Burrow Global, Houston, Texas

Burrow Global is the 2018 System Integrator of the Year for the Large System Integrator Technology. Chief strategic officer and director of business development Nigel James shares some of the company's success stories and advice.

By CFE Media December 12, 2017

In the volatile oil and gas industry, Burrow Global has earned a reputation as a system integrator who can deliver complex projects on time. Nigel James, chief strategic officer and director of business development for Houston-based Burrow Global, talks about the changing nature of automation projects in this sector and how technology is being adopted. Watch the roundtable discussion to learn more.

CFE Media: Congratulations on being named a 2018 System Integrator of the Year. Talk for a moment about this recognition, and what it means for your team.

James: The entire Burrow Global organization, and especially the Burrow Global Automation team, is humbled by and excited about this recognition. First, we would like to thank CFE Media for this recognition. Second, we would like to thank our clients. For us, this award reflects many hours of hard work developing partnerships with our clients, and them rewarding us with their trust and repeat business.

Each day, Burrow Global strives to be better than the day before. We focus on doing the right things for each client, and we feel that this approach is the best path toward long-term growth. This recognition is a reinforcement that we are on the right track. We strive to create human dignity and the value of the person into our work.

CFE Media: What are your customers telling you about their needs in manufacturing systems? How is your organization changing to meet these needs?

James: Many of our clients are frustrated with the transactional approach to automation projects. They want alliance relationships or vendor-neutral Main Automation Contractors (MACs). This has always been a strength of our organization but we have formalized many of our MAC processes so that we share a clear vision with our clients and ensure our expectations are aligned. With this approach, they get the consistent guidance and execution they expect, and we are growing these collaborative partnerships that our clients’ want.

End-users have the expectation that systems are going to be proven and reliable. This isn’t only a single control system but all the peripheral devices, systems and applications that deliver information to and receive information from the primary control system. Clients want a business partner that takes a comprehensive approach to automation, and that has the experience to ensure device connectivity and communications are designed, engineered and installed to be as reliable as the control system itself.

Finally, clients want guidance on best practices and consistent work processes. We are a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member. This organization drives best practices throughout the system integrator community and has standards to which we adhere.

CFE Media: Two years ago, all anyone could talk about was the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This year, the hot topic is integrating robotics into manufacturing. How are these two technologies related? What is the conversation with your customers about robotics?

James: The process industries are not early adopters of these technologies, which tend to be much more popular in discrete manufacturing. Many of our clients continue to have concerns about the security of internet-related solutions, and the rollout to the industries we serve will be very application dependent.

For example, we have seen robotics growing in hazardous job activities like tank inspection and rail car cleaning. Burrow Global is currently helping a client integrate a robotics solution into a control system. It is very exciting to be a part of this innovative design.

CFE Media: In regard to IIoT, where are we today in terms of industry adoption? How do we get to an inflection point where a greater number of small to mid-sized manufacturers will begin to adopt IIoT?

James: As mentioned above, I believe that for the industries we serve, they are not necessarily early adopters of IIoT. However, I also want to acknowledge that the sharing of data and the communication of key information between devices and systems has been, and will continue to be, important. At this time, IIoT is not prevalent at the control level.

The process industries mainly embrace this concept for higher-level applications such as data historians, supply chain management, etc. For example, we do see companies like SAP and Northwest Analytics developing some data analytics tools that will show the ROI, then the drive to create smart devices for that data will grow.

CFE Media: What makes a good customer for a system integrator? What should manufacturers do to prepare for an integration project in order for it to be more successful?

James: Good customers understand the value of a system integrator. Specifically, they do not view automation as a commodity purchase because system integration is a specialty niche engineering capability. Clients should seek consultative relationships with integrators and keep standards, best practices, and proven work processes at the forefront of their discussions. In addition, ideally clients understand that they have a critical part in collaborating with the system integrator.

Successful clients have a defined front-end-loading process and follow it. Identifying quantity based deliverables and providing the necessary detail to have an accurate scope as part of the bid process makes it a lot easier to meet client expectations. Poorly defined projects are a recipe for disaster for both parties.

CFE Media: In return, what should customers expect from their integrator in order? What makes a good system integrator?

James: Integrators should be consultants with the knowledge and experience to recommend optimal solutions consistent with industry best practices. An integrator’s motivation should be developing a long-term partnership and doing what is best for the client on each project.

Good system integrators have and utilize consistent work processes, standards, checklists and best practices. CSIA exists at least in part because there were so many companies claiming to be system integrators without any guidelines for doing business. This was a detriment to the industry, and luckily, the momentum has shifted.

Clients also should expect to see a support infrastructure in place from the system integrators they use. For example, project management work processes such as project controls, manpower loading, etc., are all part of the support infrastructure needed to successfully manage and execute an automation project. Likewise, quality and safety processes should be very evident and transparent to the client.

CFE Media: Finding qualified personnel remains one of manufacturing’s most difficult issues. How do you go about recruiting, training and retaining skilled engineers? How has that process changed in the last few years?

James: Burrow Global values end-user experience, so many of our staff comes from this background. The advantage this gives is that our team fully understands the daily challenges of working in a plant or refinery. As a result, we don’t just throw a project together and install it, we carefully consider the long-term operability and maintainability as part of our design, engineering, and construction efforts.

With the recent drive to lower costs from procurement, it has been frustrating that they have moved beyond healthy profitability lines. This put pressure on us for higher and unsustainable utilization rates as an industry. Then the items that suffer are the training and downtime where our staff can continue to learn and create. We need to get back to measuring the value by the innovation and creativity in performing the work and not just the lowest multiplier.

We also believe in hiring and developing young talent. Our industry is aging, and we need to have a next generation prepared to work in the industry. Unfortunately, many young people do not find system integration as exciting as working in high tech. It is critical that we reach out to this population and get them excited about automation. Having a vibrant mentoring program is a key element of this, and we are working to build processes that engage entry-level new hires and give them access to industry veterans.

We try to take full advantage of vendor training, webinars, etc. and encourage participation in industry organizations to keep our staff aware of trends and familiar with current technologies and best practices.

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Learn more about the other System Integrator of the Year winners below.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.