Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems Step 2: Build Consensus

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The Digital Revolution. Industry 4.0. The Industrial Internet of Things. The 4th Industrial Revolution. Call it what you will but today’s fast-accelerating technological evolution has forever changed the business of manufacturing.

In any digital transformation, investment in safety systems is essential. However, the justification for a safety system upgrade is seldom a single factor. Many considerations combine to ultimately build a successful case for modernization. I once presented a manager with two choices:  Upgrade the legacy safety system or wait until something happens and go out of business. I know that sounds a bit extreme, but it’s not always possible to restart operations after an outage!

This post will look at the critical “building consensus” step for building an effective business justification and win that all-important approval to successfully secure money and resources for your new safety model. 

Doing Nothing is Not an Option

It’s a fact of life that everything gets old and eventually fails. I include myself in that statement. As I mature, everything seems to be getting harder! I now need reading glasses and I can’t run without knee support. Aging is no different for our automation systems. The question is: What can we do about it?

A customer once told me:

Steve, we have 3 choices: We can do everything. We can do nothing. Or we can do something. Rarely do we have the luxury of unlimited budget, resources, and access to the plant to do everything; so that option isn’t always realistic. Conversely, doing nothing should never be an option with safety. The laws of probability dictate ‘when’ not ‘if’ something will happen. Doing nothing means you are only delaying the inevitable. Doing something is clearly the best option. We need to be proactive and be prepared for when the inevitable happens.”

On the basis that we need to do something, and assuming we have decided what funding approach to follow (read Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: Step 1 Funding Approach), how do we then build consensus for investment decisions? How do we approach the “human” aspect when building an effective business justification for safety system modernization?

 Involve the Stakeholders

A critical success factor in any migration or upgrade project is how and when you include the many key stakeholders in developing the business case for the safety system upgrade.  As we journey towards the digital promised land, it is essential to include parties with a vested interest early in the process. We must fully understand their safety system upgrade needs to help build the business case while also strengthening support for the project.

For instance, it is worth spending time with the different parts of the organization who encounter the safety system to understand their respective challenges. Seeking their input will be more impactful and the project will be more successful if the upgrade helps to alleviate some of their specific challenges or pain points.

At a minimum, ask the following groups to help scope the project:

  • Operations (bypass management, operational risk assessments, alarm management)
  • Maintenance (proof testing, spares, repairs, maintenance)
  • Supply Chain (commercial terms, support agreements)
  • Process Safety (periodic safety reviews, safety system audits)
  • Engineering (changes, updates, modifications, expansions)
  • Safety System Data Owners and Users (with cybersecurity now an ever-increasing threat, the IT department is a key stakeholder and must be included. Ignore at your peril!)

 Set Clear Goals

The only good reason to upgrade is because it achieves one or more tangible business goals. The exact goals will vary from company to company so it’s important to clearly identify and quantify your unique goals with these stakeholders. These business goals will become the most significant criteria in selecting a replacement safety system.

To build consensus and win the hearts and minds of your stakeholders, you must work together with each person to develop and agree on the goals for the upgrade. Having a shared outcome where individuals have contributed can wield excellent cooperation and results.  For example, some of the goals could include:

  • Reduction in lifetime cost
  • Return on investment
  • Internal rate of return
  • Net present value
  • Risk / cost of a failure
    • Cost of doing nothing vs. cost of upgrading
    • XXX mt/day * $/mt * XX days = $ M sales loss
    • XXX klb/day * $/klb * XX days = $ M margin contribution loss
    • Raw material consumption loss = XXX mt
    • Non-compliance contract to customers
    • Potential permanent customer loss
  • ROI of tangibles / intangibles
  • Reduction in insurance premiums

Run the “Pain Equation”

One you’ve set your goals, you need to put it in terms of the cost benefit of change to help stakeholders assess the “pain factor.” I used to think that “logic and data wins every time.” How wrong I was! My logical argument to upgrade was based on the business risk (cause) and the business risk (consequence).

However, after hitting my head against a brick wall several times, I came to realize that while logic is fine, when someone doesn’t believe something needs to be done, or just strongly disagrees, then no amount of logic, facts or data will convince them otherwise. Try convincing a toddler to do something when they don’t want to!

This is where you need to take a different approach. Typically, there are three reasons to do something:

  1. We are Forced to act (in these cases, people will see it as a cost):
    1. Something breaks
    2. Audit violation
    3. New regulations e.g. safety standards updates (e.g. IEC61511 Edition 2, cybersecurity standards e.g. IEC62443)
    4. Corporate edict that says you must comply
  2. There is an Opportunity to change:
    1. Another related event is taking place
    2. The timing of another project creates synergy
    3. Part of the plant or operating unit becomes available
  3. It may be part of a Strategic decision:
    1. Means of gaining competitive advantage
    2. Aligns with the corporate future vision
    3. Specific investments for long term gains

Fundamentally, it’s about the cost benefit of change. I was told years ago by a customer that the justification to upgrade is a simple equation that boils down to this:


When “PAIN_1 (production risk) of doing nothing multiplied by the remaining life of the plant (years)” is greater than “PAIN_2 (cost) of the upgrade including production losses resulting from upgrade transition” it’s time to upgrade.

Here are some examples:

Where the upgrade makes sense

  • Production loss of $2M per year are directly linked to obsolete equipment x 15-year plant life = $30M= PAIN_1
  • Upgrading system costs $5M in hardware/services + $10M in lost production during transition $15M = PAIN_2

Where the upgrade doesn’t make sense

  • Production loss of $2M per year is directly linked to obsolete equipment x 5-year plant life = $10M= PAIN_1
  • Upgrading system costs $5M in hardware/services + $10M in lost production during transition $15M = PAIN_2

One trick is to correctly quantify the pain with the people who “own the pain” because opinions will vary by owner.

Build Trust

Another key tool in your building consensus toolbox is the discovery interview. Discovery interviews are a great way to gather relevant information to build into your winning business case. Basically, you want to understand three aspects:

  • Current (where you are today):
    • How is the job currently done?
    • What gaps or problems currently exist?
    • What systems are utilized to help automate or simplify the current method of working?
  • Desired (where you want to be):
    • What changes would the individual like to see in this area?
  • Impact (how will the business be impacted):
    • Change is hard, so there should always be a reward for change.
    • If you can get down to true metrics (e.g. time saved, errors eliminated, manual steps automated, efficiency etc.) then you can quantify the benefits.

Another good way to win the hearts and minds of your stakeholders is to identify the current restrictions or limitations that impact everyone’s day-to-day job with respect to their interaction with the safety system.  A great way to do this is to focus on a specific given task (e.g. apply a maintenance bypass before removing a device from service) and then follow up with open “diagnostic questions.” Try using some of the following prompting question with, “In your opinion, what makes this …”

If possible, for each question, try to identify a unit of measure and quantify it by:

  • … the time it takes to …
  • … the likelihood of …
  • … the number of [x] to …
  • … the amount of …
  • … the frequency with which …
  • … the amount of waste due to …
  • … downtime due to …
  • yield loss due to …
  • … the percentage of …
  • … the cost of …

As you go through this process you will gain both the trust and insight from the various stakeholders involved with safety systems in one way or another.

TIP: Credit contributors in the business case to make sure that their efforts and input are recognized!

Plan Resources

An often-overlooked consideration of any aging system is the challenge of finding resources with the requisite skills, knowledge and competency to engineer, maintain, support and manage the safety system. It is important to identify the management activities necessary to ensure functional safety objectives are met. If compliance to international standards such as IEC 61511* is a prerequisite, then there is a requirement to ensure that “Persons, departments, organizations or other units which are responsible for carrying out and reviewing each of the SIS safety life-cycle phases shall be identified and be informed of the responsibilities assigned to them”.  Also, “Persons, departments or organizations involved in SIS safety life-cycle activities shall be competent to carry out the activities for which they are accountable.”

*For more information, please refer to IEC 61511 Chapter 5 – Management of Functional Safety, clause 5.2.2 Organization and Resources

It’s important to plan for knowledge retention when considering an upgrade. The loss of key knowledge from the system integrator or equipment manufacturer is not easily recaptured!  Training system experts much beyond the expected life of the product may not be cost effective or even feasible (e.g. try finding computers with serial ports!).  This is an extremely important point to consider as part of the winning upgrade justification and essential in the “building consensus” step.

Be sure to check out the entire blog series to help you win that all-important approval to upgrade your safety system.

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: 7 Steps to Approval

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: Step 1 Funding Approach

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: Step 2 Build Consensus

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems Step 3 Decide When

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems Step 4 Use a Risk Approach

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems Step 5 Define a Winning ROI

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: Step 6 Focus on the Benefits 

Modernizing Emergency Shutdown Systems: Step 7 Pitch to Win

For further reading:

Download IIoT for Process Safety White Paper

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