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Dialogue: Refining Data Into Value

Posted By Jeff Moad, July 24, 2012 at 6:39 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

terry_Burleson.jpgGuided by VP Terry Burleson, Nalco Co., a provider of specialty chemicals and services, is charting a new role for itself: pioneering purveyor of advanced data services and apps that give customers unique, actionable insight into their markets and businesses.

By Jeff Moad

Not long ago, a customer came to Nalco Co. with what seemed like a simple request: Could Nalco help the petrochemical company sift through the mountains of data generated every day by its people and production equipment to find the few nuggets that could be used to significantly improve plant efficiency, asset utilization, quality, sustainability, and yields? Nalco’s answer became known as Refined Knowledge, an innovative IT platform and set of applications that let Nalco quickly capture and analyze vast amounts of customer data, turning it into valuable, actionable insight. The initiative has begun to transform Nalco, an Ecolab company, into a provider of advanced data services as well as a leading manufacturer of specialty chemicals. It also recently resulted in Nalco being named the winner of the Manufacturing Leadership 100 Large Manufacturer of the Year Award.

Terry Burleson, who as vice president of energy services at Nalco helped guide the Refined Knowledge strategy, recently engaged with MELJ Executive Editor Jeff Moad for a Dialogue interview. Burleson, who is also a member of the Manufacturing Leadership Council, shared insights into the challenges Nalco overcame in its path to becoming a provider of big-data services.

Q: What excites you most about your role at Nalco?

A: The ability to work with a solid team of individuals that drives strong performance across the globe. I enjoy mentoring my team and challenging [its members] to think about what the business will look like and what we need to do differently in the next 10 years.

Q: Nalco’s core markets have been in slow-growth mode. What is Nalco’s strategy for finding and exploiting new growth opportunities?

A: While some regions are slow-growth, such as Europe, other regions like [Asia/Pacific] and [the Middle East] offer new opportunities and accelerated growth. We focus on these areas, and how we can bring our people and technologies to our global customers that demand the same service that they receive in the more mature markets like [North America]. We also look at M&A opportunities that are natural extensions of our current offering and look to cascade those with our global footprint.

Q: Describe Nalco’s approach to accelerating innovation.

A: We utilize a stage-and-gate process that allows us to work many activities in parallel. We don’t have unlimited resources, so focusing on the vital few projects with the largest impact is critical. The stage-and-gate process allows us to keep projects on track with defined metrics.

Q: Nalco’s Refined Knowledge initiative is an interesting push into information-based services. What is Refined Knowledge all about, and why is it important to Nalco and its customers?

A: Our customers asked us, “How can we turn all the data we touch into value?” Our reps spend about 80% of their time collecting data and 20% solving problems. When we began to explore options of information-based automation, we felt we could turn this around and have our reps spend 80% of their time solving problems and 20% collecting data. If we could execute this model, we could answer the customers’ question about turning data into value. We began to work with OSIsoft and Microsoft to build out a platform that could do just that. This project also ties into our overall automation strategy, and helping our customers to operate more efficiently and improve reliability.

Q: How do you see your customers’ focus on sustainability evolving? Is it becoming more or less strategic to them?

A: Sustainability will continue to be more strategic going forward for our customers. Water is becoming scarce and will continue to be a driving force for our customers. Environmental regulations will continue to drive our customers to reduce both their energy and water footprints. In the market that we operate in, all customers have put a sustainability office in place.

This Dialogue is an abbreviated version of a longer interview that appeared in the July 2012 issue of the Manufacturing Executive Leadership Journal.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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