The Single Truth

In complex production environments such as refineries or chemical plants where there are many data repositories; information is often fragmented and siloed, and it becomes difficult to determine what information is useful and trustworthy.

In a volatile industry such as the process industry, having instant access to the single truth becomes an important differentiator to enable an agile response to market changes and new opportunities. A successful business strategy should act as a roadmap to enable agility in an environment of continuous market changes. The important underlying foundation of agility is digital transformation.

The Challenge of Digital Transformation

Companies are struggling to meet the challenge of digital transformation because it is difficult to understand what digital transformation means and where to start. An important cornerstone is the integration of the business environment and the production environment.

The transition to converging, aligning and integrating Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) domains is not an easy task and differs depending on whether you are working within a Brownfield or Greenfield environment. The biggest challenge for Brownfields lies within the existing infrastructure and business processes; for a Greenfield environment, it is often the absence of a business owner for OT and an undefined business process during plant construction.

Figure 1. The OT Business process lifecycle

Figure 1. The OT Business process lifecycle

Although most recognise the benefits of digital transformation and integration, a considerable number of Greenfield projects do not have an IT/OT integration plan. Instead of having one plan with one business owner, companies wait too long before planning. This results in fragmented integration or no integration at all, at the start-up of the plant. The postponement of the integration plan is often a result of designing processes focused on what is needed today rather than what a company may need tomorrow.

To make the integration happen, you need complete alignment – from the board through the entire organisation. Without commitment from the board and shareholders who understand the company strategy, it is very hard to achieve success. The integration is much more an organisational challenge than a technical one.

Integration can be defined as the discipline of bringing information together and sharing it between repositories, applications, business processes, and organisations. The starting point is a comprehensive definition of the business processes for the IT and OT domain. Once the business processes are properly defined, the integration of information, application and technology follows quickly. The integration will lead to a shared set of standards and platforms across IT and OT, which reduces costs in many areas of software and hardware management, and reduces risks caused by human error.

Figure 2. Defining the OT business process lifecycle

Figure 2. Defining the OT business process lifecycle

Any integration process starts with awareness of the issues within an organisation. The issue could be lack of a plan, no business owners, or too many incidents caused by human error.

Awareness is created by organising multiple workshops with management and the different business owners of the IT and OT domains to better understand the business processes and encouraging collaboration and integration.

Workshops provide the opportunity for management, business owners, and operations to be involved in the business process definition, requirements, and integration for the different sub-domains. The outcome of the workshops will expand the understanding of the integration challenges but also provide opportunities for collaborative problem solving.

The Master Plan

The next step is writing the master plan for the IT/OT integration. This plan serves as the company blueprint for the IT/OT integration and is directly tied to the core business goals and planning. It will identify the scope of work for the single sub domains, and the scope of work for the single sub domains, including the integration between the IT and OT domain.

Every single application in a sub-domain plays a role for different users. Typically the single application is the processing of different types of data. Whereas a process control system processes predominantly real time data, a supply chain application such as scheduling, processes mainly data in days, weeks or months. It is the diverse types of data that makes the integration so important because the single applications often need input from other applications.

Figure 3. The OT information diagram

Figure 3. The OT information diagram

Part of the master plan is the business case development. The outcome of the different workshops also provides input to the business case in the form of return on investment and risk reduction. The cornerstone of the business case is the comparison between manual operations (mainly manual transactions between applications) and integrated operations (for example transaction by means of middleware software). During the workshops, the consequences of no instant access to information, or mistakes due to manual operation, are discussed as input for the business case.

Before suppliers are invited to submit a proposal for an integrated solution, the company must undertake one more step, namely translating the master plan into ‘User Requirement Specifications’ for the single applications, the integration strategy and the project execution strategy. Without User Requirement Specifications, it is just not possible for suppliers to submit an accurate proposal. For a large project, the amount of User Requirement Specifications can be significant therefore the company has to take planning into account. It can take 18 months from the first awareness workshop until the project award. Therefore if a company waits too long they can miss the opportunity of IT/OT integration. Companies must be aware that the IT and OT domain can be considered as one eco system where everything is connected. Through integration and creating the ‘single truth’, companies are not just able to react to disruptions but also can anticipate them, creating ‘what if’ scenarios, and adjusting their organisation immediately as conditions change.

Figure 4. The project phases for an Integrated Production Management System

Figure 4. The project phases for an Integrated Production Management System