Taming the Complexity of a Digital Era

There are now more computing devices in the world than there are people.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the world’s population is made up of 7.3 billion people, and growing steadily. In fact, their online population clock tracks each new addition like a live, ticking scoreboard. But the bureau isn’t the only organization counting new life.

The mobile analysis firm GSMA Intelligence has a similar, real-time dashboard that tracks new mobile connections.

With close to 7.8 billion SIM cards operating in the world right now, mobile devices are coming online faster than people are being born.

But what actually pushes this figure past the world population is the growing number of active machine-to-machine connections– M2M connections like cars, medical appliances and industrial infrastructure.

This is a staggering piece of information and it’s only a bite-sized example of the digital world we live in.

After all, data is now being measured in terabytes, petabytes, zettabytes, etc. These prefixes can leave one feeling dizzy.

We’re currently on the path to a complex, digital age. It may lead to many opportunities, or it may bring challenges. It’s up to us to make our choice. Can we harness that complexity to build a safer, more profitable, better world?

Mickey McManus, the keynote speaker for our annual user group conference PIB 2016, is trying to help answer that question. A pioneer in the field of pervasive computing and human-centered innovation, he’s passionate about taming the complexity of our digital world.


Mickey is the chairman and principal of MAYA Design and a co-author of the book, Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology. TrillionsBook

Trillions is a field guide to the future, taking the previous example of billions of computing devices to the next level. Mickey asserts that one day soon this number will be closer to trillions.

“We are about to be faced with – not a trillion isolated devices – but with a trillion-node network: a network whose scale and complexity will dwarf that of today’s Internet,” said authors of Trillions, McManus, Lucas and Ballay. “And, unlike the Internet, this will be a network not of computation that we use, but of a computation that we live in.

Mickey is a frequent speaker on innovation and pervasive computing, whether it’s at GE’s Minds + Machines last year, Techonomy, Aspen Ideas Festival or during his two TEDx talks.

Taming the Complexity

 According to Trillions, humans are inherently bad at dealing directly with all things complex. By sorting through and organizing complicated concepts though, we stand a chance at making sense of it.

“Invented systems like calculus and the periodic table help us describe abstract math and the nuanced properties of the natural world without too much trouble, and can be relied upon to work every time,” said Mickey.

To tame the complexity that exists when you’re dealing with a sea of operational data, it’s crucial to keep people at the intersection of technology and business.

Twenty years ago, there were industrial professionals that thought the idea of a PC on a plant floor was outlandish. Now we know that applying modern technology practices like HMI/SCADA, data analytics, and mobile solutions are key to operational excellence across industries.

To Innovate is to Collaborate

Trillions reminds us that while we’re making our way through a new era, we must step back, regroup and discuss what it could mean for not only our business but also our lives. We must collaborate to get there.

This is what our annual user group meeting in Put-in-Bay, Ohio has always meant to us. For more than 20 years, we’vemickeymailer hosted professionals from manufacturing, water/wastewater, energy and more to inspire conversation, spotlight challenges and propose innovative solutions.

Join us this year at PIB 2016 to collaborate with folks who have some of the same problems you experience daily and hear first-hand Mickey McManus tame the complexity of the digital age.

Looking Back on 2015: A Year in Review

It’s going to be 2016 soon. Can you believe it?

It feels like we were just unpacking boxes in our new office, or catching the ferry for PIB 2015.

Soon we’ll have to get used to writing “2016” everywhere — or if you’re like some people, crossing out the previous year and scrawling in the correct one for the first few months.

Either way, it’s the time of year when we take a moment to pause and reflect on 2015.

So before we turn the page to 2016, here’s a recap of just some of the most important things that happened this past year.

2015 Year in Review

2015 Year in Review

Year in Pictures
Check out our photo gallery featuring moments from 2015

Our New Home

Quite possibly one of the biggest changes in 2015, or at least the most palpable, was our move to Warrendale, PA.

Gray Matter Systems New HQ

Our new headquarters in Warrendale, PA.

Back in July, we relocated our Pittsburgh headquarters to a state-of-the-art, Class-G green-certified office building about 18 miles north of the city.

Our consistent growth as a company led to the need for a bigger space—complete with conference rooms, a center of excellence, and a brainstorming area that’s home to the office foosball table.

The 223-acre Innovation Ridge Advanced Technology and Office Park also has some great views of a wooded area full of Western PA wildlife. In fact, it’s not extremely uncommon to pass a pack of turkeys or a couple of deer on the way to work in the morning.

Of course, this move meant leaving Sewickley—the walkable, suburban community we’ve been a part of since 1991. Whether you worked in the 2,000-square-foot house on Thorn Street or in the office space just across the street, Gray Matter employees loved to walk to the local Starbucks or grab a quick lunch at the Sharp Edge. The truth is, we had a great time in Sewickley, but it was time to begin our next chapter.

Office Thanksgiving 2015: The first in our new home in Warrendale.

Office Thanksgiving 2015: The first in our new home in Warrendale.

The move to the Warrendale office marks the first time in the company’s recent history that Gray Matter’s corporate staff is housed in the same space. This is perhaps the biggest benefit we have seen so far as a result of the move.

Evidence of this can be seen as we gathered into the center for Office Thanksgiving for the first time—taking a beloved tradition and celebrating it in our new home.

As Gray Matter Systems President and CEO James Gillespie said, the move “signifies an important next step in the progression of Gray Matter’s story.”

“The expansion was a big step for Gray Matter Systems,” Gillespie said in a July press release at the time of the move. “We’ve expanded our operations significantly in the United States and Canada in the past decade, but Pittsburgh has been our home since 1991.”

Sewickley was an important part of our history, but we’re excited to see where the next chapter leads.

The Gray Matter Family Grows

Of course, a new headquarters means new additions to the Gray Matter team.

Alan Hinchman and Coleman Easterly

Alan Hinchman and Coleman Easterly

We welcomed Alan Hinchman and Coleman Easterly, two veteran automation professionals with a combined 50 years of experience, as each heads up the water/wastewater and manufacturing execution (MES) divisions, respectively.

Hinchman and Easterly previously held executive leadership roles at GE, managing global strategic sales and marketing initiatives for the company’s Intelligent Platforms division. As thought leaders in their respective industry, both have authored dozens of white papers and case studies, published articles in industry magazines, and are frequent speakers at local, regional, and national conferences around the country.

VP Carson Drake and Andrew Drake of professional services team, working together & solving problems  as father and son.

VP Carson Drake and Andrew Drake of professional services team, working together & solving problems as father and son.

We also expanded the marketing team, added numerous members to the professional services team, and welcomed more sales professionals.

And we’re not done. See who we are on our new and improved careers and core values pages on our website. At the end of 2015, we worked hard to better illustrate who we are, what we do, and the values we uphold.

We also made it clear what it’s like to work at Gray Matter– that is, what it’s like to be doing some of the most important work out there while having fun doing it. Check out the new core values page and our working at Gray Matter page.

Put-in-Bay 2015: Our Annual User Group Meeting

For over 20 years, we’ve had the benefit of seeing so many different sides to our biggest event of the year, the annual user group meeting at Put-in-Bay, OH.

There’s the hard work the entire Gray Matter Systems team puts into preparation, which actually starts the week after the event ends for the next year. The type of hard work that brings the team together as it gets closer to August, closer to the event.

Gray Matter Systems Director of HR and Operations Mandy Urey wrote a lot about her experiences on the island. She’s no stranger to Gray Matter’s annual meeting – she joined the team in 2011 – and wrote that her favorite part of the event is the relationships our attendees form when they get together.

“I see people from different backgrounds catch the early ferry in a rush to get to the island and back in touch with the people they met last year,” Mandy said. “I see an operator from a Houston-based steel company walking through the tabletop trade show, talking excitedly about a new solution with the guy he met last year that works in a water plant just east of Cincinnati. In any other situation, these two people probably would pass each other on the street without thinking twice about each other’s situation but here at our event, they find common ground.”

Trade Show night at our annual user group meeting, PIB 2015

Trade Show night at our annual user group meeting, PIB 2015

Even with numerous industries and varied skill levels, it’s amazing how these professionals with such different backgrounds connect and interact with great enthusiasm.

These one-of-kind interactions may be some of Mandy’s favorite memories from PIB, but there’s even more value to be had.

We kick off PIB at the trade show where many of our vendors set up booths and demos to showcase new products and solutions that would be the most beneficial for the attendees. And sure, there are other trade shows and conferences people can attend, but what makes ours unique is the ability to talk to the people that are literally behind the products.

Then there’s the keynote address. This year, our Vice President, Carson Drake and Jeremiah Stone, GE Intelligent Platforms General Manager of Industrial Data Intelligence, gave us a glimpse into the future of automation and technology.

PIB 2015 keynote speaker, Jeremiah Stone of GE Intelligent Platforms

PIB 2015 keynote speaker, Jeremiah Stone of GE Intelligent Platforms

Of course, it’s not PIB without our many breakout sessions—from best practices to better alarm management with our own senior engineer, Bill Weed, to JMC Steel Group’s story of plant floor to SAP integration. It’s important to us to share success stories while learning from our peers.

And these peers hailed from places as far as Alberta, Dallas, TX and Orlando, FL or as close as Cincinnati, OH. There were old friends and brand-new faces alike—all with a great story to share.

We’re already looking forward to next year, and we hope you are too. Mark your calendars and tune your guitars – we’re heading back to the island August 9-11, 2016 for PIB 2016.

We Did Some Cool Things, Went Cool Places, and Met Some Interesting People Along the Way

This October, our CEO and president, James Gillespie, and vice president, Carson Drake traveled to San Francisco to attend GE’s fourth annual Minds + Machines event. It was host to about 1,000 developers, thought leaders, partners, media, and specifically focused on the state of the Industrial Internet.

Our friends Bill Fritz, Director of Public Works at Waterford Township, Todd Williams, VP of Leidos Engineering, Benoit Lapensee of Cascades Tissue Group, Peter McCabe of GE Transportation, and Mark Tudor of Eaton Corporation were even featured speakers at the event.

In addition, GE Intelligent Platforms VP and GM Jim Walsh sat down with Jim Fortner, VP of global business services for Procter & Gamble to talk revolutionizing 21st century infrastructure—specifically, how the Industrial Internet is transforming the manufacturing space. You can watch the entire discussion here.


Bronze statue of Scottish philospher David Hume

In May, Gray Matter’s Mike Manzi and Dan Misener traveled to Livingston, Scotland to work with some key customers. While there Mike and Dan did some sight-seeing.

While on their tour, they encountered the massive statue of 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. Time had tarnished nearly all of the statue a dull green with the exception of Hume’s big toe, which shines brightly as if it had been polished diligently with every passing day.

“[It’s] because Hume’s admirers, proud of their skepticism, come from around the world to pay tribute and—get this—rub his toe for luck,” Mike explained. “Luck which, according to their own philosophy, doesn’t exist.”


Gray Matter VP Kemell Kassim formalizes a partnership with RealWorld Systems in Frankfurt this June.

Gray Matter Systems VP Kemell Kassim did a bit of international traveling as well this year. Most notably, Kemell traveled to the GE Digital Energy Software Summit in Frankfurt, Germany this June.

While there, Kemell signed a formal partnership with Realworld Systems.

It was one partnership among many we made in 2015, which includes GE Oil and Gas (Bently Nevada), GE Grid Solutions (formerly GE Digital Energy), BitStew, and Predixion.

We also attended plenty of trade shows and conferences this year. From the industries of water/wastewater to oil and gas, Gray Matter Systems was represented in Florida, Ohio, Texas, and provinces of Canada.

Branko Radulovic of our Quebec team met his doppelgänger and former Penguin, Mario Lemieux, in Pittsburgh airport

Branko Radulovic of our Quebec team met his doppelgänger and former Penguin, Mario Lemieux, in Pittsburgh airport

Our director of professional services, John Benitz, had the exciting opportunity of contributing in the development of the ANSI/ISA-101.01-2015 standard, Human Machine Interfaces for Process Automation Systems.

The standard serves as an exhaustive set of guidelines created to help organizations design, build, and operate effective HMIs. According to the authors, the primary purpose of the standard (and its accompanying technical reports) is to “help users understand the basic concepts” of an HMI and “more readily accept the style of human-machine interface that the standard recommends.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the standard, read Benitz’s blog post, “4 Things You Need to Know About ISA 101 HMI Standard.

ICYMI: An Algorithmic Economy, Cyber Security Research, and More

Welcome to the Algorithmic Economy

According to analysts at Gartner, global IT spending is expected to surpass $3.6 trillion in 2016, a 1.5 percent increase from 2015.

The IT industry is being driven by digital business– after all, in just five years, 1 million new devices will come on every hour. But it’s also being driven by data and algorithms.

“Data is inherently dumb. It doesn’t actually do anything unless you know how to use it; how to act with it,” said Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner and global head of Research in the report, “Algorithms are where the real value lies. Algorithms define action. Dynamic algorithms are the core of new customer interactions.”

For example, Amazon’s recommendation algorithm that keeps users buying, or even Netflix’s that keeps people watching, according to Sondergaard.

And these algorithms are helping companies build their digital business savvy. According to Gartner, CEOs have ascertained that their digital revenue will increase by more than 80 percent by 2020. While 125,000 organizations are launching digital business initiatives now.

Read more about the Gartner report here.

Building the Industrial Internetjeffimmelt

As we mentioned in last week’s ICYMI, Minds + Machines 2015 was a celebration of the Industrial Internet, and host to about 1,000 developers, thought leaders, partners, and media.

In a recent article, Matt LaWell of Industry Week discussed how GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s leadership and vision, displayed during his keynote at the conference, will lead the company to the future of software.

He has lived through the refocusing of the company and its core industrial base,” said Stephen Pavlovsky in the article, an equipment insight leader at GE Intelligent Platforms, “With the shedding of the financial arms, and even the appliance business, we’re really a company built now around infrastructure OEMs, water, oil and gas, transportation, medical.

He’s led that transformation.

LaWell said that in the 30 minutes that Immelt took to the stage at Minds + Machines, he reported a “flurry of numbers” about the future of GE as a $15 billion software company and a major industrial app provider (powered by Predix, an industrial cloud platform).

Immelt also stressed the utmost importance of productivity in industries, or the ability to make decisions, take opportunities and move fast.

“This is just a vision for the future, because I think increasingly in a lot of our businesses where we talk about knowledge of the asset, knowledge of the analytics, building software, putting it in the cloud: When you put them all together, you’re going to have a new business models,” said Immelt in the Industry Week article.

‘Digital Thread’ Unifies Discrete Manufacturing

Speaking of Minds + Machines, Mark Tudor, vice president of information technology at Eaton presented at the conference in San Francisco.

Tudor spoke about how he turned to GE’s Proficy software platform to solve some complex problems– specifically, document management, according to a recent article in Control Magazine.

Since it was once being done in their ERP system where engineering information was being stored, change management was next to impossible.

“Before this software upgrade, if we built something wrong, it was difficult to know; training costs were huge, as were the problems,” Tudor said in the article. “Compliance relied on paper-based traceability methods and analytics were not seeing root causes. We had to store data manually and there was a huge amount we needed to keep for as long as the plane was flying, 30 years or more.”

When data is able to flow between systems easily, better production decisions are made. Thus, the image of a “digital thread” stretching from engineering, to operations, and to shipping. Tudor said that GE Proficy now connects the data to the right people, machines and processes.

To read more from Tudor’s presentation at Minds + Machines 2015, click here.

Cyber Security Survey Reveals New ChallengesFrustration over SCADA Upgrade

A new survey administered by Aspen Institute and Intel Security has shed some light on an interesting perspective of many leaders in organizations.

The report showed that while 86% of information technology (IT) executives see the need for “public-private threat intelligence sharing partnerships” and 76% also said a national defense strategy should be employed after inevitable cyber attacks, the majority of respondents are confident in their existing security.

So while respondents might be pleased with their cyber security efforts, almost half still said that an cyber attack on critical infrastructure could result in loss of life in the next three years.

“This data raises new and vital questions about how public and private interests can best join forces to mitigate and defend against cyberattacks,” said Clark Kent Ervin, Director, Homeland Security Program, Aspen Institute. “This issue must be addressed by policymakers and corporate leaders alike.”

The report suggests a disconnect between IT executives, the respondents, and the current threat landscape. Whether it’s perceived improvements, government involvement encouraged, or that user error is still the number one issue, respondents illustrated this disconnect.

To learn more about the survey, the methodology behind the survey, or its implications, read more here.

Media We Link To:

“‘Digital thread’ unifies discrete manufacturing” – Control 

“Building the Industrial Internet With GE” – Industry Week

“Gartner Says It’s Not Just About Big Data; It’s What You Do With It: Welcome to the Algorithmic Economy” – Gartner

 “New Survey Reveals Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Challenges” – Business Wire

ICYMI: Minds + Machines 2015 Recap, Must-Read Stats on Big Data, and More

Minds + Machines 2015

Folks of the Gray Matter Systems team traveled to San Francisco this week to attend GE’s fourth annual Minds + Machines event. It was host to about 1,000 developers, thought leaders, partners, media, and specifically focused on the state of the Industrial Internet.

In fact, CEO Jeff Immelt said in his keynote address that the Industrial Internet is a whole new industry– one that’s all about increasing productivity.

The Industrial Internet is a fancy phrase, but what it really means is no unplanned downtime, and asset optimization

Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE

Immelt also announced plans for Predix, the cloud-based solution designed specifically for industrial data and analytics, as well as the Brilliant Factory, which according to Immelt will help to achieve 10% to 20% reductions in unplanned downtime.

Here’s the entire keynote address:

Other keynote speakers hailed from organizations like NASA, MIT, and Pixar.

Our friends Bill Fritz, Director of Public Works at Waterford Township, Todd Williams, VP of Leidos Engineering, Benoit Lapensee of Cascades Tissue Group, Peter McCabe of GE Transportation, and Mark Tudor of Eaton Corporation were also featured speakers at the event.

Fritz spoke on how his department at Waterford, Michigan has been an early adopter of technological innovations that allow it to operate efficiently. His advice for starting the Industrial Internet journey was: If you can imagine it, then it can be achieved.

Williams, who specializes in real-time, integrated solutions for airport, manufacturing and municipal customers, said his top advice for the Industrial Internet is to “develop an open, standardized platform for data access to support today’s needs and to be ready for the future of actionable data analytics.”

Since 2012, GE has convened its Minds + Machines annual event as one of the defining moments of the Industrial Internet, the critical infrastructure and industrial sector of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Check out our photo gallery from Minds + Machines 2015.


20 Must-Read Facts on Big Data

In an article on Forbes this week, Bernard Marr reported 20 facts about the ever-popular, hyped topic of big data. Marr claims that while it’s often talked about, big data is a concept that many still choose to ignore. He said that the following facts and stats, however, should the attention of those who are hesitant.

The following are highlighted as some of the most “mind-boggling,” as he calls it, but check out the article in full to read more. 

  • Data is growing faster than ever before and by the year 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet.
  • Every second we create new data. For example, we perform 40,000 search queries every second (on Google alone), which makes it 3.5 searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year.
  • By 2020, at least a third of all data will pass through the cloud (a network of servers connected over the Internet).
  • For a typical Fortune 1000 company, just a 10% increase in data accessibility will result in more than $65 million additional net income.
  • Within five years there will be over 50 billion smart-connected devices in the world, all developed to collect, analyze and share data.

Big Oil Taps Big DataPipeline-Longwatch

Even the oil and gas sector has realized the benefits from big data and analytics.  of Fortune said in a recent article that the “plummeting” oil prices have forced energy companies to focus on increasing efficiency with technology.

Fehrenbacher said that sensors are a big part of that refocus– from smarter pumps to drilling systems, sensors in a digital oilfield are helping to produce loads of information.

And thanks to big data, operators now have the power to predict when that expensive piece of oil equipment will need replaced. Some oil companies are even said to be building their own private wireless networks– making the delivery of data from the field to the floor even easier.

Interestingly enough, Fehrenbacher also explained that drones might become a large part of the digital oilfield.

“When the view on the ground isn’t good enough, companies can tap satellite data and even drones equipped with thermal imaging to monitor gear and flag leaks,” said Fehrenbacher. 

3 Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgradesred2

This week, our own Senior Engineer, Bill Weed, outlined three common, destructive situations that often kill SCADA upgrade projects in a blog post and whitepaper.

A system comprised of software and hardware working in unison is an amazing thing. If all goes well, you can keep your system running for a pretty long time.

Hardy, well-written software can chug along for months – even years – without failure. Industrial hardware is built to last, so it’s no surprise that companies are getting plenty of mileage out of today’s high-end PCs.

And sure, you can buy out-of-date components online. You can even find old drivers, patches, or workarounds.

“But what if you’re in charge of a municipality’s computer system that ensures clean, consistent water is delivered to hundreds of thousands of homes? Or what if you’re in charge at a major food and beverage manufacturer?”

Do you want your significant automation investment to run on hardware that was put on the end-of-life list three years ago?

Planning and deploying an upgrade takes a little time and effort, and at times, requires a plan of attack. Especially when dealing with the hesitations that often surround an upgrade project.

Three common reasons why organizations fail to perform an upgrade are:

  • The systems upgrade is not in the budget
  • If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it
  • Current personnel are unsure how to go about the upgrade

If any of these common situations sound familiar to you, find out how you and your organization can learn to overcome them in the whitepaper, “Three Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades,” available for download.

Download Here

Media We Link To:

 “GE CEO Jeff Immelt on How the Industrial Internet is Helping Slash Downtime” – Fast Company Magazine

“Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read” – Forbes

“Big Oil Taps Big Data” – Fortune

“3 Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades” – Bill Weed, Gray Matter Sr. Engineer

Contact GrayMatter

Get in touch with us!