Innovation on the Brain

Gray Matter Systems celebrates 25 years of technology and software with a dedicated person-to-person approach.

By Tim Hayes, TEQ Magazine

Pittsburgh’s favorite neighbor, the late Fred Rogers, once said, “The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing…and they love it in front of others.”

It may sound cliche, and even a little obvious, but people make the real difference. Mister Rogers said so. And with the right tools, people can make good organization run even better– all the way to great. Respecting their intelligence and enthusiasm provides a key.

That’s the impetus behind the success of Gray Matter Systems, based in Warrendale, which offers technology, innovative software, and a dedicated person-to-person approach to help some of the world’s leading manufacturers and critical infrastructure operators enhance their performance in meaningful measure.

“Our approach has always been how to control big data that transforms operations, while empowering people,” said Gray Matter Systems CEO Jim Gillespie.

Gray Matter Systems understands that using technology to run a successful operation is more than just software and products. It’s also about people: people who understand problems, can architect solutions within a budget, deliver benefit, and work with plant operators to adopt the solution.

“Everyone gets excited today about the ‘Internet of Things’ but we’ve been working with this approach for 25 years,” Gillespie said. “The technology of today enables it more easily and cost-effectively than ever, through smartphones and other devices.”

Gray Matter Systems creates a digital “twin” for the operational side of major manufacturers, a virtual operation running in parallel with the actual physical plant. Using this tool, Gray Matter Systems steers its customers to understand, identify, and address issues and opportunities in real time, thereby creating ROI that may not have been captured before.

One example is Erie-based GE Transportation, where Gray Matter Systems supports the “Brilliant Factory” program, allowing GE people to make better decisions about how it runs its operations hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

“By designing and implementing a real-time replica for GE Transportation, one where they can make decisions in real time without needing to interrupt or impact their actual manufacturing process, we have enabled them to make things better, right now,” Gillespie explained.

“Our system support is designed to make every operator the best operator, by addressing generational issues, digitizing data and enabling better decision support,” he added. “GE has told us that other firms have come in, consulted with them, and left. We go through the ebbs and flows that happen throughout a project.”

Each engagement is a custom fit. Gray Matter Systems gives bite-sized digestible steps, each with its own ROI, that create an appetite for more. Our customers say, ‘We need more of this, faster– why wouldn’t we?’

“It comes back to empowering people. How can your best people perform better, while operations need to keep running? We’re going to be with you to answer those questions. We’re not leaving you in the dust.”

In addition to firms like GE, Gray Matter Systems also works with global brands like Procter & Gamble and others, as well as major infrastructure providers like DC Water and Wastewater, which provides the nation’s capital with water and sanitation services. Gillespie’s company has offices and professional staff nationwide, serving customers around the world. Interestingly, however, cybersecurity has emerged as a growing category for the company — one that cuts across all verticals.

“People realize they don’t have adequate cyber protection,” he said. “It’s like, the front door is solid metal, with deadbolts, chains, locks and a motion detector– but the back porch window is wide open. The massive information breach, after all, began by hackers getting into information related to an HVAC provider. Our data-digitizing approach applies to customers hoping to enhance their online security, as well.”

Gray Matter Systems hopes to more than double its revenues organically within the next three years, partly by continuing to draw from the strong Pittsburgh connection. “We want to help Pittsburgh as much as Pittsburgh has helped us,” Gillespie said.

CIO Survey Reveals Challenges, Opportunities and Potential of Industrial Big Data

Guest post by Jeremiah Stone, GM of Asset Performance Management at GE Digital. 

Bit Stew Systems recently commissioned a survey by IDG Research of senior IT executives to better understand how organizations are being impacted by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – the steps being taken to prepare for it, the potential benefits the IIoT offers, and the challenges encountered along the way.

Jeremiah Stone, General Manager of Asset Performance Management, at GE Digital, shares his insights on how the research findings match up with his experience at GE.

Industrial companies are in the midst of an exciting and transformational digital journey. At the heart of this transformation is the power of real-time and predictive data analytics to unlock new sources of value. However, challenges of big data, unique to the Industrial world, and the threat of digital disruption and changing workforce dynamics are real.

In order to maximize the fast-moving technology wave of the Industrial Internet, companies need to think strategically about the foundational elements of their data architecture, starting with industrial data management.

Abundant Data by Itself Solves Nothing
Despite the promise of big data, industrial enterprises are struggling to maximize its value. Why? Abundant data by itself solves nothing. Its unstructured nature, sheer volume, and variety exceed human capacity and traditional tools to organize it efficiently and at a cost which supports return on investment requirements. Inherent challenges tied to evolution and integration of industrial information and operational technology, make it difficult to glean intelligence from operational data, compromising projects underway and promise for further investment and value.

Research Confirms Data Integration is Slowing IIoT Adoption
We have seen first-hand, how data integration has challenged IT and OT teams for decades. The advent of IIoT adoption is compounding the problem. The insights from the IDG survey match up well with our experience. Senior IT executives are echoing the sentiment that data integration is the #1 barrier inhibiting IIoT adoption in their organizations. 64% of senior IT executives surveyed said that integrating data from disparate sources/formats and extracting business value from that data is the single biggest challenge of big data. As we go forward, driving technology advances and best practices to integrate disparate data sets is critical.

Lack of Preparedness will Cost your Business
According to the survey, senior IT executives are saying the biggest risk of not having an IIoT strategy in place is losing valuable data insights which can significantly cost their business. 87% state the most concerning risks of not have a data management strategy is they will be overwhelmed by the volume and veracity of data being generated, and they will lose valuable business insights as a result. In addition, 33% say they are afraid that businesses that don’t adopt a data management strategy will become marginalized, obsolete or disappear.

Finding a Better Way: Maximizing Value from Machines and Enterprise Data
At GE, we are experiencing first-hand a better way—a better way to manage industrial big data that triggers insights. We are in the early stages of a long journey
of discovery and invention, taking a longer-term view to strategic data management and its technologies that translate to business advantage. Our businesses, customers, and partners are committing their business success by transforming to become data-driven businesses. At GE Digital, we are investing in our capabilities and the ecosystem to deliver the right solution to help them get there.

To extract meaning and value from industrial data, new systems are required to handle the challenges posed by the volume, velocity and variety of these data sets. Many industrial companies have already started their digital journeys towards Industrial Internet maturity. Technologies including automated integration and empirical data model management, machine learning and physics-based analytics, that we have been deploying for our customers, are
now seeing double-digit performance gains across the following sectors: power generation, oil and gas, transportation and mining.

Learn More About This Topic

IDG Research White Paper | Download the in-depth report here.

This blog post originally appeared on Bit Stew Systems’ blog page, Bit View. 

When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes: Gray Matter Systems Thanks Steve Rubin

Let’s Go For It

Recently I took my son Max, who’s about to graduate from high school, on a college trip to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It caused me to flash back to a very important person in our lives and how Gray Matter Systems got its start.

It was 1991 in Pittsburgh and Carson Drake and I had big plans.

A revolution was underway as personal computers were shaking things up on the factory floor. Just as big data, the Cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things are disrupting everything now, it was an exciting, but unsettling time.

Business owners, managers and workers were frightened about what this meant for their jobs, but we were excited because we knew operational technology was the future. It was time for us to leave the comfort zone of working for a company to start our own company.

When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes

When two people start a company they need money, but more than that they need the type of support that helps you make fast, innovative decisions and inspires you to carry the heavy weight of success or failure. Steve Rubin gave us both.

Steve believed in Carson and I with a passion that got Gray Matter Systems off the ground and running. He built one of the most successful industrial automation software companies from his basement. He knew there was a need for a wide-ranging computer control system that could do many things at once. That’s why he created The FIX (fully integrated control system) and took industrial automation to a whole new level. We helped bring that technology to people in manufacturing, energy, and many other industries.

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

Steve’s company, Intellution, was later bought by Emerson Electric Company, and finally by General Electric. The rest is Fortune 500 history. Steve Rubin passed away in 2015 from complications related to ALS.

Steve’s enthusiasm and passion extended beyond his work. One very special place to him was Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he received his computer science degree and later served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The Rubin Campus Center is now where students meet, debate and innovate. He cared deeply about students and wanted a space for them to grow.

At Gray Matter Systems we honor Steve’s dedication to customers. One year he flew his own plane to speak at our annual conference, sharing his insights with customers and devoting his time to their needs.

We also honor his sense of adventure and fun. Steve was a huge baseball fan and couldn’t have been happier when former Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner, Kevin McClatchy, presented him with a jersey during a Gray Matter Systems user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, pictured here.

Most of all, we honor his incredible business values of fairness and honesty.

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Two Becomes Four, Four Becomes Fifty

We’ve come a long way since Steve helped us get started.

At first it was just the two of us. But we soon added a few others and found our home in Sewickley, a walkable suburb of Pittsburgh. Working in the house on Thorn Street made us feel like a family. And that’s who we are.

Sewickley is a special place bookmarked in our history. But it was time to turn the page and transition into a bigger space for our growing company.

Now we have a state-of-the-art headquarters in Pittsburgh, more than 50 employees and we’re growing fast. We also expanded our territory in the Gulf region to include Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Western Tennessee and Southeastern New Mexico.

The World is Waking Up to What We’ve Been Doing

We help some of the biggest companies in water/wastewater, oil and gas, and manufacturing use operational technology to get faster, leaner and smarter. Thanks to Steve, we have the opportunity to solve some of today’s toughest, data-driven challenges.

These days, everyone is talking about big data, the Cloud, the Industrial Internet of Things and predictive analytics.

We couldn’t be more thrilled. We’ve been ready for this for a long time. Our team of experienced engineers, technical consultants and leaders translate all the hype around these concepts into real value for our customers.

We feel good about where we are and where we’re going and that’s all because someone believed in us. We wish we had said this sooner—thanks, Steve.

Extreme Weather is Inevitable: Is the Success of Your Outage Management Process?

Photo courtesy pixabay.com

Upon reflecting on America’s history, it would be difficult to overlook the devastation and continuing challenges brought on by extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Photo courtesy Freeimages.com

Photo courtesy Freeimages.com

It was one of the costliest natural disasters in history- racking in $80 billion in total losses and damages.

A Category 3 hurricane, perhaps even lesser known, reached the Long Island and New England region more than 70 years ago and caused more than $306 million worth of damage, a large sum of money now, but was considered even more exorbitant in 1938.

That’s the thing about extreme weather- one of the few constants in life, it doesn’t discriminate between continents or decades.

You can’t stop the rain, wind, or snow. But you can improve processes for outage management and damage assessment before weather strikes.

Outage management for utilities were a largely manual process in the past, and still are for some today, with little to no standards for collecting data. This leads to quite the inefficient restoration process for utility executives who strive for reliability and minimal outage duration for their customers.

The core of the utility business model is to provide reliable, resilient services within an expected range of time and power quality, after all.

By combining the traditional steps of outage management and restoration processes with recent technology such as smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), outage management can be improved even further.

From the utility perspective, benefits include monetary improvements from cutting costs in operation- fewer truck rolls, less wear and tear on vehicles and even less overtime for the crew.

But customers benefit, too. Due to the increasing reliance on digital technologies and electricity for productivity from residential, commercial, and industrial customers, a faster restoration time could mean economic benefits for them as well.

In order to improve the outage management life-cycle, it’s helpful to realize that an integrated approach is most efficient- one that incorporates sources of information like smart meters, social media/switch status with a standardized, digital platform that collects information and sends that data back into the right hands.

Here’s how outage management can be taken to the next level with technology and innovation:

Outage Identification

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) devices are currently being used at the most basic level combined with customer call-ins as the first step of the lifecycle, outage identification.

But what if utilities adopted AMIs and smart meters as a means to gain valuable insight, throughout the entire distribution grid? Smart meters allow “last-gasp” messages to be sent to the outage management system and therefore can identify both long-term and momentary service disruptions.

And don’t forget about the power of going mobile. Smartphones and other mobile devices that access the Internet can also provide valuable information right on hand.

Damage Assessment & Work Orders

Many utilities are using time- and resource- intensive processes for the damage assessment piece of the process, with no standard for reporting or cataloging changes for restoration.

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

This dated practice can be updated with prioritized work orders—field crews and damage assessors are most successful when they are ready for deployment as soon as the extreme weather event passes.

While the outage management system is a sufficient predictor of damage, it’s also critical that crew members relay any updated information on asset status that they observed in the field. This practice can also help develop localized ETRs for customers.

With the use of mobile computing, field crews can now gain even more access to data such as mobile mapping, network models, and visualization with a simple, graphical interface.

Work Order Execution

In order to execute an accurate ETR, utilities need to efficiently track and deploy work orders from the field. But, as mentioned before, it’s equally important to reflect any changes made in the field.

Automating work order execution to mobile devices has proved successful for numerous utilities– even offering safety benefits.

At Western Power Corporation, the implementation of GE’s mobile platform led to a 50% reduction in switching incidents.

“Mobile switching has automated the communications between field crews and the control center [and has] reduced errors and bottlenecks caused by high call volumes, as communications now occur electronically. This results in more coordinated communication between field and control, reduced delays from the control center, faster restoration times, real-time data being received from the field, more accurate restoration times and improved reliability [and] data accuracy,” said Western Power Corporation, in the “Best Practices in Outage Management” white paper by GE and GTM Research.

The mobile platform also allows for automatic network status updates as switching occurs.

Planning and Post-Event Reporting

Planning, whether in a financial or operational sense, is crucial for effective resource utilization.

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Current outage management systems can model what-if scenarios that aid utilities in mapping out what resources are needed and where they can be obtained.

Standardizing data collection processes not only creates efficiency in the damage assessment step of the outage management life-cycle, it also allows for an easier post-event reporting.

Of course, while the evolving, modern outage management systems have begun to shape process for the better, the systems are only as strong as the data is accurate. This means information must be a bi-directional, constant flow between the field and operators– regardless of whether it’s real-time or post-event.

Want to read more about improving the outage management process? Download the white paper by GE and GTM Research.

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