The role of the new integrated business operator in an IOps environment
A new type of operator that understands the needs of the business, when placed in the right kind of operational environment, can do much for driving profitability and larger enterprise objectives.
In the past and present for the most part, plant personnel have had to live close to their jobs. Every aspect of plant operations is typically located at the plant site except for maybe sales, marketing, and executive management. This has been a problem because people today want to work where they live, but not necessarily where the job really is. Where the job is could be dangerous, dirty, distant, and frankly, the location could be just plain dull. Today’s technology allows operations personnel to control the process from 50 ft. or 500 mi. away, allowing businesses to put control rooms, centralized maintenance, operations, and production engineering in more appealing locations where companies can attract the most talented people. Developments in control technologies and field devices, along with robust networks, enable remote process monitoring and control. This new operations, maintenance, production, and collaboration center is now commonly called the Integrated Operations center, or IOps, and the role of the operator working in an IOps center is changing just as rapidly and significantly as the location.
Management guru Peter Drucker discussed the movement toward the “knowledge worker.” Many thought that this only referred to middle management and “professional” workers such as engineers, marketers, and finance specialists. We now include IOps operators in that category. IOps operators are no longer just task workers. They have to know how to use unstructured data along with standard structured data. Their work is more cognitive than transactional. Multiple sources of information are available to them in addition to the typical process data such as market pricing, logistics plans, and financial performance targets. As a result, this type of worker directly affects the business’s bottom line. They are expected to be a business operator rather than a person who simply monitors alarms and controls the process within constraints. They have more business information available that enables dollar value decisions. They are controlling dollars per minute not gallons or pounds per minute.
This new breed of operator who works in an IOps center will not only control the process but will also have financial responsibility. These new operators are called Integrated Business Operators (IBOs).
Let’s explore the IOps center where IBOs work. An IOps center is generally built around five dimensions or attributes. These may be viewed as a continuum of functions that increasingly add business value. Not all IOps centers will require all of these attributes. It will depend on the business needs of the specific industry.
Remote operations and remote monitoring
An IBO will make use of many applications and tools to perform this new role. It starts with process control graphics. Modern digital automation systems use human-centered design concepts on their process graphics to remove as much complexity as possible. Alarm management software along with rules engines give an IBO more intuitive screens with automated management and control of the process.
KPIs (key performance indicators) and analytics applications are major factors in measuring and providing feedback to an IBO. Applications available to him or her such as production risk analysis and production risk mitigation give insight into what action is the most profitable to the business. KPIs display the results on dashboards mounted in the IOps control area and throughout the company’s enterprise. The ability to integrate the latest business intelligence data provides actionable information to IBO’s as they move up the value chain.
Integrated information from several sources inside and outside the firewall is now available via local and federated search capabilities for knowledge management. Business event monitoring is automated so that results are easy to find allowing an IBO to take advantage of an event such as weather or a higher market spot price. Inventory and material movements are integrated into the IBO’s toolset giving a broader view of logistics for collaboration with logistics operators.
Electronic logbooks are now available to make entries more consistent and available outside the control room. Access to production reports can be enabled across multiple platforms including mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Asset management is now part of the IBO’s integrated function. This encompasses such operations as risk analysis, asset strategy, safety strategy, and asset and safety system health monitoring. Production optimization is an area that includes integrating with model predictive controllers and rules engines.
Event-based electronic workflows constitute a vital element helping an IBO execute tasks by executing workflow with knowledge and experience of best–in-class process and business operations consistently and safely.
Finally, certification and self-services to provide continual training and certification helps IBOs grow and become more effective. An IOps center with training certification applications monitors training requirements and status, as well as enabling self-certification.
Integrated centralized maintenance
There are some interesting trends occurring in the maintenance area. Centralized maintenance along with the coming of a combined field operator/maintainer role uses the latest mobile technologies. More and better information provided by digital field instruments, mesh networks, powerful databases, along with greatly improved handheld devices and video help drive this trend. The role of the field operator/maintainer or mobile worker has a major impact on IOps providing boots on the ground close to the process. Mobile technology allows the field operator/maintainer to have access to information such as process graphics, maintenance work orders, electronic work procedures, P&IDs, and instrument specification sheets. Cameras can be mounted on hardhats to provide real-time visual feedback of field activities to supplement radio communications.
Mobility and advances in wearable sensors provide a good example of these advancements as we instrument the person. The more equipment an individual has, the more effective and safer he or she is. Asset and personnel tracking combining sensors and wireless networking technology provide great value for both safety and inventory when safety concerns necessitate reduction of personnel counts in process units or on platforms.
If there is one trend that really defines the next generation of operation centers, it has to be collaboration. Fortunately, the next generation of IBOs will already have a natural orientation to collaboration through their extensive use of social media tools. IBOs will use collaboration as they work in a multi-business unit consisting of maintenance, production, and business roles collaborating internally with experts at another location or any business unit throughout the enterprise. Maintenance will also collaborate externally with vendor subject matter expert (SME) services to provide support for critical systems and applications. The role of health, safety, security, and environmental (HSSE) experts collaborating with IBOs and other departments is crucial in maintaining a safe work environment.
Collaboration rooms may not be located in the same building as the control area. They may be located in a different building using video technology to connect all relevant individuals for collaboration internally and externally. For example, collaborating with parts suppliers for an upcoming maintenance turnaround assures the parts required will be in stock and at the plant on the scheduled date.
Production planning and optimization
The next step along this continuum involves IBOs in production planning, scheduling, and optimization. Functions and tasks that will be required include process planning and production scheduling. These are higher value-added responsibilities for the new operator. An IBO may not be responsible for creating the production plan or schedule, but will collaborate with production engineers and logistics planners during the process of creating the plan and schedule. The results integrated into the IBO’s workflow and KPI targets provide the information in the right context to make the most profitable business decisions.
An IOps environment that has operations, maintenance, production, and business operations communicating directly with traders or brokers can be quite profitable. The trader or broker that sells the end product needs reliable information fast in order to sell the product at the highest margin possible. Keeping a firm grip on available-to-promise, capable-to-promise, and the most complex, profitable-to-promise inventory needs validated and timely information from operations, maintenance and production. Solutions in the business domain such as enterprise performance management, operational risk management, and even production accounting all have more accurate results when the data is integrated from all the disciplines. An IBO in the IOps center will now be concerned with monitoring business KPIs. For example, an IBO will understand that while a control loop may appear to be optimized, it may actually be adding cost to production by requiring more energy. The IBO will manage costs as well as setpoints in an IOps environment. The business attributes of the IOps center enables operators to become true integrated business operators.
With the business’s need to squeeze more profit out of its processes, it's no wonder that the operator's role is becoming much different from those who went before. In today's IOps center, operators will work differently—from integrated workflow solutions to supporting technologies such as mobility—all enabling financial responsibility. This is the new integrated business operator.
Jeff Dymond is a process systems and solutions consultant for Emerson Process Management.
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