All-in-one software ain’t for everyone

Did you hear the story about the used car dealer who couldn’t sell a beautiful, low-mileage, late-model Oldsmobile because they couldn’t figure out how change the boot-up graphic in the dashboard display? No one wanted a car that showed a picture of the previous owner’s kids every time you started the engine.

There’s a whole class of automobiles built over the past 20 years that are vexing owners, being shunned at resale and will probably go to early appointments with crushers simply because they have proprietary infotainment systems. From Acura to Volkswagen, carmakers have independently and competitively tried to come up with all-in-one systems that present information, allow configuration and control of auxiliary systems, and communicate via cellular networks to support navigation, monitoring and emergency notification features. Many of these systems require deep knowledge to operate and maintain, and they’ve been crippled by advances in networks, displays and computing power.

Such systems are frequently discontinued by the carmakers, go unsupported and replaced on newer cars by far more user-friendly systems. I never have and don’t intend to ever buy a car with these systems built-in – the technology lifecycles are too mismatched. But I also don’t want a separate navigation system, mobile phone and myriad knobs and buttons to deal with the vehicle’s climate control and sound system functions. I’d rather pick the apps I need, and have them work seamlessly with the car.

Industrial facilities have a similar situation when it comes to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), asset management, manufacturing execution (MES) and other systems that interface with automation and the plant floor. Many such software providers offer one-size-fits-all proprietary systems with capabilities that you might already be covering with applications you already bought, know and love, but must abandon because of incompatibility issues. Instead, it makes sense to find software suites that allow you to keep what you have, buy only what you need and build as you go to keep costs down and learning curves under control.

To make this possible, the industrial space has its own set of standards, such as OPC UA for interfaces and Ethernet as a communication protocol. But while these allow applications to connect and exchange information, they don’t ensure they’ll work together seamlessly. Like choosing a smart phone operating system, it helps to start with an industrial software supplier that offers a full range of applications. This modular approach allows users to pay only for those functions they need now, knowing that they can add other functions later – often from the same supplier – and know that the modules will work smoothly together. Users can pick and choose among applications with assurance that they will integrate easily and can be independently added and upgraded—without crushing the existing infrastructure, or the budget.

Next month, I'll be hearing more from users about how they are taking advantage of this fit-for-purpose approach at the Rockwell Automation TechED event. The company's FactoryTalk suite of MES applications, for example, is structured so that users can implement – and pay for – only those functions they need now, knowing that the software's modular architecture, built on industry standards for communication and integration, ensures that their automation systems will scale and evolve in pace with the underlying technologies – and their business needs.

A brief review of the TechED 2017 program reveals an abundance of relevant sessions. A sampling of case history sessions and tutorials for the fan of fit-for-purpose software:

  • Smart Devices: Helping Design, Operate and Maintain The Connected Enterprise
  • Driving Positive Business Outcomes with Information Solutions
  • Achieve Your Connected Enterprise Vision with Scalable Operations Management
  • Scalable Analytics Overview
  • Performance and Analytics Cloud for Machine Builders
  • Health and Diagnostics at Your Fingertips
  • Microsoft: Industrial Analytics with Rockwell Automation - Power BI, Machine Learning and BOTs
  • Moving Toward a Connected Enterprise by Modernizing Your Control and Information Systems: Overview
  • Remote Access and Monitoring of Connected IoT Assets
  • Predictive Maintenance Solutions –  No Time for Downtime?
  • Digital Transformation is Revolutionizing Manufacturing and Industrial Operations

Click here to learn more about Rockwell Automation TechED.