In a process that began to gather steam some 20 years ago, the industrial automation landscape continues to be transformed by an inrush of digital technologies developed for the broader IT market. The information technology (IT) of yesteryear was clearly inadequate for industry’s real-time automation needs, so we had no choice but to roll our own operational technology (OT) if we were to take advantage of all that digital technology had to offer.
But that far larger IT market—and research spend—meant faster development cycles and increasingly capable systems. As elements of a dated OT infrastructure are replaced with shiny new IT capabilities, we politely refer to it as “convergence,” even if displacement might be a better descriptor.
But as a recent study by the folks at ISA reminds me, it’s just fine if the underlying infrastructure is a relative commodity—as automation professionals our real value-add is at the application layer, in the information models and subject-matter expertise that allow us to ensure the safe operation of a cat cracker or to optimize the growth of mammalian cell culture en route to a new virus vaccine.
And what key activity serves to improve the performance of both industrial processes and those automation professionals charged with their upkeep? The creation and maintenance of industry standards, of course, including those developed through the ISA and other standards organizations.
Indeed, among the nearly 300 automation professionals who responded to ISA’s June 2020 survey, a majority of respondents said that industry standards (in general) will continue to be “extremely important” over the next two decades. (A full 63% responded “extremely important,” while another 33% said “important”—96% all told.)
Other key findings that testify to the ongoing importance of industry standards:
- Most respondents (87%) believe that industry standards make processes and facilities safer.
- Most respondents (81%) believe that industry standards help companies prove compliance to regulations.
- Most respondents (67%) believe that industry standards make it easier to train and cross-train people in technical jobs.
- Most respondents (63%) believe that industry standards make processes and facilities more cyber-secure.
Personal growth and contribution, too
In addition to the role of industry standards in improving overall organizational and process performance, the survey also reflected personal benefits gained by those individuals engaged in the standards-making process.
Among the benefits of standards committee membership related in the study’s verbatim comments:
- “Sharing expertise, learning from others’ experience across the broader industry, and awareness of trends and changes in industry practice.”
- “Ability to contribute to the advancement of industry knowledge, and ensure that standards reflect real-world conditions.”
- “Opportunity to share my expertise and give back.”
“In creating this survey, ISA wanted to demonstrate the value of standards to the automation community,” says Dr. Maurice J. Wilkins, executive advisor at Yokogawa Marketing HQ, ISA Fellow, co-chair of the ISA101 Human-Machine Interfaces Standard Committee, and member of the ISA Executive Board’s Industry Reach & Awareness work group. “We're grateful to the many automation engineering professionals who took the time to tell us how standards are helping them, their employees and their organizations.”
ISA's committees are eager for help, too. So, if you’re interesting in advancing industry practice—and building your own skills in the process—check out the volunteer opportunities at ISA.org. We all thank you in advance for your contribution.