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Leading-edge technology in the gritty process industries

October 01, 2013
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A few years ago, this editor was in San Francisco. Two events were going on. The first was an OSIsoft user’s conference, which company made the market for enterprise data historians, used widely in process industries. OSIsoft was that year celebrating its 30th anniversary. Just down the street was a big Web 2.0 conference.  

A fellow editor was covering both events, and upon returning to OSI’s confab from the other, was asked how he’d compare the two. He replied, “They’re talking about the exact same things at both places. But everyone attending OSIsoft is 30 years older.” And sometimes it seems that’s how it is in the process industries.

It’s not surprising that process-control and instrumentation suppliers have over time pumped up the engineering, field and maintenance services they offer user clients. They know the problems process industries face in terms of finding good people. And it’s getting worse. Many engineers that weren’t laid off during past recessions are now ready to retire.

One consequence of process industry reliance on technology suppliers is that Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group has introduced a new practice to help users get the most for their money, “supplier performance and relationship management (SPRM).” It says the focus here is on supplier service performance associated with complex technology such as advanced control, production management and enterprise asset management (i.e., maintenance writ large) systems. ARC notes that the cost difference between buying and sustaining can be “almost four-fold.” Key performance indicators for data collection and measurement, ARC says, and use of a scorecard can facilitate a year-to-year analysis that drives continuous improvement.

For those interested in technology trends in process industries, ARC’s Industry Forum, which takes place annually in Orlando, Fla., is a great event. The dates for the next one are Feb. 10-13, and its theme is “the transition to the information-driven enterprise.”

While this may not be big news, it remains a major trend of our times. It’s truly amazing how able and eager our engineers are to take advantage of technologies developed for mass markets and billions of individuals, swiftly adapting them for production environments. These include cloud computing, mobility, social technologies, the Internet of Things, big data/analytics and 3-D visualization.

To state the obvious, information technology is different from other technologies in that we continue to see wholesale innovation. While suppliers are looking ahead several years, users are burdened with a hodgepodge of legacy systems one built on top of the other.

At ARC, one can find on the crowded floor at the evening receptions many people vitally interested in these topics.

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