Embracing conflation

Embracing conflation

George D. Miller

Editorial Director

Wading through the new year`s columns recently written to offer perspective on what happened in 1998 so that we might gain insight into 1999, I came across The Wall Street Journal`s “Front Lines” column [Jan. 8, 1999]. Author Thomas Petzinger Jr. presents what he describes as five “fearless new year`s forecasts.” Number 3, “vendor-customer conflation,” was particularly apt, and one we`ve already seen at work in contamination control circles.

As Petzinger poses it, “in the IBM-Microsoft alliance, who is the vendor and who is the customer?” Such distinctions are becoming as unimportant and vague as what used to be perceived as the dividing lines between vendor and customer. For example, consider Seagate Technology Inc. in Singapore, which has taken clear and definitive steps to “encourage” its component suppliers to enhance their cleanroom operations. In this scenario, Seagate monitors its suppliers` operations and in the process ensures a level of contamination control in the components it receives for integration into its disk drives [see “Component suppliers zero in on quality,” CleanRooms, Oct. 1998, p.1].

Likewise, we reported last month on five cleanroom service companies that were merged into The Pentagon Group, a new service line for industrial cleaning concern MPW Industrial Services Group Inc. (Hebron, OH) [see “Service companies form Pentagon,” CleanRooms, Jan. 1999, p.1]. This conflation does more than just form a bigger company, it provides the original entities with the capital to expand service offerings and global reach, things each was hard pressed to do before.

Can we expect more of this kind of activity throughout 1999? The drums are already beating. As Petzinger advises, “bundle every one-way product sale with a two-way exchange of information and services. Reduce the priority of accounting issues in a deal.” This might sound like wishful thinking, especially in cyclic markets that may be down for the moment. But there`s no harm in undertaking the mental exercise, whether it involves mergers and acquisitions or the simple but steady purchase of components or materials from a supplier you already know well. Besides what`s already on the table, ask yourself what services and information do they have that would be useful to you? What do you have that might be useful to them?

In spite of the foregoing examples of conflation, there is at least one area in which we might do better: sharing data among the industries that practice this technology. We have written in these pages about the need to (and benefits of) consulting contamination control professionals in other disciplines when we face what appear to be new or difficult challenges [see “Data sharing needed in cleanroom research,” CleanRooms, Aug. 1998, p.1, and “Safety lessons from across the aisle,” Nov. 1998, p. 6]. In some cases, another industry may have dealt with the same or a similar problem and be a source of fixes for your particular problem. So expand your research and your reaching for answers outside of your own discipline to contamination control professionals and organizations in other industries.

Especially as this technology branches away from its electronics/life sciences trunk to such new adopter industries as food and automotive paint spray, the need is even more evident. And as we do a better job of sharing information across practitioner industries, we are sure to witness the full-blown contamination control conflation.


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