Over the last few months, we’ve had many interactions with OSIsoft; we were delighted to attend its recent European user conference in London’s vibrant docklands and followed that up with a number of conversations. The numerous encounters gives us a chance to look back and consider how things are moving forward for the organization. As always, OSIsoft attracted a plethora of large industrial companies that are household names to its event, not just to attend but to speak about their successes with PI System.
OSIsoft has for many years thrived on an enormous and faithful band of PI System users. It’s clear they’ve unerringly focused on the thing they do best: data historians and infrastructure. Over the last few years, OSIsoft has continued to grow by expanding its footprint into new markets and by focusing on enterprise agreements with largest customers to continue to drive license and maintenance revenue. OSIsoft has always maintained that it doesn’t compete with implementation partners; indeed it has encouraged the analytics software industry to use PI as the basis of much of its work. Despite this posture, the company recognizes that it has much more to do as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) starts to push the goalposts in terms of handling data.
Digital Transformation and Lots of Data
OSIsoft’ s process industry customers (and increasingly discrete and batch customers) have grown to depend on PI System as the main source of process data from single plant to multimillion dollar enterprise systems. These customers and almost all the use cases have focused on plant data and operational processes. Digital Transformation is fundamentally changing the way data is gathered, organized and used.
The number of connected devices is expanding at a previously unimaginable rate but, more importantly, the Internet of Things (IoT) changes the nature of connected devices. Sensors with internet connectivity enable the rapid deployment of new means of gathering data at a low cost and, potentially, in a chaotic way. Even in a plant environment, these IoT sensors will often bypass traditional control systems since companies can't justify the extra cost of IO and connections. The data landscape will become much more heterogeneous with IoT sensors, control systems, business systems and external cloud data all becoming an integral part of a typical dataset.
As well as handling the vast variety, volume, and velocity of data (the sensing as OSIsoft puts it), this vendor positions itself as a platform for using the data after collecting it and supporting the "thinking" and "acting" processes. It has already proven itself capable of being a system of record for operational data and is well placed to become the platform for much of the data storage and computing needed when using this data in new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and advanced analytics. The platform must demonstrate its abilities to handle all the necessary backroom tasks such as privacy, security and, critically, timeliness. Finally, the platform will need to support human and machine interaction with all the new HMI technologies such as mobile, virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) and other upcoming technologies.
LNS Research strongly believes that OSIsoft is a leader in plant data management, especially in process industries but, not necessarily those alone. The company supports 12 named industries but has a presence in many more as a result of indirect sales and partners that embed the PI system. One example is Rockwell Automation which uses PI at the manufacturing operations layer and also embeds it in PLCs and lower level devices. Many Rockwell Automation customers are happily introduced to PI, a system they might not have considered if it wasn't part of Rockwell Automation's offerings.
Playing on The Edge
This brings us to another key new OSIsoft strategy, launched at the London event: Edge. Two offerings were included, Open Edge Module and Edge Data Store. The latter is similar to the Rockwell Automation partnership but expands it across other alliances; we can expect to see much more embedded PI in the medium term.
The Open Edge Module is a much more interesting proposition. It is an open source application that allows Linux-based devices or smart sensors to speak to the PI System. When a device is connected, it can automatically create the necessary data structures in PI to collect the sensor’s data in the correct context. PI customers who are considering specific sensors should get their sensor supplier to talk with OSIsoft – it can help everyone.
Historically, the PI system has sat alongside SCADA and MES systems with control systems below and business above. In the new world of IIoT, it will face competition from above in the form of IoT platforms, especially those with a strong industrial bent and also major public clouds such as Azure and AWS; these provide processing power and storage (now even including time series data). At the other extreme, there are companies like Foghorn that concentrate on edge analytics. In the middle, we see many vendors like Seeq that focus on analytics on top of time series data. In the end, both approaches with holistic analytics are needed and dependent on use case. OSIsoft is a company that can potentially span all aspects; the vendor has created integrators for streaming data to cloud platforms and is recruiting analytics and edge companies to build on top of it (Microsoft, Foghorn, and Seeq are partners). Still, it will take some new thinking and getting out of their comfort zone. The London event was the latest step in that direction.
Partners, Advisory, Customer Success
OSIsoft has always prided itself on being focused on the PI platform and supporting partners to deliver applications. At the London event, there were many partners including modern analytics vendors and all sorts of implementation specialists. Not competing with your partners is generally a good strategy but as we move into an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) world, OSIsoft has started to deliver more than just product support with its advisory services. This is good to see as PI customers need help along the way if they are to convert a solid data historian into something that delivers more value by handling data from the plant and beyond.
PI System is not an IIoT platform, but it provides best in class connectivity to industrial plants and streaming data. By extending to the edge and with good occulting advice on how best to integrate PI into a digital transformation program, industrial customers have a great way of managing the ever-increasing demands for valuable data.
It's impressive that a company focused on such a specialized field gets 1400 professionals to turn up for a regional conference – and a lot of them are happy customers willing to talk about their success. We look forward to Barcelona in 2018 when the event will be rebranded as PI World!