lessons on moving markets

Samuel C. Sciacca, Microsol

In 1999, Microsol, an international provider of SCADA & automation equipment, made a strategic decision to expand beyond our well-established markets in the UK, Middle East and Australia. After consideration of a number of factors, the decision was made to expand into North America.

The initial effort undertaken in 2000 was to establish a vanguard office in the United States with both technical and commercial expertise to perform market research and competitive analysis. After a year-long effort, the office reported back to corporate headquarters that North American differed from the markets in Europe and the Middle East in several areas which would need to be addressed to facilitate our successful market entry. These included:

A: The large installed base of SCADA equipment meant that cost-effective retrofit solutions would be key;
B: Bundled services, such as design, engineering, installation and commissioning would be essential to a customer base that was increasingly outsourcing such services;
C: The numerous SCADA and intelligent electronic devices (IED) protocols in use required a product that was particularly adept at communications;
D: The existing supplier base had neglected to invest in R&D for the next generation needs of the end users.

As a direct result of this market research, four key decisions were reached which would be the foundation of our North American effort:

1: The baseline XCell Microsol automation platform was ideally suited for the retrofit market, but enhanced communications capabilities, including flexible IED ports, multiple physical data links, Ethernet nd redundancy would be added to the baseline product.
2: Rather than attempting to service the market from abroad, a self-sufficient U.S- based company, active in the utility community and industry standards efforts would be established.
3: As the company grew, we would establish multiple offices around the United States to provide technical and customer support to the expanding customer base.
4: We would offer a complementary suite of services for those customers who require them.

Timing was critical to Microsol’s success in North America. Uncertainty brought about by deregulation, a diminishing base of suppliers able to weather the slow market and a failure by these suppliers in developing the next generation of equipment all worked in Microsol’s favor. Paradoxical, but true, the best time to move into a technology-based market is during a weak demand period. As expenditures in the market sector decline, the traditional base of suppliers takes an increasingly conservative approach to new development to service the market, relying instead on the harvesting of older technology. Additionally, lower tier suppliers that were surviving in a boom market become cash-starved and loose the ability to weather the slowdown, creating further market entry potential. This gives a new entry company like Microsol the opportunity to be more visible and to address the needs of the market in preparation for the pent up demand that develops as a result of deferred automation activity by the market community. Again, our research team had verified that this was occurring in North American confirming our decision that the time was right for Microsol to enter the market.

In late 2001, Microsol, Inc. was created. Its first challenge was to identify and acquire a firm which would immediately provide Microsol, Inc. with the expertise, experience and proven performance in SCADA/automation systems and services. After an extensive search for the ideal company to execute this strategy, Automation Technologies and Services, LLC (ATS), a well-established provider of SCADA/automation systems and services was identified as the vehicle for Microsol’s entry to the US market. ATS was subsequently acquired, providing Microsol, Inc. with immediate capabilities and credibility in the industry. Concurrently the entire Microsol XCell product line was reworked to provide improved communications handling, ETHERNET, redundancy and cyber security. This would facilitate the growing demand of digital communications and IED utilization that is replacing the installed base of analog communications and hardwired I/O.

Today Microsol, Inc. is becoming a leading force in the modernization of the North American utility automation system. We’ve grown to a company with technical and sales offices and affiliates in 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Canada. The early success of our plan has validated our strategy, and we are now actively working to create a network of regional offices and manufacturing representatives throughout North America. Our product line has been enhanced to specifically address the communications challenges of an automated utility delivery process, and we continue to add services such as automation consulting, engineering, commissioning and maintenance in response to the needs of our customers.

Recent worldwide events, economic drivers and the proliferation of high-speed telecommunications have poised the electric utility industry for a redefinition of automation and SCADA on a scale not witnessed since the Northeast blackout of 1965. The consistent theme of Microsol and our product/service offerings is to work alongside our utility partners to help them meet the challenges of this redefinition. We will provide the equipment, expertise and services required to deliver–from pole top to desktop–the information, security and automation required, and we will measure our success through the success of our customers.

Sciacca is CEO of Microsol.

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