Whether you're essentially an enthusiastic supporter of the current regime and its strategy at Invensys Operations Management (IOM) or strongly critical, you're likely to have your prejudices confirmed by the latest acquisition. Despite the advance hints from IOM's publicity machine that this was a – if not the – big one, rumor has it that IOM is paying just £2 million for privately held, Bangalore, India-based Skelta whose acquisition was announced last month.
Not only is it an Indian company, reinforcing the view of those in IOM who believe that they are in the grip of some kind of Indian Mafia led by CEO Sudipta Bhattacharya, but its expertise lies in the provision of business process management (BPM) and workflow solutions, confirming the impression that they are hell-bent on transforming the once proud hardware-oriented Foxboro and Triconex into a Wonderware-branded software and services provider.
On the other hand it's entirely consistent with the strategy that has been developed and expounded over the past year or more, as Bhattacharya himself explained. "This acquisition further extends our Enterprise Control System strategy," he said. "Simply put, Skelta technology will enable Invensys Operations Management and our global network of ecosystem partners to deliver new, easy-to-configure workflow, collaboration and process-centric applications … By extending our open Wonderware System Platform and InFusion Enterprise Control System offerings, we further accelerate the development of applications that improve collaboration and workflow across people, systems and documents."
Having outsourced all of its Indian development effort less than 12 months ago, IOM was not about to get into trying directly to manage another software operation on the subcontinent from 10,000 miles away. Instead the 130-strong company, which was founded in 2003, will continue to be managed by its existing executive team, while at the same time adding its more than 80 partners, integrators and VARs to the IOM ecosystem.
Skelta's BPM offering combines conventional BPM and workflow functionality with a range of additional capabilities, including business rules management, forms management, document management and business activity monitoring and provides connectors to SharePoint, BizTalk and Microsoft Office. Far from it being, as one critic suggested, just one more competitor in a crowded market where Microsoft effectively gives away software for free, what makes it special, and especially attractive to IOM, is that it is one of the first BPM solutions to be completely embeddable. Moreover, as it's based on .NET, it can be used to extend the ArchestrA-based Wonderware System Platform and InFusion with integrated workflow capabilities. For example, it would enable an InFusion user to initiate a production change sequence as a result of a large order or manage workflows associated with maintenance issues, enabling, say, faster recovery from unplanned downtime.
Down the road, IOM plans to build preconfigured industrial and manufacturing-specific workflows into its offerings, with the aim of substantially reducing the cost and complexity of implementing high-value workflow solutions.
South African Enthusiasm
One IOM follower clearly supportive of the concept of adding further capability on top of System Platform and Infusion is Mike le Plastrier, director of South African Wonderware distributor EOH. "Expanding the System Platform offering to include a strong workflow component is almost revolutionary in the benefits it will bring to users. In asset-intensive industries such as mining, there is inevitably a requirement to work with transactional data from multiple sources, such as a LIMS, vehicle management or assay management system, to create a common platform for the complete mine … In addition, with embedded workflow solutions, System Platform is now ideally suited to allowing logic to be placed on production streams, providing, for example, real-time accounting capabilities."
Another perhaps more surprising enthusiast is Eddie Habibi, founder and chairman of PAS which has a close working relationship with IOM, but whose software might be seen as being in danger of being displaced by Skelta. That's not how Habibi sees it, however. He told Control's Walt Boyes that "We see the acquisition of Skelta as a positive development in our relationship with IOM. … Skelta's BPM solution nicely complements our Integrity Automation Genome offering."
Announcement of the Skelta acquisition came hard on the heels of the latest release of Wonderware System Platform. The enhanced capabilities in Version 4.0 include new device connectivity functions, tiered historian capabilities and significant web visualization improvements. The new historian capabilities, which are also available stand-alone as Wonderware Historian 10.0, are designed to simplify data time-stamping and information aggregation, retrieval and reporting, as well as providing improved information security and disaster recovery across distributed operations. Meanwhile the Information Server 4.0 component extends the benefits of real-time ArchestrA based graphics to users viewing HMI graphics and reports over the web. "The Wonderware System Platform 4.0 software provides a single, scalable and open platform for SCADA, HMI, MES and EMI software," claimed IOM product marketing director Steve Garbrecht.
Surprisingly, the announcement made no mention of Windows 7 certification, despite Iconics claiming the first certified manufacturer product as long ago as last October and Copa-Data making a similar announcement in March of this year. Certification is generally regarded as a prerequisite for being able to take full advantage of the enhanced security capabilities in the new operating system.
Readers may recall a similar divergence at the time of the original Wonderware System Platform launch when Iconics and Copa-Data had been among the first to achieve Windows Vista certification, which Wonderware seemed to regard as relatively unimportant. Significantly, however, and despite the market's general disappointment with Vista, both Ioconics and Copa-Data have suggested that their early Vista certification has nevertheless paid off by making subsequent Windows 7 certification much easier to achieve.