The start of 2016 has brought some fascinating news from the industrial control world. First we heard that PTC has acquired Kepware, and then there was an announcement that SAP and OSISoft are partnering to bring SAP HANA and the PI System together. This news is a strong indicator that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is starting to take front stage in companies involved in industrial software.
Thingwork Goes Industrial
The PTC acquisition of Kepware demonstrates its continuing drive to be a leading IIoT supplier through strategic acquisitions. Kepware is a long-time leader in data acquisition from the shop floor. For over 20 years it has been developing protocols for communication with every conceivable type of shop floor equipment and, in particular OPC (a family of standard industrial protocols) capabilities that are used by many manufacturing software companies. It has also developed a server, KEPServerEX, used to deliver shop floor data to higher level systems. KEPServerEX has evolved into an IIoT server to provide shop floor data to any IIoT platform.
PTC announced that it will integrate KEPServerEX into its ThingWorx IoT technology platform. To date, ThingWorx has been seen more in consumer IoT applications than industrial ones. The acquisition demonstrates that PTC has not forgotten its industrial roots, and is potentially an excellent starting point to move ThingWorx towards full IIoT capability.
SAP Becomes OSIsoft PI System Reseller
SAP has had a lengthy relationship with OSIsoft. Both are some of the leaders in their respective industries, and SAP’s strength in business software for industrial giants has meant that accessing data from PI is nothing new. Over the past year or so, SAP and OSIsoft have developed a new connector called SAP HANA® IoT Connector by OSIsoft that allows HANA users to configure access to any PI information and then use it in HANA analytics applications. HANA is starting to be rolled out at an accelerating pace (SAP claims a doubling of customers in Q4 2-15) and, given the preponderance of industrial customers, it seems clear that the PI connector will be deployed widely.
The most important thing about the PI connector for SAP and OSIsoft customers is that configuration of data to be collected becomes very simple, greatly reducing the time it previously took to program access to PI data. This is a true coming together of the Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) data, and the ease of use should bring together the IT and OT people, as well. The ability to combine business and manufacturing data on a single platform and to include large volumes of sensor data in big data analytics will transform the way that manufacturing companies measure and improve their businesses.
Where to Next?
These two announcements are hardly the first in the growth of the IIoT, and they will not be the last. However, LNS Research believes that the timing will be seen in the future as one of the turning points in IIoT development. The LNS Research model of the IIoT platform is made up of four main pillars: Cloud, Big Data Analytics, connectivity, and application development. At first glance these moves could be seen as covering only connectivity and inevitable analytics. Connectivity addresses some of the top operational challenges we see in our industry research; The advent of the IIoT should reduce the issues with disparate data sources and, hopefully, the lack of collaboration across departments.
My colleague, Dan Jacob, recently wrote a blog about what systems are masters of what data, particularly between Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) systems and quality systems. If we look at the promise of a partnership like those we are discussing here, manufacturers will be able to take a different approach to data sharing and the applications that use that data.
Today a typical MOM solution is on premise and delivers a wide variety of functions including production execution, data storage, manufacturing intelligence, and plant quality. An IIoT platform with easy access connectivity to plant devices will open up the possibility to share information in a much more useful way. If an enterprise quality management system (EQMS) was running on the IoT platform it could access MOM based plant quality information and sure that both systems were always in sync.
The most exciting thing about high quality connectivity from the plant to the IIoT platform is application development. We expect the development environment on the platform to be easier to use than traditional plant level solutions and that will lead to the development of simple apps that can directly affect the plant. My long term vision foresees the day when monolithic MOM systems are no longer required, as most of the functionality will be developed as IoT apps that communicate with each other over the IIoT platform; and with the plant through gateways such as those provided by Kepware and OSIsoft. Manufacturing IT is entering exciting times.