Industry Needs Driving Software Investment

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By Keith Larson

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At Invensys Operations Management, plans already are in place to spend $100 million annually over the next several years to "create the future" of industrial automation software. And at this week's user conference for the company's SimSci-Esscor and IntelaTrac brands, Invensys executives painted a picture of the company's investment priorities against a backdrop of industry trends sketched first by Peter Reynolds, senior consultant with ARC Advisory Group.

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.

From COTS to Cloud

"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.

Social Goes Mobile

ARC's next generation vision of the collaborative process automation system (CPAS) also includes increasing leverage of mobile computing and embedded social media functionality. "Social media tools will be baked into business processes," Reynolds said. Consider that each plant asset might have a Facebook-style fan page, where all the maintenance and operations professionals who work with a particular pump share their collective experience with that asset. And from a mobility perspective, nearly all workers will use a smartphone or tablet to perform at least some of their duties, even as work and home life continue to be blurred by these constant companions, Reynolds said.

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?"

Invensys' Key Strategies

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.

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