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From a technology perspective, the industrial automation arena will be shaped by the continued adoption of the same computing technologies that are reshaping work and personal life outside the plant perimeter. These four mega-trends include the cloud, mobility, embedded social and analytics/big data, Reynolds said.
"Today's plant automation system is mostly COTS and resembles an enterprise data center," said Reynolds, noting the extensive use of commercial, off-the-shelf computing technology in control system environments. "Complexity is high; cybersecurity is a worry; and data integration is often sub-optimal," Reynolds said. Add to this mix poor role distinction among automation and IT staff and ever-more-thinly stretched technical resources, and the time is ripe for better leveraging of cloud technology in order to better manage operational risks.
"Applications already have been 'externalizing' for quite some time," Reynolds noted. Drivers for continued cloud adoption include shortage of physical space on-premise and high overhead costs. "IT is not a core competency. And since IT infrastructure is now effectively a commodity, it's better for those who are left to focus on analytics and optimization." ARC envisions that much application software functionality above regulatory control in the plant's automation hierarchy will soon be supplied by automation vendors via the cloud.
Finally, the era of "big data" already is upon us, and the next need is for analytics to make better sense of it all. Increasingly forward-looking analytics will provide deeper insight into process conditions than a simple data dashboard can. "We know what happened and what's happening," Reynolds said. "Now we're looking at what should we do next? What are our options?"
Within Invensys Operations Management's software business, global reach, technology innovation and service excellence are key strategic initiatives moving forward, said Ravi Gopinath, president of IOM's software business, which includes SimSci-Esscor and IntelaTrac as well as the company's Wonderware and Avantis brands. The company is investing to extend its reach in developing economies, develop new technologies that will define industrial automation software's next generation, and deliver a growing range of services intended to help its customers realize value and manage risk."Manufacturing and industry has changed, requiring a fundamental rethinking of how companies will attain real-time operational excellence," Gopinath said. "Executives, managers and operators need to envision the future of their business, understanding how they can become more flexible and sustainable. By taking advantage of new underlying technologies, IT platforms and software, by better organizing and enabling their workforce and by improving their overall asset reliability, they will be able to create and sustain a flexible, successful business, one that is built for today and the future."
The company's core business is in batch manufacturing, heavy process industry and, increasingly, infrastructure applications such as transportation systems and water distribution networks. These industries have both common business needs and unique requirements that Invensys must continue to address. "Services, too, have become a critical element of our offering," Gopinath said. "We are increasingly cognizant of the fact that technology isn't sufficient. We want to ensure that our software can be uniquely customized to fit the needs of a diverse range of customers, and at any point in the value chain."
Refinery applications are of particular interest to the SimSci-Esscor user base, and several new product announcements made at this week's user group meeting had particular resonance with those customers. "Consistent with our overall goal of providing customers with cutting-edge technology systems and software that help them quantify and understand the financial impact of their business decisions in real time, we have extended our portfolio of offerings to help drive profitability and performance improvements across the refinery," said Tobias Scheele, vice president, advanced applications, Invensys Operations Management. "For more than 45 years, Invensys modeling and optimization solutions have helped make refining better. These latest offerings strengthen our commitment to the HPI sector."