Microsoft Launches ChemRA

Microsoft Corp. has launched the Microsoft Chemical Reference Architecture (ChemRA) Initiative, an effort with its partners that provides solutions to the chemical and oil refining industries to develop a reference architecture framework that will help address business and technological needs for customers in the industry. ChemRA will benefit customers by allowing them to implement interoperable IT solutions built on a reliable foundation and enable easy collaboration and business processes automation.

Microsoft partners currently participating in the ChemRA Initiative are Accenture (www.accenture.com), Aspen Technology (www.aspentech.com), Invensys Operations Management (http://iom.invensys.com), OSIsoft LLC (www.osisoft.com), PROS Holdings (www.prospricing.com) and Siemens MES (www.siemens.com/simatic-it.)

The initiative was announced in September at the MESA 2011 North America Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Ellyn Foltz, managing director, Worldwide Process Manufacturing Industries, Microsoft, says, "ChemRA provides a response to the business and technology challenges our customers and partners face today. We're helping our customers more effectively interact with and share information to compete and succeed in today's dynamic global marketplace."

The ChemRA initiative's three key goals are to:

  • Lower the total cost of ownership and increase the agility and longevity of chemical business solutions by ensuring faster development and deployment, easier integration and interoperability—speeding time to market and return on investment (ROI).
  • Provide a development and delivery framework that drives deeper, richer commonality within the customer environment by adhering to common principles—benefiting both solution providers and in-house development projects.
  • Accelerate delivery of industry solutions built on a common IT reference architecture to help meet evolving industry challenges.

Foltz cited a recent survey done with Accenture that she says underlies the need for an initiative such as ChemRA. The survey of professionals within global chemical and oil refining companies, also released at the conference, highlights the need for this type of architecture to enable more flexible IT solutions and tighter industry collaboration. Most respondents identified a divide between IT and business.

Ninety-four percent said that IT is not flexible in handling change, and 81% said that IT is not supporting or barely supporting geographic expansion. The survey further showed that many IT environments in the industry lack standardization. Looking to bridge the divide between IT and business, more than half surveyed identified collaboration as the key benefit of cloud computing, compared with slightly fewer than half who identified IT cost reduction.

The survey was conducted by the Aberdeen Group Inc. (www.aberdeen.com), and polled 127 professionals within global chemical and oil refining companies.

"Our research highlighted one of the main benefits of cloud as enabling better collaboration between global locations," says Kevin Prouty, research director of enterprise applications at Aberdeen. "With all the money poured into collaboration processes and systems in the past, it may be something as simple as cloud computing that finally drives collaboration into all the operational nooks and crannies of chemical companies."

There are no ChemRA-related products yet and won't be for some time, but, says Microsoft, the aim is to build an architecture around existing products, such as Sharepoint, SQL, the new Office suite, and Windows 7 and 8. Developers will be looking at functions such as device enablement and leveraging the cloud to enable data-intensive operations, knowledge sharing, collaboration, supply chain management and R & D.

Foltz says, "This is a multi-year initiative. It's the beginning of an evolutionary process. Our first meeting with our partners will take place in November. We're also going to be meeting with customers, working on a proof of concept, and producing a blueprint."

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