All of the process control and automation engineers and other professionals I know—and I'd bet most of those I don't know—are experts at managing and optimizing the physical fluids, chemicals and combined substances in their applications, remote sites and other facilities. It's no surprise this is the case because that's what Control magazine is all about, and it's where we focus much of our waking attention.
However, there are other, less-obvious "flows" that can profoundly affect process applications and their people. These flows aren't as well-understood, and there are fewer experts on how to deal with them. Not surprisingly, the less well-known and tangible these phenomenon are, the less expertise seems to be available to cope with them.
No doubt the most influential of these less-physical flows is the rising tide of data flooding into process facilities and organizations, mainly due to Ethernet and wireless networking and Internet protocol (IP) in all its forms from the edge to the cloud—all driven by faster, smaller, cheaper, more powerful and more capable microprocessors and their software.
Everyone seems to be scrambling to find useful ways to implement these flexible connections and take advantages of the information they generate. Do we do data processing in the cloud? At the edge? In the (God help us) fog? Or a combination of both, and if so, how much of each where? Plus how do we do it securely? This last query, of course, raises a whole other universe of worry.
To hopefully help readers manage their process control and data processing challenges, Control routinely covers data analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things and cybersecurity on a regular basis. Just see this issue's IIoT cover story and cybersecurity feature, plus "Untangle analytics."
However, while all three are huge forces, they collectively point to a less obvious undercurrent that may be even more important—namely the psychological stress that goes with staying afloat in the bag data flood, revamping networks using Ethernet and Internet, and how to keep both efforts secure. Everyone likes to ask what keeps their clients and colleagues up at night, but few examine the long-term damage of all that lost sleep, and just take it for granted that high blood pressure and heart disease are the modern world's unavoidable price of admission.
Naturally, migrating to a simpler, more capable, IP-based network and a secure, cloud-computing service should relieve much of this stress, but in the meantime there are a few other strategies that might help. First, restrict the input tsunami by limiting and prioritizing all the content generated about these topics to just the few that are most likely to be useful. Ninety-nine times out of 100, technical material pushed at me and I believe everyone else is unhelpful or worse, and must be actively promoted just because they're intended to help the sender more than the recipient. Second, if you need to learn about data analytics, Internet, cybersecurity or another important topic, do your own research. I've found that actively seeking my own resources always generates far better results than passively waiting for something helpful to arrive.
I have to be pretty ruthless in my efforts to separate a tiny bit of useful wheat from mountains of useless chaff. I have to do it because as part of my never-ending quest to find and produce feature content that may help readers do their jobs more effectively and hopefully with greater satisfaction, However, many sources report they've made similar searches, and so I'm hopeful my few recommendations can help them, too.
I also know it's tempting to ask what's so bad about all the pointless spam that fills up email inboxes and the Internet? Even if I can't use an item, it's likely import to whoever produced it, and it's easily deleted? This is true, but dozens if not hundreds of emails and dead-end websites can quickly add up to mind-clogging time drains. And, because there are still only 24 hours in a day and we don't want Control to have any blank pages, all conduits of baloney must be diverted and eliminated as fast as possible.
I believe most professionals strive to be polite in their interactions with everyone, but I think this often forces us to waste time we can't afford to lose. I'm not saying don't be civil, but many of us also need to be more respectful of our own precious time and sanity. Good luck practicing it though.