Making a difference with information standards

Most organizations continue on their relentless push to do more with less as a fundamental business strategy. As everyone seeks greater efficiencies, plant engineering, operations, and maintenance staffs have less time to apply to anything other than focusing on their current workload. Unfortunately, the same situation applies to the vendors providing the products and services that enable plant...


Most organizations continue on their relentless push to do more with less as a fundamental business strategy. As everyone seeks greater efficiencies, plant engineering, operations, and maintenance staffs have less time to apply to anything other than focusing on their current workload. Unfortunately, the same situation applies to the vendors providing the products and services that enable plant operations and maintenance (O&M) staffs to run their plants more effectively.

Obviously, if organizations desire to gain better operational efficiencies, some resources must be allocated to the continuous improvement process itself. This is particularly true if organizations need to maintain operations in geographical regions with relatively high costs structures. Moving operations to a geographical region with a lower cost structure is a quick fix, but it isn't sustainable. Other solutions must be found if organizations are to have a sound business plan for the future.

Enterprise gains

As organizations continually pushed for more efficiencies, we have routinely expected many of the gains to come from more effective deployment of plant automation, information technology, and information system innovations. These deployments have occurred in a series of great waves with intervening periods of slow, but relatively continuous improvement.

While basic plant automation is now taken somewhat for granted, we have gained new capabilities as we have evolved from pneumatic to analog to digital control systems. More recently, IT and IS have become pervasive in our organizations. Virtually every employee is linked to the enterprise in some way through these technologies. Most organizations have broadly deployed Internet protocol (IP) based Ethernets, which can provide connectivity from the sensor to the boardroom. They also have deployed enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to run their core business operations. Manufacturers have also broadly deployed manufacturing execution systems (MES) that are highly specialized to their batch, process, or discrete manufacturing requirements.

What organizations have not done is to establish proper systems integration between their real-time oriented plant floor systems and their transaction-processing oriented business systems. With manufacturers, this includes a lack of proper integration between their MES and ERP systems. When this type of integration has been attempted, it has usually been based on complex, point-to-point custom interfaces. Sometimes, third-party middleware products have been used as a partial solution, but these solutions share the same weakness.

There are high costs, risks, and functional constraints associated with maintaining complex, custom interfaces as the permutations and versions of the systems in need of integration constantly change. Bridging the natural gaps between these differing categories of systems and the user communities that they serve will provide the next great wave of gains in organizational efficiencies. But there are significant challenges to be addressed.

Many of the builders, implementers, and maintainers of these differing system categories do not routinely interact. When they do, they often don't understand each other. When the people associated with different types of systems, tools, and technology do not interact well; it is almost guaranteed that the system tools and technology won't either.

Dimensions of integration

What we need are standards that enable vertical and diagonal integration of data into information and knowledge. Some standards are attempting to address this problem. But key subject-matter experts are also constrained by their inability to find and participate in every potentially relevant standards activity. Key standards organizations must collaborate to ensure efficient, effective, and interoperable standards.

The OpenO&M Initiative was formed to address the need for open standards-based integration of operations and maintenance information spanning from the shop floor to the enterprise business systems level. This initiative will help both end-users and vendors of related systems, applications, and tools to better understand and leverage the potentially applicable open information standards through the collaborative process of standards harmonization. Open standards organizations that choose to participate in the OpenO&M Initiative agree to work together to rationalize the content of their own standards and to collaborate on the development and demonstration of reference implementation models based on those harmonized standards.

Much of the harmonization effort is made practical by agreeing to share a common approach to modeling physical assets and functional segments in the OpenO&M object registry (Fig. 1). The reference implementations will leverage this shared open model, which incorporates extensive metadata. The Open O&M object registry supports a UID-based version of collaborative asset life-cycle management (CALM) and it also enables multi-enterprise CALM to provide for true asset tracking.

In order to better serve the needs of the marketplace, the OpenO&M Initiative created three, industry-focused joint working groups (JWG). MIMOSA and OPC Foundation participate in all three JWGs because their standards are horizontally applicable to all types of organizations. In addition to MIMOSA and OPC Foundation, the Manufacturing JWG, which has a focus on manufacturing and enterprise information integration and security, includes ISA-S95, ISA-S99, and the World Batch Forum (including B2MML). The Facilities JWG includes the National Institute of Building Sciences Facilities Maintenance and Operations Committee, which helps to develop and manage standards applicable to facilities managers. The Fleet JWG includes key elements from the military, which manage the world's most complex fleets.

More information about the OpenO&M Initiative is available at the OpenO&M website and at the websites of the participating organizations. Other interested organizations are encouraged to join this effort to provide interoperable standards in a harmonized and efficient format.

More info:

Alan T. Johnston is currently president of MIMOSA, a voting member of ISA-95, and a member of the Facility Maintenance and Operations Committee of the National Institute of Building Sciences. He is an active participant in two ISO working groups addressing the integration of Operations and Maintenance related information. A consultant with 25 years of software development, systems analysis, systems integration, and business development experience, Mr. Johnston has a significant focus in asset management related applications including enterprise asset management (EAM) and condition-based maintenance (CBM) systems. He can be reached at 205-553-8104 or . More information on information standards, MIMOSA, ISA, or the OPC Foundation can be found at:

ISA-SP95 and ISA-SP99


OPC Foundation

World Batch Forum

National Institute of Building Sciences Facilities Maintenance and Operations Committee

Executive End-user Council Coordinator Tim Jordheim, Cargill

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