Featured Interview | Daren Dieleman of Interstates


Daren Dieleman is vice president of operations at Interstates.



Daren Dieleman, Interstates, Inc

PostedMonday, November 14, 2022

  • Q
    Why did you choose a career in control system integration?

    I have an atypical background for folks and leaders within this industry. I studied finance and accounting. And then I went into manufacturing operations right out of school, managing assembly lines, and then in various production and operations management roles. About 11 years ago or so, my wife and I were looking for a change, wanted to get back closer to family.

    I didn't know anything about control systems integration. I was really looking for a company that I'd be challenged in, that I can use my leadership skills in, I could grow in my career in, and I got talking with Jack Woelber.

    Jack Woelber was the long-time president of Interstates Control Systems. And we got talking about my background and what some of the strategies and things that Interstates was looking to do at that time, and we thought it could be a good fit.

    I came on board not knowing what a PLC was, what an HMI was, or a SCADA was or anything like that.

    It's been a whirlwind ever since.

  • Q
    What advice would you give to someone coming into the SI industry who doesn't have an engineering background or has never worked as an SI before?

    First, let me say, it's been challenging, but also extremely satisfying. The type of work we get to do and the clients we get to work with, it's just been so exciting and interesting. Technology, and things like labor shortage, and how you solve some of those challenges using technology, you know, it truly has been really energizing and exciting for me.

    But how do you come in, because honestly, it can be a little bit daunting, you know, myself, and I've talked to others who have come in from outside of the systems integration world or didn't, you know, grow up, if you will, with an engineering background.

    Building relationships is key. You need to listen well, you need to ask a ton of questions, you really need to stay humble. Probably not unlike many things that are brand new, it can be extremely humbling, especially early on. And it can be discouraging, if you let it.

    But if you're humble, have a good attitude, and you really surround yourself with the right people, and lean on the experts within the organization. I remember having a lot of these discussions with my boss, Jack, back at the beginning, you don't have to learn all the technical stuff to a certain degree, you'll pick up on things over time. And that's true. That can really help you.

    The other thing I want to note is just getting plugged in to other resources like CSIA. The connected community that CSIA is, I know this isn't meant to be a plug for CSIA, but I think I've gotten a tremendous amount of value out of this as someone new to the industry. Industry publications, peer groups, those are all things that can really help you get launched if you're coming in from the outside.

  • Q
    How much of your business would you say is repeat, and for those who do repeat, why do they come back?

    That's something we take a lot of pride in. Interstates has typically run over 80% repeat work, and that is across the board. From our construction to the systems integration side, we run a high repeat percentage. Why?

    Obviously, you must deliver consistently for clients, you must be on time, you have to be on budget. Partnerships are a huge deal to us, we take a partnership approach to our clients, understand where we could add incremental value to their projects, whether we're getting paid additional dollars for that or not.

    Our clients stick with us because we've shown even when we've maybe had projects that have been challenging on our end that we stick with it, even if it means putting in additional time, additional dollars, we're going to do that, we're going to finish strong for clients.

    And we've done startups really well. And being able to do electrical, along with automation and some of those other services all together has helped us with that as well.

  • Q
    What would you say is the smartest decision your company has made recently?

    Over the last year, we've really been looking at innovation, and what is our process around innovation, research and development, the process of idea generation through launching new offerings and putting those in the marketplace for our clients.

    We really want to be innovative for our clients. One of what we call our why statements, one of those, is pursuing a better way. One of the other ones is making a difference with our clients. And we know if we're not innovating, we can't do that well.

    So, over the last year, we took a step back and looked at hey,  how are we structured? Are we getting the best ideas? How are we running those ideas through a system? And we are looking at the scalability of that process.

    We just recently hired a new director of innovation. I'm excited to see how that process can now scale in the future. It will position us well.

    The other thing, late in 2019, we did a major restructure, and we don't do restructures around Interstates very often. So, the not so smart side of that is if you knew a worldwide pandemic was coming like four months later, I wouldn't recommend doing a major reorg. But that's what happened. That's the way it ended up panning out.

    But why that was smart? Again, it was around scalability and about really being an agile organization. We moved to more of a helix org structure with a lot of different teams that are agile in nature, we launched teams, we're quick to disband teams if they're not needed anymore.

    We really moved away from a hierarchal org structure as we've gone from a really small company getting into more of a mid-sized company, with a lot of different specialties and a lot of different focus areas, it could become siloed in nature.

    The move to go this route has really positioned us well, especially coming out of the pandemic to be able to quickly mobilize, get our people in the right spots.

  • Q
    How has Interstates grown and changed in the past year and what are your expectations for the company in the next year or two?

    I'll even go back just a little broader than a year, if I can.

    We really stayed flat through the year of the pandemic, which, in general, was a win. The last year, we've seen substantial top-line growth. And that's been challenging. We had a lot of pent-up demand with projects being delayed coming out of the pandemic, and things really ramped up quickly.

    We've been trying to deliver on all that work for our clients, first of all, so that's been a big challenge along with the supply chain challenges in adapting to the new way of working, right?

    That's been a big focus the last couple of years. We use the phrase “what's the best place for people to do their best work?” We leaned into that, especially since the pandemic. We have a lot more people in fully remote and/or hybrid remote roles than we did before the pandemic. To me, it's like, the pandemic just dumped rocket fuel on what was already happening. It just escalated things so much faster.

    We really had to grow and adjust and adapt to that. And again, I think that's where the move to be more of an agile organization has helped us. Being able to deliver on the growth while being strategic and forward thinking and dealing with some of those key things coming out of the pandemic has really been the focus over the last year or two.

    What's it looks like in the next 12 to 24 months? We're going to continue to navigate the supply chain challenges. And focusing on employee engagement, retention, recruiting the best people regardless of location. Those are going to continue to be focuses.

    Our workload is strong. If you look out into 2023, it looks strong. There's the talk about, is there recessionary type stuff coming? But in general, it's still looking strong for us.

    That's what the outlook looks like. And getting this innovation process going and making a difference with our clients with some, hopefully, new offerings.

  • Q
    Let’s talk about your advice for somebody who might be looking to hire a system integrator, how would you recommend that a person go about choosing an SI?

    You need a systems integrator that has a strong track record of delivery -- that has the size and the capabilities to do what you need to have done. Another key thing is industry expertise, who understands the type of work you're doing.

    And, this is my plug for the way we run our organization, but integrators that have a partnership mindset. Selecting a systems integrator is a big decision and it's not unlike some other big decisions, right? If you're just simply out there trying to find the lowest cost or pick any number of things that really are transactional in nature, you can win in some areas and doesn't mean a project can't go well.

    But if you're really looking at, "I'm going to need a partner for maybe multiple years. I'm on this digital transformation journey. And this is – this project is one step in that." Having a partner that you can trust, that can be straight with you, and be honest with you, isn't just trying to sell you on the next PO. Truly that partnership mindset that's going to give you advice even if it's not in their best interest. Those would be things I'd look at and consider when you're talking to systems integrators.

  • Q
    In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace today and in the future?

    To try to narrow that to one is a challenge -- people, engineering, technical talent, that's what I would say is the biggest challenge facing the marketplace right now.

    Also navigating the IT/OT convergence, a lot of industrial systems integrators have really been more OT-focused. Many of these data initiatives and other initiatives could be more corporate driven. They may be IT-driven. And so, how systems integrators navigate some of that that landscape in the future, I think will be key and could be a challenge depending on what your services are.

  • Q
    Why do you think it would be a good idea for a prospective customer to hire a CSIA member?

    When you've got an integrator that's tied in with the CSIA, you know they're investing in getting better. You know you're talking to an integrator that is investing in the future. Obviously, certified members are those that are really plugging into the best practices, you're getting into organizations that have proven to be strong in industry-proven best practices.

    I'm in a peer group with several CSIA certified organizations, they're all very strong. We have a high respect for them. I've met many, many, many other leaders of other systems integrators through CSIA. There's a lot of well-run companies that really, whether they're certified or not, understand the value of the community, they understand the value of investing in getting better.

  • Q
    If you couldn't work for a system integrator, what career would you choose instead?

    When I was young, I really wanted to be a sportscaster. I wanted to be on ESPN. That was my dream job. And that's not totally out of me, I still have an interest in something like that. I say that a little bit tongue in cheek, but it is something that's interesting to me. And who knows, maybe if I wasn't doing this, I'd be doing that.

    The other thing, I enjoy leading teams, I enjoy working with people, I enjoy trying to solve problems and challenges. That can translate to a lot of different industries.

  • Q
    What's the best advice you could give your younger self just getting started?

    Be humble. That's a critical leadership trait. Act like you don't know everything, seek to learn. I'm a believer in being a lifelong learner, trying to get better, ask good questions, and then really listen. A lot of people ask questions, and then get ready to talk before the other person has really answered them. Those would be some things.

    A couple other things, I would say be willing to take some risks and put yourself out there. It’s served me well in my career. I'm naturally a little more of a conservative nature when it comes to some of that. So just be willing to take some risks, put yourself out there.

    And then the other thing is don't delay hard decisions. If your gut is telling you what to do, it serves you most correctly. Avoid doing what seems easier – what seems easier in the short run, which is more painful in the long run. Don't do that.