Owner/Operators do see great benefits to standards for system-of-systems interoperability. Getting there is the problem.

Aaron Crews talked about what Emerson is doing along the lines I’ve been discussing. Tim Sowell of Schneider Electric Software hasn’t commented (that’s OK), but I’ve been looking at his blog posts and commenting for a while. He has been addressing some of these issues from another point of view. I’m interested in what the rest of the technology development community is working on.

Let’s take the idea of what various suppliers are working on and raise our point of view to that of an enterprise solutions architect. These professionals are concerned about what individual suppliers are doing, of course, but they also must make all of this work together for the common good.

Up until now, they must depend upon expensive integrators to piece all the parts together. So maybe they find custom ways to tie together Intergraph, SAP, Maximo, Emerson (just to pull a few suppliers out of the air) so that appropriate solutions can be devised for specific problems. And maybe they are still paying high rates for the integration while the integrator hires low cost engineering from India or other countries.

When the owner/operators see their benefits and decide to act, then useful interoperability standards can be written, approved, and implemented in such a way to benefit all parties.

Standards Driving Products

I think back to the early OMAC work of the late 90s. Here a few large end users wanted to drive down the cost of machine controllers that they felt were higher than the value they were getting. They wanted to develop a specification for a generic, commodity PLC. No supplier was interested. (Are we surprised?) In the end the customers didn’t drive enough value proposition to drive a new controller. (I was told behind the scenes that they did succeed in getting the major supplier to drop prices and everything else was forgotten.)

Another OMAC drive for an industry standard was PackML—a markup language for packaging machines. This one was closer to working. It did not try to dictate the inside of the control, but it merely provided an industry standard way of interfacing with the machine. That part was successful. However, two problems ensued. A major consumer products company put it in the spec, but that did not guarantee that purchasing would open up bidding to other suppliers. Smaller control companies hoped that following the spec would level the playing field and allow them to compete against the majors. In the end, nothing much changed—except machine interface did become more standardized from machine to machine greatly aiding training and workforce deployment problems for CPG manufacturers.

These experiences make me pay close attention to the ExxonMobil / Lockheed Martin quest for a “commodity” DCS system. Will this idea work this time? Will there be a standard specification for a commodity DCS?

Owner/Operator Driven Interoperability

I say all that to address the real problem—buy in by owner/operators and end users. if they drive compliance to the standard, then change will happen.

Satish commented again yesterday, “I could see active participation of consultants and vendors than that of the real end users. Being a voluntary activity, my personal reading is standards are more influenced by organizations who expect to reap benefit out of it by investing on them. Adoption of standard could fine tune it better and match it to the real use but it takes much longer! The challenge is : How to ensure end user problems are in the top of the list for developing / updating a standard?”

He is exactly right. The OpenO&M and MIMOSA work that I have been referencing is build upon several ISO standard, but, importantly, has been pushed by several large owner/operators who project immense savings (millions of dollars) by implementing the ecosystem. I have published an executive summary white paper of the project that you can download. A more detailed view is in process.

I like Jake Brodsky’s comment, “I often refer to IoT as ‘SCADA in drag.’ ” Check out his entire comment on yesterday’s post. I’d be most interested in following up on his comment about mistakes SCADA people made and learned from that the IoT people could learn. That would be interesting.

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