Bryan Merckling Of Thinaer: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Prepare for AI to become a part of your operations. There is no shortage of companies who are willing to guide you through your entire AI journey. Keep in mind that those companies have their own agendas and their own corporate revenue goals which don’t always align with yours. It’s important to have an expert or experts on your own staff who are participating in the project and who can continue to advance your AI efforts with or without an outside consulting firm.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Merckling.

Bryan is a thought leader, public speaker and continues to be a pioneer applying leading edge technology to everyday business problems.

Bryan reengineered the supply chain while running the world’s largest B2B Marketplace, He went on to co-found Webify, a tech leader focused on streamlining key business processes with Web Service technology. Webify was acquired by IBM where Bryan transitioned to Director of World Wide Software strategy.

In his role at IBM, Bryan identified the convergence of IoT and AI as his next pursuit and founded Thinaer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

BSM: The beginning of my path is likely very different than most. I grew up in a less than ideal economic situation and especially at that time, your school and curriculum generally aligned with family income. In 9th grade, I was moved into a special curriculum created because of my test scores. There were a few of us who actually started writing algorithms, source code, etc. It changed my life and even allowed me to enter college early.

By my sophomore year in college I was already working as a full time software programmer and I’ve never even considered anything other than applying technology to everyday problems and everyday life.

It all started for me with a test.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

BSM: Two things separate Thinaer. We have figured out how to “Democratize Data”, that means we make IoT data immediately useful to everyone, even the least technical people in your company can get immediate value from your data through our easy to use SONAR application. The second thing that separates us is how maniacal we are about customer service and ensuring we never have to say, “no, we can’t do that”. I’m very proud to say that our customers believe 100% that we can solve anything they present to us and that belief is based on experience working with us.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

BSM: When a doctor tells you that you’re a perfectionist, there is really nowhere left to hide from that trait. I realize it’s actually a personality trait, but I believe it’s important that I’ve harnessed it and used it to ensure we create world class products in my companies.

Staying with personality traits, I’m also extremely competitive. I mean competitive beyond reason to a point where it impacts my daily life. I think I’ve harnessed that too. I love technology bake-offs where companies pilot two or three solutions and the bigger the competitor the better for me. My companies have always done very well in these situations.

I’ll finally answer with one true character trait, I’m adaptable. I surround myself at my companies with talented people who are adaptable. I find it’s the character trait that most enables us to keep up with the fast changing world of leading edge technology.

While perfectionism and competitiveness contributed heavily to my accomplishments, those traits together can be fairly volatile. I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage those with the same type of traits to listen to the calming voices around you. My calming voice has been with me since we were boyfriend and girlfriend at 15, later and still married. She remains my calming voice today.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

BSM: We’re focused on manufacturing and today around 25% of manufacturers are using AI. While it’s quickly becoming disruptive, I think there was a bit of a false start. Early adopters were launching AI initiatives with a fraction of the data needed. There was this great digital transformation revolution underway that was interrupted by AI and a premature jump to AI initiatives.

That all actually worked out well for us because we’re about AI fed by a holistic data set with no digital blind spots. You don’t have to choose digital transformation or AI, there is a coordinated approach to both with Thinaer.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

BSM: Today Computer Vision AI leveraging deep-learning technology is what we see the most.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

BSM: We hear a lot about aging machines in manufacturing but there is something else that I believe will have an even greater impact and that is the aging workforce who runs those machines. There is certainly a push to replace humans with smart machines for certain tasks but where humans will still be a part of the process, we also need to be thinking about capturing the intellectual capital that will continue to be drained as the work force retires.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

BSM: We have been heavily focused on creating a holistic data set so that our customers can supercharge their AI initiatives. We also carefully engineered our IoT platform so that AI is a layer on top of SONAR.

I see the ability to tie a business problem back to the appropriate model or models as the most important skill set.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

BSM: Zeroing in on where to focus our efforts is a challenge right now. AI is a big word, it gets thrown around a lot and usually incorrectly. We’re working to define a number of reusable approaches that our customers can adopt and skill up around a fenced in set of reusable AI initiatives.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

BSM: For the most part, what we do and what most of the manufacturing industry is doing with AI today is safely on rails. What I mean by that is that the manufacturing industry is looking to solve targeted problems associated with yield and quality which provides a fairly natural fence around how AI is being applied.

Ethical discussions are beginning to ramp up more and more though around replacing human tasks with AI. I believe everyone can agree that where safety, quality and yield are improved by AI it makes sense to leverage the technology. As the technology becomes ubiquitous, we have to realize that there will be a meaningful impact on jobs. So, what is the right balance and how do we re-skill or up-skill the workforce that gets impacted.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1 . The most important thing to do is to embrace it. AI is not a passing fad, there are simply too many measurable benefits. Know that your competitors will utilize it in some form at some time.

2 . Prepare for AI to become a part of your operations. There is no shortage of companies who are willing to guide you through your entire AI journey. Keep in mind that those companies have their own agendas and their own corporate revenue goals which don’t always align with yours. It’s important to have an expert or experts on your own staff who are participating in the project and who can continue to advance your AI efforts with or without an outside consulting firm.

We watched a leading manufacturer spend hundreds of millions with outside firms trying to gain data backed business intelligence. Once the budget was exhausted they were still left with bringing in a company who had more of a canned end-to-end solution.

3 . Remove the astigmatism ahead of time. Consider the AI articles and commercials that your staff are seeing. The current narrative is that AI is an out-of-control technology out to take over our companies.

Targeted internal PR around the benefits of properly deployed AI could go a long way.

4 . Budget wisely. I say that because AI is still leading edge technology and leading edge technology comes with bumps in the road. Expect, plan and budget for unknowns to occur so that you get to your ultimate goal which is improved yield and quality.

5 . Measure results. I’m a big believer in what gets measured gets done and measuring results along the way can provide insight into program changes that may be necessary.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

BSM: The most common misconception about AI is what it actually is. Many of the AI projects people talk about are actually complex statistical comparisons. Often there is no deep learning involved at all.

Then there is the hysteria driven by television commercials and online posts where AI compared to the wild west as an example.

AI is a valid technology tool that can absolutely increase yield and improve quality and as it’s being applied in manufacturing, AI is fairly safely on rails.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

BSM: There is more sand in the bottom of my hourglass today so I have a number of important life lessons. I’m particularly fond of my 2024 life lesson quote, “Wag more, bark less”. It goes hand in hand with another favorite quote, “The journey is the destination”. We can all be so heads down on trying to force our way to a set of goals that we don’t even realize we’re living the life today that we once prayed for. Enjoy the journey and wag more along the way!

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

BSM: Geopolitical issues keep me up at night. As someone guiding a growing business, I’m always carefully watching what’s going on here in the United States but that is not enough, you also have to stay current with what’s happening around the world and it’s a little scary right now. Our supply chains are global at a time with tremendous global tension. It’s also obvious that the world’s most powerful leaders have very different priorities and goals for their countries.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

BSM: I would love to start movement to identify technology talent from unconventional places. Affluent neighborhoods and schools are already well represented in corporate technology jobs. Other talent exists though, these young people just aren’t in the same places that we’ve always looked and they may not look the same.

I would like to start a movement that starts solving for a diversified workplace well before young people enter the workforce.

Where would I be if a test hadn’t flagged me? There was nothing about my appearance and my family was far from affluent, who knows where I would have ended up.

How can our readers further follow you online?

LinkedIn here

YouTube here

Company blogs here

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.