little bit about what goes on at the conference, what they could expect in case they haven’t registered yet. 

Lisa Richter: 

Sure. Well, as I mentioned, because we are focused on helping system integrators build their businesses, we tend to draw the C-suite we got the owner, the president, the founder we have the CTO, the C whatever, C-suite right. Basically the C-suite and we just get together and learn. We have a lot of networking. This year we really put an extra emphasis on the networking. We always had networking as part of the program in addition to education, but because people have been a part for these past, I don’t know how many years it’s been now. It feels like forever. We feel that’s really the need. You can’t replicate that in any virtual event. Everybody’s tried to replicate it. We’ve tried doing mingles virtually on Zoom and it’s not the same. 

Lisa Richter: 

So we really built in a lot of extra networking time during this conference, we’re going to go to a baseball game, we’ve got a speed networking event set up. We’ve got something new this year because we know that not everybody can bring their whole team, but they may want to give their team some sense of what the conference is like. So we’ll be live streaming a couple of events, the town hall and the award ceremony. That’s something new that we haven’t done before. And we’re really feeling the enthusiasm. 

Lisa Richter: 

Our registrations are up year over year from the 2019, our expo sold out and we opened up more kiosk and those sold out within hours. So people are pumped and they are ready to get back to the in-person event. 

Lisa Richter: 

This year’s theme is the future of work. The pandemic has disrupted everything. It goes without saying that’s happened. So we’re really focused on trying to help our system integrators adjust to this brave new world, if you like. And here’s where I would like to kind of turn the tables on you a little bit Brian, because you talked to a lot of system integrators in your line of work, and I’m wondering what you’re seeing. Most businesses saw a lot of change where they performed their business because of the pandemic. How are system integrators adapting their business model as a result? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Yeah. And it’s interesting to me, I see a lot of conversations about future of work. And actually I was at an event last week and somebody came up to me and was like, “Well, what does that actually mean?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” But I like what the staff at CSIA did in kind of breaking it down into those three tracks. And I think you’re on the wear track right now. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And that has for business owners in general, but in integrators in particular, the where you do your business, it’s opened up a lot of new doors and a lot of new challenges too. Like if you think about it, most integrators, they’ve got their engineering staff who could do their job from anywhere. And I’ve heard stories of integrators changing where they’re recruiting at. They’re no longer recruiting where their office is. They’re recruiting nationwide. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Conversely, they’re employees saying, “Hey, do I have to work from the office or could I move to someplace else?” Maybe they’re originally from a different state or something like that. And they’d like to move back home, but they still want to stay what they’re at. So that creates a whole nother level of challenge of how do you maintain your culture? How do you attract people when you’re 10 states away and you don’t really have the networking base there to try and find people, but then even for a controls integrator who maybe has a panel shop now you’ve got that challenge of part of your workforce has flexibility, but part of your workforce is still tied to the office. And how do you kind of make both sides of that equation feel like they get the flexibility and the ability to do their best work and take advantage of some of the opportunities that are out here as people talk about the quote unquote future of work. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

But it just creates some additional challenges for business owners, but I feel also opens them up to a lot more opportunity. You’re no longer when we talk about the wear, you’re no longer restricted to that pool of talent in your immediate half hour radius of your office. And so now you can really branch out and find the best employees for your organization. And then you just need to change some of the ways you do things to get them onboarded and make them feel like they’re part of the team. 

Lisa Richter: 

So I know you’re a member of the CSIA benchmarking committee. And I’m curious if with that committee, have you done any research on maybe how people feel about going hybrid or back into the office? I think at one point we were a little surprised by it was the younger people that wanted to come into the office. Can you speak a little bit more about that? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Yeah, that was one of the, I think the easy stats surveys that was done. And that was always kind of surprising that you would expect it would be the younger workers who wanted that flexibility and wanted the… Well, I think on its face it seemed like that. But then when you really kind of drill down to it and think about it’s like, well, how else are you going to learn if you’re just sitting in your room by yourself trying to figure this out versus having that social element where A you’re meeting peers your age and getting a chance to go out to lunch and dinners and happy hours and things like that. But then also when you look at the type of work that people are doing, as you move up within an organization, your job just tends to lend itself a little bit better to being flexible. And yeah, I can do it for my house or I can do it on the road while I’m traveling from one customer site to the next I can make phone calls and things like that. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So that was one of the more surprising, well, I think initially surprising, but then once you process it, you’re like, “Yeah, that makes total sense.” Things that came out of the benchmarking committee’s work. 

Lisa Richter: 

So I had a unique experience of watching my daughter get her first real job and she’s working from home. And so she’s turning to me all day long asking me questions that an entry level worker would ask. But now I’m onboarding her, it’s not even my employee. But that speaks to that younger generation needs somebody next to them to guide them through. 

Lisa Richter: 

And also looking back on my early career, that’s where I met the people who I still network with, I met my best friend through work. I mean that’s where you start to build all those lifelong connections and it’s got to be more difficult to do if you’re just behind a Zoom camera and it’s just not the same, going back to my earlier comment about you can’t really replicate that true networking thing be it virtually. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Exactly. Exactly. 

Lisa Richter: 

I also have to imagine that if you’ve got a diverse workforce in a bunch of different states that has business implications too. Like what state do you pay the taxes in or, gosh, that’s more your bailiwick but there’s more to it than just developing a hybrid workforce, right? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Oh yeah. Actually there was just a question very along these lines that came up on one of the discussion boards within CSIA, because yeah, there’s potential tax implications, there is legal implications. Do you need to now register in those states? And it’s things that business owners, while they should have been thinking about it was much easier to say, “Well, it doesn’t apply. We only go into that state once a year to work for one customer and we’re going to kind of pass on that at this point in time.” And it’s interesting. One of the panelists I was on with last week and I have to apologize to Stephanie cause I’m going to butcher her analogy but there was an author that she had talked about who said, previously, you could build your cultures like a forest, right? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Just the trees are there and everything grows and you kind of appreciate, whereas now you’re more tending a garden and you have to be very intentional about the plant you put where and what its purpose it’s going to be and how everything goes. And so it really, before you could just kind of say, “Hey, we’re going to we’re going to hire six engineers and maybe two of them won’t work out, but the other four will be here and they’ll grow within the organization.” 

Bryan Powrozek: 

But now you got to be much more intentional about each and every hire each and every business decision, because yeah, you could have some unintended consequences, whether it be accounting-wise, tax-wise, whatever it might be. So you just have to really think a lot of those decisions through rather than just kind of taking chances and my gut says, we should do this so that’s what we’re going to do. 

Lisa Richter: 

So what was this panel and who is Stephanie? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Well, actually Stephanie Murphy will be at the executive conference. She works for a company, ADVISA that is one of the keynote speakers during the conference. And then she’ll be coming along in case there is questions about the content that’s covered there. And she’ll actually be on a panel that we’re hosting later in the conference on. I think it’s pretty much related to future of work as well. 

Lisa Richter: 

What is ADVISA? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So ADVISA is a company that helps with strategic planning, staff development, business development, not business development but developing your people, helping you develop the strategy to grow your business and helping you identify areas where maybe you need to put in a little bit of additional work or if you’re one big thing that comes up a lot. And I could say this as an engineer. So I’m hoping not to offend anyone, but oftentimes what you find and I’ve seen this in engineering, I’ve seen it in accounting, the skills that make you a great entry level engineer or an entry level accountant are not the same skills you’re going to need as you grow through your business. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So as we’re talking with business owners and succession planning or exit planning is a big topic of conversation right now, a lot of the business owners are saying, “Well, I have these two or three really good engineers that I would like to bring up into management and potentially make them part owners, et cetera.” Well, there’s probably a lot of skills that they didn’t focus on in their graduate or their undergraduate programs that they’re going to need to develop to be successful. So better to identify that now, work on building out those skills. So when it’s time for them to start making management decisions and doing those things, they’re not being thrown into the fire and they’ve had a chance to kind of prepare for what they’re going to do. 

Lisa Richter: 

All right. Switching gears a little bit. Let’s talk of another big topic of conversation during the pandemic, which is using automation to make supply chains and industries more resilient. How are system integrators preparing to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Yeah. That I think we heard a lot about that as toilet paper started running out on shelves and there were huge delays and backlogs to get products from companies manufacturing them and automation seems to be the one consistent answer. You’ll hear lots of different answers, but if you could kind of parade this all out automation would be probably the top response. And so for an integrator, that’s a great opportunity. You know that you’re going to have a lot of people and we heard this through the pandemic of companies backlogs growing because the buyers of automation wanted to be in line so that they could get their project done when it was done not wait six months and then have to go to the back of the line. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So that’s great from an opportunity standpoint or a sales pipeline standpoint, but now that creates a whole slew of other problems. Most integrators are already, they’re recruiting and hiring and trying to find more people because they’re running probably below where they may want to be necessarily in terms of headcount. So not only do you need to fill the roles you have open, but you know that that work could potentially create more roles. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So you’ve got human resource implications, you’ve got cash management implications. If you’ve got to go out and buy a piece of equipment at the outset of your job, but you’re not getting paid until later, you’ve got to be able to make sure you’re watching your cash flow and at least everything we’re hearing, there’s not going to be more money coming out of the government anytime soon, at least for businesses. So just managing your day to day business changes a little bit. Those opportunities are great to have there, but you got to make sure you put yourself in a position to actually be able to take advantage of them when they come in. That’ll be another great track within the executive conferences, just hearing how other integrators are positioning themselves and setting themselves up to be able to take advantage 

Lisa Richter: 

A conversation about the future of work would not be complete without discussing the impact on people. How are system integrators adjusting their approaches to attracting, recruiting and retaining talent? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Yeah. And this will be a great question for Stephanie. So Hopefully she’ll be able to fill people in more but I’ll try and just hit the high points. But a lot of what I talked about earlier of the kind of building the garden approach making sure that you’ve got the right people in the right roles and maybe some of those roles need to change. I was talking with a gentleman from it’s the Smart Automation Certification Alliance, they put together kind of credentialing programs for robotics and other aspects of automation. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

But their goal is if you can take a person that was maybe just a technician or somebody that was putting together the equipment and you now add a layer of skill for them where they’re doing more of the programming or configuration of the hardware and software, you’ve now freed up space for the person above them. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And so is there a way to kind of shift some of these responsibilities around and up skill, some folks who can now take on more responsibility, which now creates more capacity throughout the organization. So there’s just so many conversations about the best way to do that. And you would think the ability to recruit anywhere is one solution but now everybody can recruit anywhere. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So some of what, I know what Heather and Stephanie from ADVISA will be talking about is first, how do you define what your culture is? If you’re not actively laying it out and saying, this is who we are, and this is what’s important to us, you’re going to develop a culture whether you are intentional about it or not. So how do we help define a culture, identify who we are and therefore, who do we want to try and recruit into our organization that’s going to align with those values and think the same way? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And then how do you find those people? If you’re in office the culture is maybe a little more easy to develop and maintain, but if you’re working hybrid or some combination of remote employees, what are you doing to get those people together to get people, to have those connections? We see it even in public accounting. We have a lot of folks who are working remote four days a week, three days a week, we even have a couple employees we’ve hired who aren’t based in Michigan where our offices. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Well, for that employee, if they’re working for me or they’re working for somebody else, their day doesn’t change, they still go into the same home office they’re working on taxes or whatever it might be. So how do we develop that hook and that culture that makes them want to stay in spite of the fact that their day to day may not look any different regardless of where they go. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

So this is such a huge topic. There’s so many different avenues. You could take it down angles, you could take it. But I’m really excited to hear what the experts have to say at CSIA because I know it’s not my specialty. I love talking about it, love hearing about it, but there’s people much smarter than me in the room that’ll be able to answer those questions. 

Lisa Richter: 

Yeah. I think one area that I’ve noticed people getting woke to is that recruiting is a sales and marketing function. So if I’m a potential employee, I’m going to your website, I’m going to your LinkedIn profile, I’m Googling you and your digital footprint matters. If I see a really outdated site and I’m a college graduate, is that going to be attractive? Probably not. 

Lisa Richter: 

So I also have seen people get really creative. Somebody told me they saw a billboard in Milwaukee looking for system integrators. People are starting to get really creative. One area where I think people have an opportunity is podcasts because that’s where the young… The demographics of the typical listener of a podcast skews a little younger, sweeping generalizations here. But to me, that’s really an untapped opportunity. If I were a recruiter, I’d be getting on every podcast I could or I’d be trying to buy adverts on the podcast and really try to build the pipeline that way. So we have to get creative. It’s the wild wild west out there. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

I was talking to a professor from Purdue several months back and kind of asking that question. My clients are small to mid-size companies, right? Anywhere from 5 million a year to a hundred million a year. But when you’re comparing that to going up against a FANUC or a Rockwell or a Siemens, the budget is way bigger. The team they have focusing on this is way bigger. How does the small to mid-size…because I feel and again, I was in the auto industry. I could have gone to work for Ford, GM or Chrysler (now Stellantis) or I could have gone to a smaller company. I elected smaller because I felt I’d get more opportunities, more things to learn and see. So how does the small to mid-sized integrator compete in today’s day. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And that was his number one piece of advice was get creative and get in there early and often, and have a good message that you can deliver to the students. Because unlike the larger companies, you only need to attract two, three, maybe good employees each year, whereas they’ve got to find hundreds. So if you can get those couple that are interested in what you have to offer, and you’ve got that good understanding of what your culture is, what’s important to you, that you can convey to them in a very convincing way then yeah, you’re going to find that person that’s looking for that experience and any avenue you can take this information and get it out to them is worthwhile pursuing. 

Lisa Richter: 

Well, obviously if somebody’s going to attend the CSIA conference, they’re going to learn about all this stuff and more. So I’m going to give myself a shameless plug here and say, if anybody’s interested in learning more about the conference registering or just finding out a little bit more, you can go to www.controls.org/conference2022. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Excellent. Well, and Lisa there’s one thing is I’ve been listening to your podcast. There’s one thing that I’ve heard you do that I’m going to shamelessly take the opportunity to put you through, but I’ve got two truths and a lie for you. So are you ready? 

Lisa Richter: 

Sure. Go for it. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

All right. So based on the work done by the benchmarking committee over the last couple years related to the pandemic, I’ve got two truths and a lie. The first is 40% of CSIA pulse survey participants saw an increase in revenue per billable employee when comparing Q4 of 2020 to Q4 of 2019. They also saw a 70% increase when comparing Q4 21 to Q4 20. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

The second statement is the CSIA talent retention toolbox survey participants saw a 27% increase in turnover over the year and a 26% increase in new higher salaries in 2021. And the last statement is the CSIA easy stats has a sentiment question that they ask every month. What’s the business owner sentiment? And that question accurately predicted the impact of the pandemic on the operations of CSIA members. 

Lisa Richter: 

I’m going to guess number three. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

You’re right. Number three is the lie, which just goes to show and the benchmarking committee will touch on this a little bit during their panel. But if you look at the sentiment data, right when the pandemic happened, as you would expect, everybody thought the sky is falling, things are going to be terrible. It rebounded pretty quickly though but you see a couple months where it dropped down and then came back up. But in reality just the couple stats I mentioned there, we saw increases in revenue per billable employee. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

We saw increased turnover and increase in salaries, which probably not looked at as a good thing, but it shows that the market was active, that there was high demand for these things. So in reality, this is just another example that kind of shows the importance of looking at things like the pulse survey and the easy stats and the talent retention toolkit to get a gauge for what’s going on in the market, because oftentimes our guts are wrong. And we react too much or not enough to what we’re seeing in the market. Whereas going back and looking at the data really kind of grounds you and helps you see exactly what’s going on. 

Lisa Richter: 

No offense, Brian, but why does the data matter? 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Well, it matters because it’s data like this that can help businesses navigate the good times and bad. And we see that probably more often than not that in the bad times everybody goes down. But it’s the good times, are you really being as successful as you could or you should be? And so the benchmarking committee puts a lot of thought into how to make the members better data driven decision makers. And as I said, it’s so important, we as the benchmarking committee feel so important that we put together a panel discussion during the conference, it’s called navigating uncertain times with data driven decisions. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

And so hopefully if any of the folks attending, get a chance to go check that presentation out, we’ll try and share some good lessons from a couple different integrators of different sizes who can show how they use data to help them get through the pandemic. 

Lisa Richter: 

So I’m hearing that you will have some real life examples from system integrators during this discussion. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Yeah. We sure will. So anyone who’s interested in learning more can visit www.controlassist.org/conference22. 

Lisa Richter: 

Count me in. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

Lisa, was that a bad accounting pun? 

Lisa Richter: 

It kind of was. 

Bryan Powrozek: 

All right. Well, Lisa, I really appreciate you coming on today. And I look forward to seeing you in Denver in a few weeks. 

Announcer: 

Thank you for tuning in. Don’t forget to like us subscribe and share on social. Learn more about Clayton & McKervey. Visit us at claytonmckervey.com. That’s C-L-A-Y-T-O-N M-C-K-E-R-V-E-Y.com. We thrive on finding the solutions for you. 

 

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Bryan Powrozek

Senior Manager

As the leader of the firm's industrial automation group and host of The Sound of Automation podcast, Bryan helps owners free up cash flow and scale their businesses.

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