From our vantage point, we saw companies that continued to push ahead with digitalisation projects and some even doubled down on digital innovation initiatives. Companies that were prepared adapted quickly to working remotely taking advantage of multi-platform high-performance tools available to them: one happy customer was able to access operational data from his Mac for the first time; video conference meetings were renamed “zoom meetings” almost overnight.
As we sail into 2021, here at Eigen we see this process continuing supported by a few key real time operations (RTO) digital technology trends.
The 3D Digital Twin Supercharged
There is a strong trend in the Industry to learn about the world around us via a Digital Twin, which in many cases is understood to be an uber-interactive 3D representation of reality. Although there are a few quite good commercial offerings out there, computing power is still catching up with what users are demanding in terms of types and qualities of data that can be accessed, but most of all: performance. We all want to be able to navigate seamlessly in our digital 3D world, as easily as taking a walk in the park, or at least as realistic as playing an immersive video game: the gamers out there will expect no less!
While computing power and algorithms get better at a pace, the trend will be towards hybrid digital twins where various technologies combine their strengths to provide a seamless and state of the art user experience. The end result will see users navigate seamlessly from a 3D environment augmented with real time data, to fully functional process data trending capabilities, to visualising the results of advanced modelling or AI result visualisation graphs in context. Users should be able to navigate their digital world in the environment they feel more comfortable: 3D strolling, global search capabilities, or displays that make sense to represent a particular engineering problem context, which, I would insist, is not necessarily a 3D physical representation.
Real Time Data in the Cloud
Process Data Historian technology is already at least 30 years old. The stalwarts of process historian technology (and we all know who they are) had stood the test of time quite well; and a few of them have made strides to stay current with the latest IT technologies.
On the other side of the IT spectrum traditional Cloud storage providers have struggled with the real time world, thinking “oh, it’s just time-indexed data” and they have learnt the nuances of RTO the hard way. Those that decided to dump terabytes of process data into data lakes are now faced with the hard truth that masses of data without context or modified in any way from the original samples are quite useless.
However, a few new entrants, with the right pedigree or just learning fast, have started to deliver useful and fast performing real time data repositories on the cloud. At Eigen we already have deployments of Eigen Ingenuity connected to third party cloud-based process data sources over the internet exhibiting lightning-fast performance. 2021 may be the year that real time data starts to move to the cloud at a competitive cost to customers, disrupting the big fish of the Process Data Historian market. We believe this will be a gradual process, but cost of ownership reduction will be the major driving force.
A Demand for Access to Everything, from Anywhere
Gartner’s trends for 2021 include “Intelligent Compostable businesses”1, in which “organizations must enable better access to information, augment that information with better insight and have the ability to respond quickly to the implications of that insight”. Within this trend, organisations will favour functional systems and data sources with an open architecture that expose interfaces through which relevant data can be garnered and presented within context so that valuable insights can be made. The most valuable insights can be gained when data from various sources is compared and contrasted.
In 2020, Eigen developed a web portal that gathers information from 13 different data sources, some of them public APIs and including an agent to capture and store reports sent via email in a searchable database. Users love the fact that they have all the key information and KPIs they need in a single place and can drill down when required to see reports, further details, and even navigate to the source functional systems.
Moreover, in this very volatile new world, this trend requires that organisations quickly adapt to changes which again points to an agile way of working that can react to a changing environment, be that working from home or to face any other global business impact.
Continuous Deployment and SaaS Models
The trend towards cloud is as strong as ever, and according to Gartner, the trend for 2021 is the distributed cloud, which promises to “retain the advantages of cloud computing while extending the range and use cases for cloud”. I believe Real Time Operations will not be immune to this trend. In past years we saw the death of the physical server replaced by Virtual Machines (VMs) and now we are starting to see RTO data sources and applications deployed in serverless containers to the cloud using DevOps continuous integration and continuous deployment models.
IT departments within operators will expect to see continuous improvement of features, just like they are used to seeing in free services from the Big Tech companies. Long gone are the days of local installation packages: The future is about continuous innovation delivered to the point of consumption.
Aligned with this model is the Software as a Service (SaaS) licensing model where the client does not have to worry about the systems being available and updated to the latest version. The SaaS agreement may also include provision for cybersecurity controls, more necessary than ever.
A decade of Innovation
The future is exciting for all of us working in the RTO space. All these trends will empower software suppliers to surprise end users with exponentially growing features and possibilities.
As a user, you need to demand solutions that live in the cloud, access data from anywhere, present the data in the context in which it can be useful and continuously evolve to meet the changing needs of the organisation.
As Millennials take over the operations in the next decade, they will demand no less!