The Open Group Launches Initial Meeting of Open Process Automation Forum

The Open Group Launches Initial Meeting of Open Process Automation Forum

By Bill Lydon, Editor, Automation.com

After much anticipation and efforts to rally support for the cause of open process control architecture, The Open Group’s Open Process Automation Forum had its first meeting in San Francisco, CA, November 16-17, 2016. Focused on developing a standards-based, open, secure, interoperable process control architecture, the Open Process Automation saw an impressive turnout for this initial meeting with 57 individuals from 30 different organizations attending. 

History

ExxonMobil has been asserting the need for a new standards effort in the process control automation area, across the country, for several years. In early 2016, having seen how a similar Open Group standards effort transformed the avionics industry, ExxonMobil approached The Open Group to potentially initiate a new open standards activity for the process control industry. From March to September 2016, ExxonMobil and The Open Group staff worked to build a “coalition of the willing” comprising end-users throughout the process control-using industries, and their key suppliers. During this time, the organizations built interest and identified potential participants via several public outreach meetings, webcasts and face-to-face conversations. As the incubation work proceeded, it became clear that there was interest from at least seven different industry sectors, who use similar systems from the same community of suppliers in their process manufacturing environments. These sectors included food and beverage, mining and metals, oil and gas, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, pulp and paper, and utilities.

The Open Group described, through their blog, a few things quickly became very clear during the first members meeting:

  • There are common pain points spanning multiple sectors (such as aging control systems and the need for more rapid technology insertion) which the proposed standards effort can address to the benefit of customers.
  • There are also similar pain points shared by suppliers in current business models.
  • The supplier community is eager to work collaboratively on an open standard for process control.
  • The participants had a common understanding that a “win-win” outcome, providing benefits to end users and suppliers, is essential and the members of the Forum are keen to deliver on this.

During the comprehensive first meeting, the members discussed the scope of the standards effort, while also creating the Forum organization, and identified interim leadership roles for the Forum and for specific work groups. The interim co-chairs for the Forum will be Don Bartusiak of ExxonMobil and Trevor Cusworth of Schneider Electric. In addition to formulating a base of leadership, the Business work group described a number of specific sub-groups in the areas of outreach, business guide development and certification. An Enterprise Architecture work group was formed, as was a Technical workgroup.

The Technical workgroup conducted a brainstorming exercise, to identify organizational potential areas of concern, that will be useful in shaping and defining the technical standard. In addition, the Forum is working on a standards landscape document, which will survey other standards for possible incorporation into the “standard of standards” that the Forum expects to create, as well as planning outreach and engagement efforts with other standards organizations.

A great deal of progress was made in a short period of time, as many of the members were eager to move forward quickly with development of the technical standard, as well as marketing and outreach activities, and consideration of a certification program. During the meeting, it was also clear that the proposed standard could be transformational in a way that actually does deliver the ‘win-win’ scenario for all industry participants. The term “renaissance” was heard more than once (and embraced by the participants) to describe the potential impact of this standards effort on the industry at large.

Forum Members (as of December 7, 2016)

User

Supplier

Systems Integrator/Consultant

BASF
Dow Chemical
ExxonMobil
Georgia-Pacific
Invista
Koch Industries   
Merck & Co.
Praxair
Shell
ABB
Aspen Technology
ATE Enterprises
Cirrus Link Solutions
Cisco
Curtiss-Wright
Emerson Process
Fujitsu
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise
Honeywell International, Inc.
Huawei
IBM
Inductive Automation
Intel
Mocana
nxtControl
Process Systems Enterprise
Relcom
RTI
Schneider Electric
Siemens
Yokogawa Electric Corporation
Accenture                             
Aramco Services
ARC Advisory Group
Conexiam
Ernst & Young
Lockheed Martin
Radix
RealIRM
TATA
MITRE
 

The number of user members that would benefit from a more open system is huge and they are not represented in the list above.  In addition, those users above are currently outnumbered by suppliers and system integrators/consultants by about 3.5 to 1. If user organizations truly believe the open process concepts expressed by the group will improve their manufacturing and process efficiency and competitiveness, it is in their best interests to join the effort.

While this first meeting of The Open Process Automation Forum was limited to members only, I had the opportunity to attend the informational meetings as well as engage in many conversations with users and vendors over the course of this year about the initiative.

Talking to some members in the evening after the first day of meetings in San Francisco, it appears that the suppliers that have joined the effort are divided into three camps of motivation.

  • Suppliers that want to protect their business with ExxonMobil and other major users that have joined.  
  • Suppliers that want to gain a greater share of business from ExxonMobil and other major users that have joined.
  • Suppliers that see the technological changes and open standards as an opportunity to expand their business.

Anecdotally from my discussions, it is worth noting that DCS supplier account/sales managers for oil and gas customers attended the meetings representing their companies. This may change as the organization evolves but these are not the people I would expect to typically have the knowledge to help create the new open multivendor process automation architecture.

Having firsthand experience participating in the early stages of similar open standards organizations, I’m sure the meeting was relatively cordial, since it was mainly to establish the organizational structure.   The tough issues that have to be dealt with, in terms of creating a multi-vendor interoperable architecture, will come later.  The huge positive to take away here is that there are a plethora of members from the computer industry, and many other industries as well, that have successfully embraced open architecture and can really deliver an impactful contribution to the effort based on their experience.

What is at stake?

The industrial automation industry has dramatically lagged in the adoption of technology in a major reason for this is been closed ecosystems. Many vendors have partner programs that are promoted as “open” but, in reality, these are highly-gated, bureaucratically controlled and closed ecosystems. 

In many previous articles, I have stated loudly that this “closed attitude is not sustainable.  The dramatic technological changes, along with the rise of open systems in the computer industry and the increasing implementations of Internet of Things (IoT) advancements that are increasing reliability, performance and cost-efficiency,  may eventually squeeze out traditional vendors as I particularly noted two articles:

Users should absolutely think about what they need to be competitive in their industries in the long term. This has been emphasized for months by ExxonMobil team, led by Don Bartusiak, and is a driving force which spawned the creation of The Open Group, The Open Process Automation Forum. In order for manufacturers to remain competitors on the global stage, their organization needs to apply the effective tools to keep on the cutting edge. The open process control architecture standards from this Forum intends to help many in the industry do exactly that. Is your company on board?

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More Information

Launch events are being planned to coincide with The Open Group San Francisco 2017, January 30 – February 2 and the ARC Industry Forum meeting in Orlando, February 6-9, 2017.

They organization encourages users, suppliers, academics, systems integrators, and others who want to help influence the direction of the standards development to become members and get directly involved. Details on how to join may be found here.

For those who want to track the progress of this initiative they have established an open LinkedIn group for the Forum, and will use this to communicate upcoming events and ongoing progress of the Forum. The group may be joined at the Open Process Automation Forum website

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