Open Standards Can Create a Safe Path to Digitalization

Credit: Mark T. Hoske/Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology.
ExxonMobil discussed its open process control pilot program, using technologies from many vendors, at the 2020 ARC Industry Forum.

The reality of competing in today’s data-driven economy means organizations need to have a clear open strategy in place for technology adoption and a clear vision for what future systems should look like. All types of companies are trying to digitally transform because of the clear benefit it provides. According to Accenture, companies that have implemented emerging technologies into their core processes are seeing their revenue grow two times faster than those who are not. Yet 97% of information technology (IT) decision-makers say legacy infrastructures are holding them back and, as a result, many companies are struggling to deploy new technology with speed and agility. 

Within the context of process automation—industries that cannot turn off their factories ever—organizations often can’t take advantage of advances in digital technologies because of the inability to insert these advances within a facility’s infrastructure.  

To keep pace with the digital age, the critical infrastructure and automation industries are looking beyond today’s control systems for new, common technologies that can help them balance requirements for uptime with the ability to take advantage of digital technologies—and they’re looking to open standards to help them. 

The Industry Case for Open Standards  

Process automation control systems are central to any industry required to maintain operations on a continual basis. These include, among others, oil and gas, petro- and specialty chemicals, utilities, mining and metal, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, and pulp and paper. For most of these, downtime is not an option. With one in particular, power generation and distribution, process automation technologies are fundamental because they fuel our everyday lives.  

More often than not, the same type of equipment and processes are deployed across different sectors, yet there are only a few suppliers providing the relevant services. These suppliers have a complete “stack,” running all the way from a device to providing information to a separate planning system. However, these systems are proprietary and cannot be easily replaced, presenting the issue of vendor lock-in. This is also limiting from the perspective of digital transformation, given that organizations are unable to deploy new technological innovations if they aren’t provided by their current supplier.  

As such, organizations are looking for common technologies that can help them balance requirements for uptime, security, and safety with the need to take advantage of digital innovation. Digital transformation does not require a “rip and replace” approach. Instead, organizations should view this as an opportunity to improve the functional capabilities of their facility and move to a new software environment that extends the life of the traditional legacy systems. 

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