OPC UA enables Business Intelligence (BI)

In a special-to-the-web article for OPC Connection, OPC specialist Eric Murphy presents his thoughts on OPC UA and how it offers the promise of unifying individual business units into true enterprise-wide solutions.

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Eric MurphyBy Eric Murphy, ControlGlobal.com Columnist

Most people recognize famous quotes, but many people don’t know the play they’re from or the context they fit into. The same can be said for many familiar application terms from industry. Business Intelligence (BI) is a popular term describing the result of in-depth analysis of detailed business data from various systems. CRM, ERP, SCM and other competitive technologies all provide data and analysis, but how can these systems be unified into a complete business-wide decision platform? Just as words and phrases organized together create a classic work of art, all the data and information from these systems could be brought together and transformed into knowledge and meaning. OPC UA offers the promise of unifying individual business units into true enterprise-wide solutions.

BI 2.0 or Not BI 2.0, that is the Question
Business intelligence (BI) is a broad category of applications for gathering, storing, analyzing, and presenting data to help enterprise users make better business decisions. Traditional BI systems focus on gathering data and performing historical analysis. The next-generation business intelligence systems often referred to as BI 2.0; integrate the concepts of real-time, event-driven systems, automated logic and analysis, and scalability. Financial and consumer businesses are demanding real-time data processing so BI 2.0 applications can collect and analyze the data in near real-time and use the results to trigger events to aid in current operations. In the industrial automation world, OPC has been providing standardized, real-time data access for many years now. Industrial processes and manufacturing sites produce a tremendous amount of real-time data, which requires transformation into useful information. These organizations see the value of expanding their operations decision support systems to encompass knowledge management, enterprise resource planning, and other high-level business information systems. OPC UA will aid in delivering the components needed to implement these cross-enterprise BI strategies.

An Information System by Any Other Name…
Decision support applications, which have close links to the operational front lines, go by many names; Industrial Information Management, Collaborative Manufacturing or Industrial Intelligence systems, among others. Regardless of the name, these decision platforms are designed on real-time, data-driven technologies such as OPC. They are loosely coupled and highly interoperable systems which promote standardized application integration.

The raw data exists across the enterprise, in control systems, historians, laboratory results, databases, and countless other sources. Providing real-time and event information from the process with little latency is what OPC is designed to do, and just as OPC has provided interoperability among devices OPC UA can supply connectivity to disparate business systems. So, what role will OPC UA play?

All the Enterprise is a Stage, and OPC UA Servers Merely Layers
First and foremost, OPC plays a key part in collecting and presenting real time information. OPC UA supplies subscription and notification services that encompass real-time, event and historical data models. OPC UA provides a fast, interoperable and reliable service-based interface to the real-time data sources. However, getting the raw data into the system is only the first Act. The analysis which ERP, SCM or CRM applications provide is often limited to the business functions under their control. Many times they tell part, but not all, of the story of why a process is performing at a particular level. Getting the full picture requires aggregating and analyzing data across multiple functions and applications. This is another part OPC UA is well suited to perform. OPC UA provides a rich information model and standardized messaging which will provide interoperability between the various event processing and automated analysis applications. Finally, any cross-enterprise management system must be scalable, and secure. All aspects of the OPC UA specifications have been designed with both robust security and a wide range of scalability in mind.

All’s Well, that Ends Well
Information fuels business and plays an essential role in developing and maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage. The promise of next-generation business intelligence systems represents a fundamentally new vision of how businesses can use information that includes dynamic, automated in-process decision-making. Providing these business applications with a standardized, secure and robust infrastructure is the perfect role for OPC UA, the next generation in systems interoperability.


  About the Author

Eric Murphy, BSc, PEng (Alberta), is a chemical engineer with a process control specialization and an OPC expert. Eric has been a part of the OPC community since its early beginnings in the mid-1990s. He is heavily involved with the OPC Foundation and currently acts as the chair for the OPC Historical Data Access (HDA) working group. Eric is also a member of the OPC Technical Steering Committee (TSC) and an active member of the OPC Unified Architecture (UA) working group. Visit Eric at his Blog, the OPC Exchange, to follow the latest trends and discussions about OPC technology, or click here for free downloads.

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