ATS Global – Transforming Business, and Technology
The manufacturing and industrial sectors are historically slow adopters of technology, but ATS Global is bringing them up to date by looking at the systems behind the technology.
For nearly 40 years ATS Global has been operating as a global system integrator working in the automation and control arena, but in the last decade, the company has been undergoing an evolution into a complete industrial software solutions provider, bringing them into the Industrial IT domain. The firm operates in 26 countries, with each branch of the company taking responsibility for its development plans and execution, providing industrial OT/IT solutions and know-how to improve and sustain its customers’ operations.
Being a systems integrator with a global presence puts us in a unique position,” says Kevin Partington, CEO of ATS Global. “We are either competing with large IT incumbents who often lack the operational technology knowledge to deliver OT/IT projects, or we are competing with small, very local integrators who lack the ability to scale their operations to deliver solutions globally.
ATS Global’s work covers the complete manufacturing closed loop, from the design and simulation of products within the design process, all the way to the physical production of the product and the performance of the facility.
“That means we can answer questions about where a product was made, who made it and when it was made,” Partington points out. “We can assess if it was made the way it was designed, and we can test and measure if it was made to the correct specification. We cover that complete closed loop allowing for feedback and feed-forward.”
A New Concept
ATS Global’s evolution has continued, with the company’s work in new technologies moving their business model towards a managed services concept. “Customers’ buying behaviours are changing with a desire to contract businesses like ours to deliver outcomes, reducing the focus on the features and functions of our solutions,” says Partington. “That means we are asking how we can deliver more output with fewer people, not because we want to remove people but because we have to be able to increase the pace and scale of our business during a time when there is a war on talent. A key focus has been in the area of intellectual property, building repeatable solutions from our unprecedented industrial OT/IT domain knowledge,” Partington says. “In addition, we are focussing on our business processes to ensure they enable the harvesting of our knowledge across the business, from proposal creation, technical leadership, project management and engineering practices which have seen a number of central teams stand out in our business.”
With their partner products, ATS Global is also looking at the creation and extraction of secondary IP, in places where the company does not own the product but can offer a method of rapid deployment which is unique to them.
Attract, Recruit, Develop, Retain
Intellectual property is born out of the knowledge of the people you employ, and as a professional service organisation, ATS Global is at the cutting edge of the recruitment challenges now common in nearly every industry sector. “With the continued growth of the digital age, our people have many choices on where they can work, which increases the challenge of attracting and recruiting talent but also places a challenge to our business on retaining them. Acquiring and retaining people is always a challenge,” Partington tells us. Responding to that challenge is a top priority for Partington. “We have four clear agendas. We carry an ‘attract, recruit, develop and retain’ strategy. Our Chief People Officer is responsible for those four key areas using a combination of methods,” he tells us. “We use traditional social media and website channels, and we are well-recognised as an employer with a strong culture and values around lifelong learning and benefits.” When it comes to roles that require very specific expertise, such as senior engineer roles, the firm takes an even more precise approach. “We have to consider carefully up front how to bring those people into the business,” Partington says. “We have a good internal referral scheme. It is a large industry, but people know colleagues and often want to bring ex-colleagues to ATS. There is no one solution that offers a golden ticket, so we have to continually work hard to find ways of finding and retaining talent. As a global business, we have a variety of cultures in three time zones, working in eight languages, further complicated by the ongoing geopolitical uncertainty in a number of regions which requires us to think globally but act locally.”
Process Before Technology
Of course, another attraction that ATS Global offers recruits is the chance to work in one of the most exciting sectors of the current technology revolution. But Partington cautions against getting swept up by hype, insisting on practical technology applications.
“All too often we see customers trying to make technology fit their business with poor use cases which fail to offer an ROI because they feel pressured to digitalise something,” Partington argues.
“Virtual Reality and 3D printing are good examples of where we have seen customers make investments or a specific use case but with no mid-term benefit, often seeing these technologies decommissioned in a short space of time. Manufacturers need to take an iterative approach to consume technology, first focusing on capturing data and making information visible to the right people at the right time to make informed decisions. To get value from tools like virtual reality and machine learning, you need good data capture and reporting.”
ATS’s approach is to discourage clients from acquiring tech for its own sake, instead looking at the needs that underlie it.
“We focus on the people, process and structure of our clients to ensure the right use of technology, making our work more of a business transformation project than that of a technology project, and increasing the customers’ ability to consume technology and realise the benefits of their investment,” Partington says.
“You don’t want one or two use cases just to justify the Capex spend. The technology is readily available, and customers are more educated on available solutions than ever due to the internet. This means all too often we are shown poor deployments which place adequate technology on top of poor processes.” It is an approach Partington believes will give ATS Global a promising future.
“Manufacturing has lagged other sectors (retail, hospitality, finance, etc) in the adoption of technology however since the pandemic we are seeing more emphasis being placed on digital transformation from our industrial clients to de-risk parts of their business and optimise operations,” Partington says.
“Cloud and SaaS are becoming more accepted by manufacturers which are challenging our traditional operational technology activities. A typical IT asset is refreshed every three to five years, whereas operational technology assets can be deployed for two or three.”
Going forward Partington believes their focus will have to turn from complex engineering to the delivery of faster, scalable, and more “repeatable solutions”.
“The question is always can we re-use and repeat what we do for customers?” Partington tells us. “Can we bring down barriers to consuming technology? It is a truism that managers overestimate what they can do in 12 months, but in our experience, they underestimate what they can do in 12 years.”