Keywords: Data as a Service, DaaS, Historians, Data Management, Key Performance Indicators, KPIs, Analytics, Visualization.
Senior management from Industrial Evolution recently briefed ARC Advisory Group about the company's Data as a Service (DaaS) offering. This included details about an interesting engagement in which one of its clients – Ashland Inc. – uses Industrial Evolution's cloud-based DaaS to gain real-time insights into its own customers' operations to help them perform better.
Industrial Evolution is a global service company that provides its DaaS solutions to a wide variety of process industry clients, including many major oil & gas, chemical, power, and renewable energy companies. The company applies its DaaS solutions to help customers "derive business value from real-time data from within and across corporate boundaries." It does this by collecting the data; managing, massaging and analyzing it as needed; storing it; and presenting data-derived information to users in a convenient format when and where it's needed for real-time decision support.
About Data as a Service
Data as a Service is yet another in a series of established and emerging "services" that provides specific functionality to users on demand, typically through the public cloud, private clouds, corporate intranets, or some combination of these. In the case of DaaS, the functionality includes collecting, managing, and storing client data, and then massaging and analyzing it to extract actionable information to deliver to appropriate end users across the client's organization.
DaaS typically functions independently of the specific data capture vehicles (intelligent devices, systems, software applications, historians, or even manual data entry) and information delivery platforms (PCs, tablets, smartphones, etc.). DaaS benefits complement many of those provided by other services: flexibility to add or reduce specific capabilities as needed, rapid scalability, global access for authorized users, full solution support, and the often-significant cost savings associated with not having to purchase, implement, configure, and maintain and support incremental hardware or software. Additional benefits from SaaS include improved data quality and consistency and advanced data analysis and visualization capabilities.
DaaS "Industrial Evolution-Style"
Industrial Evolution's DaaS solutions are powered by the PI System from OSIsoft, the company's partner (and part owner). Most ARC clients are already familiar with PI, a real-time historian and information management platform that's widely used throughout the process industries. Industrial Evolution's customers do not require their own PI System since this is embedded in the DaaS solution. Industrial Evolution tailors its various DaaS solutions to meet the specific requirements of the particular industries they are intended to serve, but all have the following common characteristics and general capabilities:
Using a variety of different secure channels (cellular or satellite networks, Wi-Fi, LAN, e-mail, ftp, sftp, text message, instant message, etc.) the company collects the data directly from its clients' various data sources, freeing client users from this often onerous, time-consuming, and error-prone task. Data sources can include intelligent field devices, control and data acquisition systems, historians, flat-file and relational databases, XML messages, RFID tags, screen scrapes, handheld data collection devices, manually entered data, and so on.
Industrial Evolution then stores and manages its clients' data in a secure, hosted, "private cloud" environment. Here, the company's professional services team transforms the data into useful information. While this can be as simple as a change in standards between inbound and outbound data streams; it can also involve creating derived data such as key performance indicators (KPIs) based on industry-specific knowledge, or adding other client-specific functionality.
Finally, the company delivers the data-derived KPIs or other information back to its customers, or in many instances, directly to its customers' customers or other third parties. This delivery can take many different forms. This includes a direct stream of data to the company's customers' or other target organizations' internal systems, via secure web portal, and through both scheduled and exception-based reports (sent via email, text, XML messages, etc.).
DaaS in Practice
To provide a real-world example of how its clients take advantage of its Data as a Service offering, the company executives provided a case study on Ashland, Inc., a global specialty chemicals manufacturer.
As part of its efforts to better engage with its own customers that use the company's water treatment chemicals to improve its competitive differentiation, Ashland selected Industrial Evolution's Web*Technician, a DaaS solution designed to enable technical service providers to remotely monitor their customers' operations. In this case, Ashland uses the solution to provide visibility of inventory levels, dosage ratios, chemical analyses, and corrosion and fouling rates to gain insight that enables its customers' to improve their operations and make better use of the Ashland water treatment chemical products. Ashland private labels this Industrial Evolution solution to its own customers as the OnGuard Online data management system, promoting it with the tagline, "Always on guard. Always monitoring your system."
Ashland's global customers for its water treatment chemicals range from large refineries, power plants, and pulp and paper mills, to small hospitals. Each customer provides data from its existing historian or through new, standalone PLCs (depending on the degree to which the particular facility is automated). In either case, Web*Technician transparently retrieves and manages the appropriate data and delivers them in a secure fashion to a central database at Industrial Evolution's data center. Here, the data are stored in their original resolution for later retrieval and transformed into real-time KPIs that enable Ashland technical resources to rapidly assess each customer's performance. According to the company, the solution has the update performance, flexibility, scalability, and reliability to manage the needs of Ashland's client base (thousands of corporations) with continuous uptime 24/7, 365 days per year.
Ashland and its customers view information about facility performance through a secure portal accessed via web browser on any internet-connected PC, tablet, or smartphone. Industrial Evolution's professional services team tailors the initial set of KPIs, dashboards, and reports that Ashland's technical services team uses to advise the companies' customers. This same information helps Ashland's sales team manage supply levels, consumption rates, and identify additional opportunities to add value. Authorized users at either Ashland or its customers' sites can also tailor the information into additional customized KPIs, dashboards, reports, and notifications, as needed.
The solution includes the ability to automatically alert personnel of changes in both raw values (such as supply levels) and derived values (such as KPIs) versus specified targets, limits, or deviations; enabling appropriate personnel on either team to take immediate action to resolve problems or capitalize on opportunities.
ARC has written extensively about the information-driven enterprise of the future. However, with most large companies today (and particularly large companies in the process industries) swamped with data and struggling to manage, store, make sense out of, and realize value from the tremendous amount of real-time and other data available to them; DaaS makes sense for many organizations. This is particularly true for global companies with operations that span the world, since cloud-based DaaS essentially makes physical location irrelevant.
While IT staffs are becoming harder to acquire and retain, DaaS can provide a highly secure, performant, and scalable information management capability; minimizing the need for organizations to maintain their own in-house information-management infrastructure, applications, and associated support personnel at both the plant and corporate levels.
Perhaps most importantly, DaaS can also help ensure data quality and consistency and provide organizations with the advanced analytics and visualization capabilities needed to help them make sense and gain value from their data.
Over the years, Industrial Evolution has succeeded in establishing itself as a trusted "database of record" for hundreds of well-known clients across a wide variety of process and other industries. ARC believes that real-time performance monitoring such as the company's Web*Technician service provides an obvious extension of this capability.
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