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Can You Change Direction?

Gary Parr | March 18, 2016

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parrmugOne of the things magazine editors get to do is participate in presentations by manufacturers about new products. In days gone by, the majority of them were “dog-and-pony” shows in which a small team of company representatives would travel from one publication office to another and another to showcase their wares.

Those were the best, as the presenters almost always hauled the new items with them, and you could experience the instrument, valve, tool, or whatever, first hand. However, I always had sympathy for anybody who had to drag those products through airports.

These days, technology allows most of those presentations to be handled online. I don’t get to play with the actual products, but I can participate wearing jeans and a t-shirt from my home office. Still, I’d rather put on decent clothes, meet the people, and play with the product.

Most of today’s presentations feature a few PowerPoint slides followed by a couple of questions, and we’re out in less than an hour with some press releases and photos to share with our readers. I say most of the time because there are rare occasions when a presentation offers more than just a new-product announcement—much more.

One of those occasions happened recently when the good people at Fluke came calling through the Interwebs. (As most readers know, Fluke Corp., Everett, WA, is a long-established, leading manufacturer of measurement instrumentation of all kinds for a variety of industries.)

This time, the presentation focused on quite a number of new handheld instruments, including an insulation tester, clamp meter, three-phase power logger, oscilloscope, and an infrared camera. They’re all impressive devices. But it was the “more than just a new-product announcement” part of the presentation that captured my attention.

What makes this portfolio of tools different from many offerings is what ties them together. They all offer wireless interconnectivity and a software backbone that is designed to use the Industrial Internet of Things and allow operators to easily share, analyze, and act upon the collected data.

In the days since this presentation, what has continued to capture my imagination is how the people at Fluke had to completely change their approach to business and product development to deliver these connected instruments to market. They had to make a hard left turn and change their culture. Instead of being a collection of teams that designed and developed individual instrument lines, they had to become a connected-software company that also developed analytical instrumentation.

My head starts to spin with thoughts of what that type of change must have meant at the engineer/designer level. I’m guessing the fences got removed from everyone’s respective playground and most felt invaded. In our discussion, the Fluke presenter indicated that the turnaround wasn’t easy—and may have become rather rocky at times. Still, the organization fought through the process and now has a new product line, new direction, and new capabilities that have them set up for future growth.

It’s tough for any company to change direction,  regardless of size. Yet, if a company as old, established, large, and successful as Fluke can do it, any organization can.

This little saga leads to the question: How many times has your company tried to start a new program to become more reliable, only to have the effort fizzle out? What caused the demise? Lack of support at some level? Tried it for a while, but it was always something to “work on when there was time?” Didn’t see immediate success?

Maybe it’s time to try again, but—this time—use the Fluke approach. Start with a committed person or team working on a small project in which you are relatively certain you’ll have success. Work through the issues and gain a win. Then use that success to develop management support and as a building block for a larger project. If you stick to it, you’ll also be able to change direction. MT

gparr@maintenancetechnology.com

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Gary Parr

Gary Parr

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