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.

Gray Matter Systems’ Brian Courtney Right at Home on Innovation Drive

When someone new arrives at a company, they often take a few months to settle in, meet the team members and adjust to the new environment. But not in Brian Courtney’s case.

The MIT graduate jumped right in and started building and working with his hands at Gray Matter’s headquarters on Innovation Drive just outside of Pittsburgh. Brian has been sawing, gluing and piecing pipes together for an innovative, exclusive Gray Matter project since Day One.

Brian is the new Vice President of Development and Managed Services at Gray Matter Systems and he’s a true innovator. It shows in every conversation you have with him.

I believe there are many different styles of innovation. One of them happens to be a tinkerer,” said Brian. “I get excited about learning– a little here and a little there until it suddenly comes together in your head.

The new leadership position is a key part of Gray Matter’s recent growth. Brian will focus on building software solutions to reduce cost and increase efficiencies in manufacturing, water and energy.

Brian will help companies use analytics to determine early signs of failure before they have major equipment problems.

“Unfortunately, failures happen during the worst possible times. Machine learning helps us identify failure before something majorly goes wrong,” said Brian. “Part of my role at Gray Matter is helping companies get ahead with predictive analytics.”

Developing and building are in his blood. Brian comes from GE where he held many roles including leading a data visualization team. His team won several awards for innovation and filed for 26 patents.

“My job was to drive the team to ideate and think innovatively,” said Brian.

Brian also attributes his deep technology background and business acumen with giving him a good sense of solutions that will work the best for customers. He graduated with a computer science degree from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and got his MBA from MIT.

Brian said that the Industrial Internet of Things is already flipping the way the business world works. With massive amounts of data to maintain and analyze, customers expect connectivity and information on everything they’re running. This is turning more businesses into customer-facing operations than in the past when information was just an internal focus.

Small and medium-sized companies alike are giving the biggest ones ideas on how to journey through the transition.

A self-professed tinkering jack-of-all-trades, Brian likes to break things. He’d rather learn from failure to figure out what went wrong and how knowing about it sooner would have prevented that failure.

I think Edison said it best when he said he simply found 10,000 ways to not make a light bulb,” said Brian. “I believe people learn from their mistakes instead of their successes.

Look for Brian Courtney’s next innovation in the coming months at Gray Matter Systems. For now—here’s a behind-the-scenes look as Brian tests a water system he just built on Innovation Drive:

Brian Courtney on Innovation Drive from Gray Matter Systems on Vimeo.

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