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P&G's Holmes talks to Automation World

Skip Holmes’s thoughts on leadership, best practices, technology development, business language, and licensing partners—all are covered in an exclusive interview in the June issue of Automation World.

Skip Holmes
Skip Holmes

Automation leader E.L. Skip Holmes is the associate director of power, control, and information systems for corporate engineering technologies at Procter & Gamble. Here’s what Holmes had to say:

LEADERSHIP: One of the aspects of leadership is to put together the right blend of skills on your team. In order to grow and stretch your employees, you need to delegate down. I have put together a very talented team of leaders in my department, to the point where sometimes I think they don’t need me anymore. But that’s part of my mission—to work myself out of a job by growing the next generation of leaders. I want to know that I’ve put into place a level of leadership and technical capability that can sustain itself beyond the individual.

BEST PRACTICES: We have moved away from “standards”—that implies policing—and towards a system of best practices. As one of my colleagues says, “Standards should be so compelling that they self-proliferate.” We have proven global practices that we recommend, and we try to get the global P&G community to help us write those, so they’re not all written by corporate engineering.

TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT: Our corporate group supports long-term technology development for the P&G business units. There are five strategic areas we look at: machine and motion control; process automation, including measurement; power, manufacturing applied information, for example, tablet PCs; and infrastructure, such as networks and security. Within these areas, we want to continue to drive technology development and discover the breakthroughs that will change the game.

THE LANGUAGE OF BUSINESS: Technologists must learn to speak the language of business to get project funding from their management. How do you do this? Start by answering the “So what?” question. Express the business benefit of your proposed automation solution in financial terms, such as dollars saved, Net Present Value (NPV), and ROI.

Express speed of execution in time or percentage. Remember, the schedule is money. Often, being the first to market can be worth millions of dollars.

And finally, use performance measures, such as process efficiency, quality, mean time between failure, and mean time to repair.

LICENSING PARTNERS: A number of years ago, P&G invented a special mathematical algorithm, called adaptive predictive control, and embedded it in our own control systems. Frankly, it was very difficult for engineers to understand and maintain, so it didn’t get brand acceptance within the company.

What we did was license the technology to Mettler-Toledo, in Columbus, OH, who embedded the algorithm in its Quantum impact (Q.i) material transfer controller, making it more robust and much easier to maintain.

P&G has strategically licensed other technologies to companies who can enhance our ideas and maintain the technology. These include an “electronic rounds log” technology, embedded on a PocketPC, and licensed to Tech Center LLC, in Atlanta, and Batch Golden Release software, licensed to ATR Systems Inc in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.

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