Why Industrial Information Management (IIM) and .NET is the Answer

Abstract: A business paper which considers how using Microsoft .NET systems can help manufacturers enhance competitive advantages by sharing information in real time to maximize collective resources and deliver superior value to customers. Industrial Information Management, (IIM) leverages the .NET capabilities by enriching data into valuable information through downtime, quality, reporting and other analysis modules, and making it available for decision-makers throughout the enterprise.



Echoing a mantra from the ‘60s, organizations continue to struggle for answers in their search for ways to get people to share, work together and make the world a better place. In the new millennium, the answer will be IIM and .NET.


For the last 30 years manufacturers have been installing "stovepipe" systems to automate manufacturing and business processes. While these systems have improved production efficiency, they have further divided and impaired communication between the various parts of the business. Balancing the benefits of growth are the cultural and systemic constraints imposed on teamwork between production, customers and corporate management. While the cultural differences between parts of an organization need to be bridged from within, Microsoft has embarked on an ambitious plan to solve the systemic issues by developing systems that support enterprise wide collaboration and information sharing.


The question being addressed is, how can manufacturers enhance competitive advantages by having all their people and systems working more closely together, collaboratively so to speak, sharing information in real time to maximize collective resources and deliver superior value to customers?


Figure 1: Citect's Industrial Information Management shares information throughout the enterprise


Enhancing Business Efficiency

Leading manufacturers have automated production processes and are now looking for new ways to lower costs, improve differentiation and drive profitability. With diminishing returns being offered by further production automation investment, manufacturers are looking at collaborative technologies and asking if this is the next driver in the march towards enhancing business efficiency?


Microsoft and a number of leading industrial automation and information management software vendors are working hard to provide the answers. Citect, a leader in the packaged HMI/SCADA software market, is developing Industrial Information Management (IIM), solutions designed to help manufacturers use the data contained in their plant floor systems throughout the enterprise. By offering manufacturers various means of integrating plant data into the context of business decision-making processes through new portals and value-added production analysis modules, Citect is enhancing business efficiency.


Microsoft .NET is a bold initiative that includes a whole new generation of software that includes services, protocols and servers aimed at taking software to the next level of interoperability and personalization. Users and businesses will be able to leverage the new generation of products and infrastructure to view information any time, any place and on any device.


From a developer point of view it is an improvement on the current COM/DCOM technologies that make it easier for developers to build integrated web enabled applications. It is not so much about new technologies, but rather integrating existing technologies in a more seamless manner. It allows developers to concentrate more on their specific areas of expertise while Microsoft provides a more collaborative infrastructure. This is a significant advantage to developers as expertise and costs involved in developing distributed services, databases and other infrastructure is considerable.


Engineers often ask what does .NET offer plant floor users. The short and sweet explanation is that apart from some evolutionary improvement in client access, .NET won’t have you rebuilding your plant floor systems. Richard Bailey, Product Marketing Manager, IIM, Citect says, "While HMI/SCADA vendors are leveraging .NET to develop products for the plant floor, the focus for next generation of software is on integrating current software products onto a common web centric architecture and sharing data with enterprise users." Although .NET isn’t going to revolutionize the plant floor, it is going to provide considerable value to manufacturers. And we all should be listening.



  • "Microsoft .NET is a set of Microsoft software technologies for connecting your world of information, people, systems, and devices. It enables an unprecedented level of software integration through the use of XML Web services: small, discrete, building-block applications that connect to each other—as well as to other, larger applications—via the Internet." Microsoft


.NET is a technology enabler for Microsoft’s strategic diversification from the end user device and application markets that it continues to lead into the enterprise application and server markets. Unlike current Microsoft products, the .NET framework empowers organizations to be collaborative and thereby become more focused and efficient. Microsoft’s Bill Gates says, "Business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50."


It is aimed at helping manufacturers share and leverage plant floor data in real time to support business decision-making processes. Its web centric infrastructure will make it easy to share information between plant floor and business and production management systems. It will irradiate the custom interfaces, "stovepipe" systems and silos of information that currently make it challenging for manufacturers to develop IT infrastructures that support collaborative and efficient organizations. It will allow information to cross-organizational boundaries and ultimately improve competitive advantage for the business.


  • Microsoft .NET is built upon new interoperability standards based on open web technologies; which include the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and the eXtensible Markup Language (XML).


For example, making it easy to share real time production information with customers and suppliers to improve service levels and reduce supply chain inventory levels; providing corporate management real time access to key production indicators (KPIs), by product, plant or country; and real time tracking of production and quality statistics against forecast. Most manufacturers already generate this information through manual and custom applications, as the information is a requisite for supporting customers and suppliers and making production scheduling and business investment decisions. The revolution in this area is that .NET makes this information available in real time, automatically, with rich analysis tools, to a wider range of users (each with a personalized interface), and at low cost.


The Plant Data Exists, it’s About Making it Available to Decision-makers

Key to the value proposition offered by Industrial Information Management (IIM), solutions is that much of the required data already exists. The goal of IIM vendors is to enrich the data into valuable information through downtime, quality, reporting and other analysis modules, and to make it available for decision-makers throughout the enterprise and supply chain. The value provided by IIM systems increases exponentially with the number of connected data sources, such as HMI, SCADA, DCS, MES, LIMS, Maintenance and ERP systems and users.


Figure 2: IIM capabilities connect plant and business systems to enable better informed decision-making


Once connected to an IIM system, the data becomes abstracted (allowing queries to be made on both plant and business data sources simultaneously), and structured, thereby enabling ad hoc queries and sophisticated analysis to be carried out with ease.


For example, Production systems contain 'as built' information for batches and production lines. Business systems contain information on how products are to be made, (eg recipes). Comparing those two for quality, inventory or financial purposes can only be done efficiently if data can be acquired and compared seamlessly between these two disparate systems.


ARC's Craig Resnick, Director of Manufacturing Marketing, reports, "We are seeing customers across many industries solving small portions of the problem, and it’s difficult to see which solution is prevalent." Because these solutions are complementary to existing systems and non-invasive, manufacturers are increasing the return on existing automation/IT assets and reducing risk by deploying IIM in parts or modules rather than complete systems. The modular approach reduces risk by easing implementation barriers and allowing manufacturers to achieve quick payback on their investments.


.NET Lowers Total Cost of Ownership of Software for Manufacturers

The .NET infrastructure will lower the total cost of ownership of software for manufacturers in unprecedented ways. The new tools, services and applications are based on "open" technologies that connect to legacy systems and, because the clients are browser based, are easy to learn and maintain.


Unlike new systems of the past, .NET based products will leverage the already ubiquitous internet/intranet infrastructure, so manufacturers can reuse existing infrastructures rather than building and learning new network systems. And because .NET supports multiple devices, desktops, laptops, PDAs and cell phones without need for extra middleware or protocol translations, users will have unprecedented access to information. Information anywhere, any time and any place.


Citect was an Early Adopter of .NET

A majority of leading software vendors including Citect, Wonderware, Rockwell, Siemens and Iconics are developing products using .NET. John McMahon, General Manager of Technology for Citect says, "Citect was an early adopter of .NET, and has become the first to release .NET based products for the Industrial Information Management arena. .NET has enabled Citect to develop software faster, improve product quality and take a step change in our development capabilities." Modules already running on the .NET framework include Citect Plant2Business Historian and the Plant2Business Downtime solution, with more in the pipeline.


.NET is the natural evolution of software applications to a lower cost, yet more powerful and collaborative architecture. Microsoft’s new tools are enabling software vendors to quickly develop products that leverage the ubiquitous power of the internet/intranet as a low cost, easy to learn, use and maintain platform for connecting. Manufacturers are seeing the emergence of a new system paradigm and have the opportunity to significantly enhance their competitive premise through collaborative and integrated systems. The new systems will give decision makers all the information they need - when and where they need it - in the context of their business, to improve the speed and quality of decision-making processes.


Even by unleashing the power of .NET, the challenge of migrating cultures and encouraging people to provide customers with high quality solutions in a team like manner remains. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither is true competitive advantage.




This paper was written by Frank Volckmar, General Manager, Marketing, Citect Pty Ltd.  Citect Pty Ltd is a worldwide leader in industrial automation and information management. Its Citect and Plant2Business software are complemented by professional services, customer support and training. These solutions are enhanced by strong partner programs and are sold in numerous industries, including water and waste water, facilities monitoring, gas pipelines, mining, dairy, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and power distribution. Citect is headquartered in Sydney Australia, has offices in Australia, USA, Europe, China and Africa, and its products are distributed in more than 40 countries worldwide. For more information on Citect or their products, please Contact Citect or visit their web site at www.citect.com.


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