In my previous life of running a small business when a potential customer called with a new project in mind I really had no choice but to go to the customer site and evaluate the application myself. This usually consisted of discussing the application face to face, possibly a few napkin drawings, taking pictures of the product or any part of the existing process and then going back to my office to do research, brainstorm and put together a quote. This took up a pretty large percentage of my time, especially toward the end of my company’s existence. I had to make sure jobs kept coming in as the beast became harder to feed.
At my current place of employment we have an entire department devoted to this. From the first meeting with the customer by the sales team well into the actual design process the Applications Department or “Apps” is busy evaluating options, brainstorming and quoting the project. There are somewhere between five and ten people either directly or indirectly assigned to this department at any given time and they also draw upon the resources in the engineering department as required.
Like any other group of people, the larger the group gets the more average it becomes. Some people are in this department because they have a knack for coming up with unique ways to solve problems and love their job while some are there because they really couldn’t cut it in the design or project engineering area. To make up for the potential errors that can come from the lower part of the applications bell curve many eyes usually see a quote as it is developed. Of course the upper echelons of management are also usually very involved in the pricing process as they have the biggest stake in the outcome.
I am currently involved in a project where the customer needs a tremendous amount of applications help in designed a number of systems and machines, in fact an entire plant full. Despite being pretty technically advanced in the production of their product, they have almost no experience in automation. Because of this they are naturally hesitant to make firm decisions on technical options. Because of the size of the project they are hiring my company to define many of the systems and machines before actually quoting them. Unfortunately there is also an extremely aggressive schedule involved that doesn’t allow much time for evaluating options. I am also in a quandary because I feel like I know what they need to do to successfully implement the project but I am in a technical position rather than a sales or project management role and it’s not my place to step on other people’s toes in our organization.
As I mentioned in several previous posts I have already given my notice to my current employer in order to reestablish myself as a consultant again. I gave December 15th as my departure date in order to ensure a seamless transition to other people on my existing projects, but depending on where I am in the project I have reserved the right to adjust the date. I truly believe my calling is not as a project engineer but as a total solution provider. As an independent consultant I will have no conflicts of interest in being able to present ALL of the information a customer needs in order to ensure a successful and timely solution.
In preparation for my new role as a consultant and project implementer I am looking for people and companies to partner with for presenting a unified integration solution to potential customers. My current company will always be a good resource for me and I have a pretty good network of connections with other integrators, vendors and individual solution providers, but many of them are concentrated in the Southern and Central U.S. My goal is to become a national and international resource and as such I am hoping to expand my network considerably. Please contact me if you wish to become part of my new automation solutions network.