The manufacturing industry is undergoing a renaissance, thanks in part to advances in information technology. Two IT leaders who have been on the forefront of that are Kim Mackenroth and Chris Nardecchia.

Kim Mackenroth is vice president and global CIO of Textron, a Fortune 302 multi-industry company with around 33,000 employees worldwide. Her global IT organization comprises five business-segment CIOs, as well as shared services provided by the CISO, CTO, and the leader of enterprise business systems. CIO 100 award-winner Chris Nardecchia also wears multiple leadership hats in his role as senior vice president and chief digital and information officer of Rockwell Automation, the world’s largest pure-play industrial automation and IoT company.

These two industry leaders have much in common, from their parallel career paths to their leadership philosophies and experiences. When the three of us spoke for a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, we explored how Mackenroth and Nardecchia are succeeding with their transformation journeys, winning with people, and not only answering the CEO’s call but also changing the IT narrative to get those calls in the first place. Afterwards, we spent some time talking about their career journeys and the technology that excites them about the future of manufacturing and business. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: You have similar career stories in that neither of you started out in IT and never intended to get into this profession. Where did you start, and how did you get here?

Kim Mackenroth, vice president and global CIO, Textron


Kim Mackenroth: I believe a career path is not a ladder but a jungle gym of experiences — some lateral, some vertical — that provide a solid foundation for the ones that follow. While I never intended to be a CIO, I have always had the philosophy of ‘take the role that scares you the most because that is where you will grow the most.’

Throughout my career at Textron, I have had many roles, spanning supply chain, manufacturing, integrated product teams, and working on helicopter programs. There was an opportunity to be part of a new way of conducting business at our Bell business unit, so I took that role, and as a result, the CIO took notice and asked me to join his organization as a direct report. He rotated me throughout IT, and then I became a CIO of two other businesses prior to becoming Global CIO.

Chris Nardecchia, SVP and chief digital and information officer, Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation

Chris Nardecchia: I started as a chemical engineer doing chemical engineering things, building and operating chemical and nuclear processes, producing polymers and nuclear fuel, etc. That led me into a role in the pharmaceutical industry, again, building and operating processes to manufacture pharmaceuticals. As part of that role, I got involved with computer control of manufacturing processes, and that’s when I started to code. That then led to an increasing involvement of trying to move data across the enterprise to compare manufacturing operations around the world.

During this period, when we were expanding at a rapid pace and building new manufacturing plants around the globe, I was approached by the head of our manufacturing division to lead the implementation of SAP across our manufacturing network. I realized it was career-limiting to tell the president of a division ‘no,’ and that started my journey into IT.

From that point forward, I was fortunate enough to lead both the IT and OT teams within global pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply chain organizations. Those experiences prepared me well for what Rockwell Automation needed in their next IT leader — someone who can not only run the IT operations but also understand manufacturing in the OT environment.

Dan Roberts: I recently spoke with Charlie Feld, who said that, before the internet, we had more time to build relationships and to think. But we also we didn’t have the technology to do all these great things we’ve come up with since. What technology are you most excited about now and as you look to the future?

Kim Mackenroth: Earlier in my career, I worked at Bell’s drive systems center, where we build all the high-tolerance parts for our complex gearboxes that go into our helicopters. We had large batches of parts, which would have to get through an enormous amount of processing, machines, and external providers to complete. We used to say they travel many miles to hopefully yield the parts that we needed for assemblies.

We had a dream at that time: Wouldn’t it be great to live in this world where we could have one piece part flow. Where we could have machines that were capable of digital loops where they could adapt, they could produce a quality part every time, they could do multiple operations, they could significantly reduce the amount of equipment that was required, the number of operations and the amount of span time.

Bell now has a manufacturing technology center — a purposeful factory of the future. It was all about creating and testing the capabilities that I just talked about, and how to embed that back into our core manufacturing processes. Everything that I just described is happening, and it’s the culmination of engineering, manufacturing, modern machines and software, all coming together to yield the future we dreamed about.

Chris Nardecchia: Those things really excite me. We’re clearly in the age of AI. We’ve seen the amazing progress with open-source AI, with ChatGPT, and previously with DALL-E. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Applying similar capabilities to manufacturing, as Kim just went through, is in progress, and it’s just going to accelerate. I’m extremely excited about the exponential impacts that applying these technologies can have on manufacturing operations.

To cite just a few results that have been achieved with digitization at Rockwell, we’ve seen a 40% improvement in quality, a seven-figure improvement in productivity, and, prior to recent supply chain issues, our on-time delivery improved from 82% to 96%. These are big numbers, but imagine what the possibilities are when you apply advanced AI algorithms.

Here’s a real-life example at Rockwell. Part of our manufacturing process is to create electronic components with circuit boards, and you embed computer chips in them. We have six plants with 24 manufacturing lines and 50 machines that contain 2,000 nozzles that place these chips from a spool at a very high speed onto the printed circuit board. The exact placement on that board is critical. If you get these off a few millimeters, then you’re scrapping boards.

Over time the nozzles can wear out and drift away from the proper location. To avoid bad boards being created, we used to perform maintenance on a time schedule, and we’d frequently replace good nozzles that still had life in them. Now, we replace them just before failure by leveraging an AI solution that predicts the drift of these nozzles at very high speed and notifies the operator via a visual application when they’re predicted to fail.

At a cost of $5 to $500 per nozzle, it saves significant costs, but more importantly, it maximizes the machine utilization and uptime. This is just one example. If you think about the countless manufacturing lines across the world, there’s just huge opportunities.

Roberts: Kim, you talk about software like driving a car. What do you mean by that?

Mackenroth: Everything was previously hardware-centric. It’s like in the example that Chris gave, we had those windows of opportunities where we’d replace hardware because the source of the world was hardware. Now, software eats hardware for lunch.

Look at Tesla. When you get into a Tesla, it’s not all the bells and whistles from a hardware perspective. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about that software experience — having those monthly updates, getting the new features and functions. Probably not the most comfortable seat, not all the little ecosystems that you would have in a luxury vehicle, but the enthusiasm is off the charts because of that customer engagement, that customer experience of, what am I going to get next? What am I going to be able to do next? None of that could have been accomplished with the previous automotive industry approach.

Roberts: Back in the day, we used the phrase eating our own dog food — or drinking our own champagne. Chris, you talk about it as Rockwell on Rockwell. What does that look like?

Nardecchia: The concept here is borrowed from the software world where we use our own products and our own solutions and our own manufacturing facilities, not only to improve our own operations, but to showcase them for our customers. So in our manufacturing headquarters today, where there previously wasn’t any manufacturing because everything shifted overseas, we’ve now brought back manufacturing and demonstrated in almost a lights-out facility, one operator, all the technology advancements that people can apply.

This is us walking the talk, not only with our own products but our partner ecosystem so that we can feel good about what we’re promoting to our customers and find the flaws of the implementation experience. If the customer is going to experience this, we want to experience it first and then modify what that experience is for the end customer. Demonstrating these capabilities in our own four walls allows us to speak about them with conviction with our customers.

Roberts: Is there going to be a manufacturing renaissance in the US?

Nardecchia: I think it’s happening and it’s driven by two or three things. One is the supply chain and the geopolitical events that are happening. That’s awakened people to say, ‘What do we do and how do we secure our supply chain?’ It’s also driven a little bit by the labor shortage — how do we sustain a society in a growing population through automation and that marriage between machines and human intelligence? How does that work?

A number of companies that moved manufacturing to low-tax havens are now announcing facilities being built in the US in the coming year. We’re seeing the semiconductors move from Asia over to the US. We’ll have to see if it stays and sticks, but I believe that you’re going to see more manufacturing centric in the US.

Roberts: Kim, after 27 years at Textron, what keeps you excited about what you do?

Mackenroth: I get this question a lot, and I would go all the way back to the beginning. I am so grateful for the group of leaders that brought me in at Bell where I began my career, the mentors that challenged me, and the wonderful teammates and colleagues I get to work with. There’s that phrase, ‘Hire people who amaze you and then teach them how to amaze themselves.’ I feel like Textron has done that for me, and it’s part of my legacy to those people that follow me to make sure they’re having a career journey that amazes themselves.

But there’s two big reasons why I’m here outside of all of that. I love the talent philosophy. It is rare in a multi-industry, global organization to have such a passion for developing and promoting people from within. That’s incredibly special and supports the opportunities that we can offer. My CHRO talks about community, cause, and career. That is important, but I would add people, purpose, and passion. My number one, most enthusiastic item is purpose, and if I summarize everything that we do at Textron, we literally defend freedom. We protect the warfighter. We save lives. We build time machines. We move humanity. Who else can say that?

Dig deeper into the career journeys and leadership playbooks of Mackenroth and Nardecchia by tuning in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.

Innovation, Manufacturing Industry

Enterprise adoption of SAP S/4HANA continues to climb despite the obstacles in its way, according to new research by user groups in the US and Europe. Adopters are being drawn by advanced capabilities in the new software, and driven by concerns about maintenance of older systems.

In the UK and Ireland, 89% of SAP customers are either using or planning to use S/4HANA, up from 74% in 2021, according to a survey conducted for the UK & Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG).

“With everything else that’s been going on this year, I think that’s quite a big move,” said UKISUG chairman Paul Cooper, pointing to the distractions CIOs faced with the pandemic and ongoing supply chain problems.

The biggest driver for the move to S/4HANA, cited by 70% of survey respondents, is SAP’s plan to end maintenance support for its ECC 6 and Business Suite 7 software in December 2027.

But according to Cooper, other drivers include a desire for new functionality (49%), accompanying a wider business transformation (47%), improving productivity (41%) or simplifying business processes (38%).

Those UKISUG members with no plans to adopt S/4HANA aren’t necessarily playing chicken with SAP over maintenance support, he added: they could be planning a switch to another ERP, or have no plans for anything more than a year out given current economic difficulties.

In the US, the proportion of SAP customers using or planning to use S/4HANA remained stable at 78%, although the proportion now live on the platform rose to 31% from 28% in 2021, according to a survey conducted for the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG).

Awareness and adoption of the Rise with SAP all-in-one package of licensing, hosting and application management is also on the up. ASUG’s survey found that 38% of respondents were familiar with Rise, compared to 23% in 2021, and only 20% had never heard of it, down from 39%. UKISUG found that 28% of those who had heard of Rise used it or planned to do so, seeing it as a way to accelerate their move to S/4HANA and the cloud.

The switch to S/4HANA is showing up in SAP’s sales figures too — S/4HANA revenue for the third quarter of 2022 was up 98% year on year to €548 million — but there are still obstacles to wider adoption, the user groups found.

Skills shortage still a concern

Training provided by implementation partner was rated as poor or very poor by 32% of organizations surveyed by UKISUG (down from 34% in 2021), while 36% rated technical resources provided by SAP as insufficient (down from 38%). Little wonder, then, that organizations yet to move to S/4HANA are more concerned than ever that a lack of available skills will slow their migration, with 92% citing it as a problem, compared to 71% a year earlier.

UKISUG plans to do something about the skills shortage next year, launching its own S/4 Academy to help organizations manage their migrations. This will complement the deep-dive technical training that SAP offers, not compete with it, Cooper said: “We’re pitching this as the sort of practical and pragmatic things that you need to know and understand, as opposed to how to configure something in SAP.”

ASUG members also cite skills shortages as the biggest barrier to innovation, especially in a multi-cloud environment, with one-fifth seeking to optimize their cloud innovations by upskilling existing staff with help from free learning platforms and business partners.

Customization challenges

Existing software customizations still pose a challenge for 72% of organizations moving to S/4HANA, UKISUG found, down from 92% in 2021, although this change of attitude may be because more respondents are resigning themselves to doing away with customizations altogether. That’s the case for 24% of organizations, up from 12% a year earlier.

Integrations also proved challenging for 64% of those who already made the move to S/4HANA, with just 28% of them relying on SAP’s own Business Technology Platform for help with integration. Little wonder that numerous market research organizations forecast that the integration-platform-as-a-service market will grow at over 30% annually over the next few years.

Grounds for optimism

Recent forecasts from the likes of IDC and Gartner put growth in IT spending at around 5.1% in 2023 despite broader belt-tightening and despondency about the economic environment.

After comparing notes with numerous CIOs at UKISUG’s recent annual conference, Cooper was similarly optimistic about the prospects for IT departments in the year ahead.

“Your gut feeling, based on the front pages of the newspapers, would be that people would be slashing [IT budgets], but there still seems to be very robust investment and plans to grow and develop their IT systems,” with the uptake of S/4HANA being just one sign of that, he said.


Around the world, organisations are fine-tuning the new digital focus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. To remain competitive, they have to grapple with multicloud-based data and operations, software as a service and hybrid working, among other trends.

In this dynamic environment, those that don’t know exactly how their business-critical applications are behaving and performing at all times are wasting their time and money – and losing ground against competitors.

Skills and integration issues

Because of the evolution of applications, traditional monitoring tools, skills and processes – often deployed in silos to focus on specific areas only – are no longer sufficient.

This lack of integration and intelligent data processing creates a visibility and governance nightmare. It limits organisations’ ability to ensure fast and effective fault tracking and performance improvements in a holistic manner. When an application goes down, they may not know the reason or impact – and, importantly, how to avoid another outage proactively.

They may also find it difficult to protect their network and users against attacks and vulnerabilities without the necessary real-time application security monitoring.

Visibility leads to insights – and action

To survive and thrive, organisations need to adopt a data-driven approach to modern observability.

Proactive performance management and automated issue identification can avert application problems – whether traditional or hybrid, on traditional infrastructure or in the cloud – before they affect users or customers. Also, intelligent security insights across multicloud environments strengthen application security.

Full-stack observability refers to real-time observability across an organisation’s technology stack – including applications, software-defined computing, storage and the network. The data it generates gives organisations actionable insights into the behaviour, performance and health of their applications and supporting infrastructure.

With all these benefits, observability seems an obvious choice to make, but it can be hard to adopt given many organisations’ limited skill sets. A lack of technological skills and resources may keep them from striving for full, data-driven observability.

For this reason, there is value in working with an experienced partner to make the shift to modern observability across the entire stack – not only during the implementation phase but also to ensure continual fine-tuning.

For example, the vast amounts of data generated by modern monitoring tools can be daunting. Without expert assistance and the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning, few organisations can interpret and contextualise all of this data to support their business outcomes.

From assessment to intelligent support

NTT’s 360 Observability, powered by Cisco’s suite of full-stack observability tools, delivers end-to-end monitoring visibility supported by the unification of application and network performance management tools.

As a first step, our Observability Maturity Assessment helps organisations align their business and information technology strategies.

This assessment summarises their performance management goals and identifies the gaps and areas of overlap between their current and desired states of observability.

Next, it details recommendations and strategies for people, processes and technologies (including high-level architectures) to implement and support full-stack observability. This is supported by a high-level roadmap to achieving the organisation’s goals.

From there, they can select one of three service levels linked to our Multicloud Application Monitoring Platform. These include regular platform checks (including security) and upgrades, with audit logs, and ongoing fine-tuning of the monitoring settings. Alerts and data dashboards can be customised, and there are regular reviews and recommendations – including the option of observability knowledge transfer and mentoring.

In this way, working with a partner like NTT delivers both full-stack observability and peace of mind to organisations, allowing them to focus fully on achieving their business goals.

Learn more about 360 Observability from NTT and discover your Observability Maturity.

James Wesley is Director of Offer Management: Application and Observability Services at NTT.

Cloud Computing, Cloud Management, Cloud Security, Multi Cloud

 Imagine being able to fly one of the world’s fastest airplanes in a digital environment. In that virtual world, you can test the plane’s viability by adding or removing environmental and man-made variables. Or simulate jet engine performance to reduce fuel consumption and wear. Planes tested in these environments are more efficient, safe and sustainable. Existing crafts are maintained proactively, and the next generation is designed for future air mobility needs.

These digital environments that mirror reality, also known as digital twins, are based on fundamental principles of modeling, physics, mathematics and computer science. They are being brought to life by computer aided engineering (CAE) enhanced by high performance computing (HPC). This new configuration has the capacity and speed to handle data-intensive simulation applications across a wide variety of industries. The result is a quantum leap in performance and capabilities.

Today’s Engineering Challenges and the Promise of Digital Simulation

While the expectation of engineers to design more (better and faster) hasn’t diminished, the industry is facing some monumental challenges. Today’s engineering workforce is more distributed than ever, which can hinder collaboration and performance among teams. Engineers are also being tasked with producing more fuel-efficient products, reducing emissions, and optimizing maintenance, repair, and overhaul windows to save on costs.

As engineering teams grow beyond capacity, digital simulation powered by HPC is helping ease the burden. Engineers can collaborate with one another and do their work in a virtual environment, improving the speed and efficiency of engineering workloads. Simulation gives engineers the power to see how their designs will behave in millions of real-world scenarios, while reducing or even eliminating the need for costly physical testing. Ultimately helping engineers improve the safety, sustainability, and performance of products.

Engineers at United Kingdom’s McLaren Group are using simulation and prototyping to design faster, more aerodynamic vehicles. The engineering team conducts simulations powered by HPC based on as many as 100,000 data points per second coming from Formula 1 race cars as they’re moving at up to 200 miles per hour. The McLaren engineers build 3D digital twins and 3D printing models for continuous rapid prototyping and to generate analytics to improve car performance in subsequent races. The results of these efforts lead to rapid prototyping and testing of components. 

HPC for Power Plant Design

Simulation was the answer for California-based engineering company RJM International, a provider of emissions reduction and combustion improvement technologies, that serves large combustion plants like refineries and steelworks. The company runs operational analyses and simulations involving a series of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) on a HPC cluster with the goal of helping plants run more efficiently and limit emissions through adoption of co-firing, biomass fuels, or next generation energy pellets.

Engineers at RJM International use audits and detailed data sets to build accurate models of power plant performance. The team uses Ansys simulation software integrated with HPC infrastructure from Dell. This solution allows engineers to use CFD data to devise, test, and prove new solutions prior to their installation. It’s also modular, so the engineers can easily deploy a system optimized for the compute, storage, networking, and software requires of their specific HPC workloads.  

Simulations that took a week are now completed in a day ― using 86% less compute time than the company’s previous computing infrastructure. The cluster also enables RJM to run a variety of large, sophisticated computations to solve other complex engineering challenges.  Engineers can quickly and cost-effectively validate product integrity prior to prototyping by modelling behavior across real-world variables.

Simplify and Accelerate HPC

Retooling an IT environment for high performance engineering workloads can be streamlined by engineering validated architectural designs which include servers, storage, networking, software and services in customizable configurations. They’re designed to help simplify and speed the configuration of HPC clusters whose design has already been tested and tuned for CAE. 

As teams continue to work remotely and CAE software advances in sophistication, engineers are leading the way in the adoption of advanced computing technologies to overcome new challenges. HPC is not one-size-fits-all. The right solution configuration depends on a specific mix of applications and types of simulations, with a variety of options to consider. But once past those hurdles, HPC is playing a major role in advancing the use of simulation in engineering, speeding time-to-market and contributing to the design of innovative and higher-quality products.

For more information about how to leverage engineering simulation tools powered by HPC, click here.


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