Tim Sowell, VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric Software, always writes thoughtful and forward-looking blogs about the state of manufacturing software.  In this one, he discusses taking a lead from the human body “with reducing risk through an enterprise nervous system for industrial architectures.”

He says, “If we think about it – the human nervous system has over a billion neurons spread throughout the body to help control its various functions. If the brain had to deal constantly with a billion signals, it would “crash” the system. Thus, nature has designed a system where functions are layered in an architecture that helps create a robust sense-and-response mechanism.”

I’ve added a few books for your intellectual broadening about brain science. More and more, those of us in the more “physical” systems business are getting metaphors from biological systems. The human system is a great metaphor.

On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins (founder of Palm) 

Decartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio 

The Feeling of What Happens, Antonio Damasio

And while I’m at it, Loosely Coupled, Doug Kaye, regarding Sowell’s later statements. 

Sowell has lately been asked about flat vs. layered architecture, and a similar question around one platform vs. multiple platforms. Here are his points:

Layers allow me to contain change 

Layers allow me to manage complexity, divide and conquer 

Inter-operable layers reduce technology lock-in and increase options for clients 

Federated means lower level has autonomy but cannot violate higher level rules and principles .

He continues, “The world is made up of layers of information, interaction, and decisions . It is important to optimize across a layer, so interaction with the “things” at that layer is focused, efficient, and in context of that layer in content and time. As you transverse layers so does the context of information, the interaction between different “things” and complexity or focus change.”

Further, “In the industrial automation/ operations control has it’s layers of executing with the different equipment components in the process unit, requiring speed and tight coupling. As we go up the layers to supervisory then MES and Information, the context changes, responsibility for decisions increases, but time context changes. The “things” interacting change, combined with more complex messages with more context.”

And here is Sowell’s conclusion. This is very much in tune with what I see as the direction software is going. Interoperability being the key.

“Autonomous functions (layers) which have Interoperability is key for fast relevant actionable decisions to take place with the most efficiency. So why do we ask about one, when we should design in layers but understand the layers the context, things, and actions. But understand how the layers must be “loosely coupled but aligned” so that operational execution aligns with business strategy in near real time.”

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