The Integrated Enterprise – Are We Ready?

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There are many barriers to change in a commercial enterprise, and most of them start with a dollar sign. You are comfortable with what you’re doing. Your staff is comfortable. Sure, there may be some missed opportunities, but perfection is unrealistic. To implement enterprise-wide changes to something like your data management strategy would require cooperation across multiple departments, absorb numerous man-hours in implementation, and who can say how long it will take for all parties to get used to the new strategy and work with a level of comfort they already feel today? Is it worth it? How long will it take to recover the investment?

There are many legitimate questions to ask when considering whether or not to move toward an integrated data management strategy. How do we calculate the true cost of making such a change? A question that is very rarely asked is: What is the true cost of not making such a change?

First, let’s consider some of the reasons in favor of data integration.

Inconsistent data

One of the problems addressed by data integration is inconsistency between data on the plant floor and the business data further upstairs. Depending on the type of business, different departments typically have different goals and criteria for success. The plant floor supervisor wants to know where his products are; the executive upstairs wants to know how much his products are worth. Here is a case where we have different people querying for different bits of information about the same asset. Over time, the different goals and process definitions have led to departments using the same terms to describe different things, and different terms to describe the same things. This barrier to departmental collaboration in the manufacturing industry, for example, has led to the development of standards like ISA 95 to help facilitate the integration of manufacturing systems with business systems.

Redundant data

Another common condition is the tendency for different departments or divisions to have different ways of recording information about the same things. It is not at all unusual for large organizations to have multiple records of the same asset. For instance, if we imagine a particular production unit from the perspective of the plant floor operator, he will need to have information about where it is in the production process, its quality, the personnel involved in its production and testing, and when it will be shipping. At the same time, a manager will want to have information about how much it cost to produce this unit, how many units will be produced today, and how much we will get for it. We now have a situation where we are capturing and recording separate sets of data about the same thing.

Fewer Human Resources

This one seems obvious, but it a significant difference-maker when you analyze your bottom line. Making it easier to find needed data will allow personnel to spend more time focusing on other aspects of their jobs. It will allow for faster decisions and more immediate response to abnormal conditions. Your plant floor supervisor won’t have to make that call upstairs to find out why today’s production schedule has changed, or log in to a separate system to find out when a piece of equipment was last inspected. And the manager upstairs won’t have to call downstairs to find out why we are behind schedule today, or what happened to that shipment that was supposed to go out. Having the ability to quickly assess a situation leads to better-informed decisions made more quickly and with more immediate results.

Reduced Risk

While we are on the topic of making informed decisions more quickly, this is a good time to consider the way that decisions are currently made in many enterprises. When a decision needs to be made quickly, and the data that could support that decision is not available as quickly as the decision is needed, owners and executives are left to make decisions based on intuition. Studies have suggested that about 80% of decisions are made this way. It may work and it may not. Having the right information when and where it is needed can significantly reduce the risk involved in the decision-making process.

There are many additional benefits that can be attributed to data integration. New business opportunities can be revealed. New calculations can be used to improve efficiency and coordinate processes. Improve inventory management, energy consumption, supply chain scheduling, etc. Whether you choose to use a system of data virtualization to integrate key data from different divisions, a system of data federation to consolidate all enterprise data, or opt for a complete data integration solution that re-engineers your entire data system, the benefits are very real and yes, so is the cost. The cost, however, is a short-term loss for a long-term gain; a temporary pain for permanent growth.

So, to revisit the topic of this article: Are we ready for the integrated enterprise? The answer is irrelevant. Those who are ready will continue to prosper. Those who are not will lose the ability to compete, and will ultimately have to get ready or get out of the way.

For more information on how you can integrate and visualize your business’s data, visit: www.scada.com

Is it Time for New SCADA Technology?

Upgrade your SCADA

About 13 years ago, a new software product was released for retail sale and within its first 5 years of existence more than 400 million copies were sold. Today, over 1 billion copies have been sold. And what was this hugely successful software product? Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system for personal computers. A the time of its release, it was a significant upgrade over its predecessors in terms of performance and usability, and it was the most widely used operating system in the world for a full decade.

Then, in April of this year, Microsoft ceased extended support for this enormously popular product. No more product support or security updates would be available. Did Microsoft do this because they hated their millions of customers? Did they discover some long-overlooked defect that would render the product dangerous or unstable? No. They simply knew that better operating systems were available, and even though Windows XP was a wonderful product that served many people very well, its time had come and gone.

During XP’s wonderful run, computer technology continued to evolve. Much more powerful processors were created. Faster communication interfaces were developed. Computers began to operate in ways that could not possibly have been considered when XP was developed all those years ago. And what is the point in buying a new computer with all of these fancy new capabilities if you are running an operating system that will treat your computer as if it were built a decade earlier? The fact is that taking full advantage of your new computer’s speed and power requires a new operating system – an operating system designed for today’s technology.

What Does This Have to do With SCADA?

There is a lesson to be learned here about SCADA software in today’s industrial environment. Most SCADA systems in place today were deployed 7, 10, even 20 years ago! If we think about the way technology has changed in the last 20 – or even 10 years, it is preposterous to think that 10-year-old software is taking full advantage of the opportunites available. And not only has technology changed, but the very concepts that are fundamental to process automation have evolved beyond anything that would have been conceivable to a software developer 20 years ago. We are entering the era of big data and the industrial Internet of Things. There are more sensors and actuators on today’s plant floor than SCADA developers would have thought possible 20 years ago.

A recent article by AutomationWorld’s Jeanne Schweder investigates the changing industrial workplace and how existing SCADA systems are really holding companies back from taking full advantage of the opportunities available today. Per the article:

“Older SCADA systems were never designed to connect with the number of machines, sensors and other assets that manufacturers now want to monitor and control. Nor were they designed to handle the amount of data traffic and records these connections can generate. This lack of scalability, including the ability to access information through the Internet, can be a significant barrier to improving the quality and productivity of manufacturing processes.”

The reality is that it doesn’t matter what kind of fancy new equipment you install or data management strategies you implement if your SCADA software is operating with yesterday’s technology as a limitation. Imagine buying a high-powered sports car with state-of-the-art technology and world class performance benchmarks. Then imagine taking the engine from a 20-year-old sedan with half of the horsepower and twice the emissions and using it to power your new sports car. Do you expect to get the maximum performance out of the car? The same top speed? The same acceleration? What about your gas mileage? Can we really expect any of the hardware to perform up to its potential?

Old SCADA technology can have the same sort of limiting effect on your automated processes, regardless of how smart your equipment or your management strategy is. The AutomationWorld article above provides some suggestions for comparing SCADA platforms. The suggestions include:

“…tools for HMI graphics that are easy to learn and let you become productive quickly; the ability to easily expand the system for facility changes and growing data needs; an open format such as SQL Server for data storage, which means you don’t need to buy a third-party package for data analysis; and the ability to interface with software and hardware from multiple vendors.”

If you evaluate your SCADA software and find that these criteria are not being met, it is time to seriously consider a change. And you may not like the cost of changing, but the opportunity cost of not changing is far greater, and changing to the right platform today will not only allow you to improve your production, but will make any additional or future projects faster, easier, and much less expensive.