“Over the past decades, consortia and standards have become an important component in many industries’ operating models. This is a result of hundreds of organizations working together for many years to find a better way to collaborate. They found that consortia and standards participation facilitated the development of open, vendor-neutral technology standards and certifications to streamline operations while enabling the flexibility of adding new technology as it became available. Facilitated by the consortia, they created standards-based, technology-agnostic platforms that stimulate innovation, industrialize data management and reduce time to market.

Leading companies using industry standards are finding opportunities for increased levels of automation, adoption of newer computing and communications technologies, incorporation of advanced analytics, deeper and wider use of robotics and better integration across the supply chain to improve quality, improve the resiliency of the business and lower costs.

Quantifying The Benefit

Going through industry reports, I learned that interoperability enables 1% to 3% cost savings in the U.S., which is around $10 billion a year, while the lack of interoperability costs us about $1 billion. The industrial sector wants to improve return on capital expenditures, reduce operational expenditures, avoid being locked into inefficient proprietary solutions and deploy new technology quickly and cost-effectively. However, as the solution complexities increase, implementing the transformation carries costs and risks.

Taking advantage of the new paradigm requires greater connectivity and integration with all equipment across the operating plant, improved cybersecurity, enterprise-level system reliability and many other hurdles. This transformation is often described as IT/OT convergence (information technology/operational technology convergence) and can be disruptive not only in the sense of the technical solutions but also brings significant upfront costs for new technology installations, facility upgrades and training. When implemented properly, IT/OT convergence merges existing open standard platforms from IT into the OT space while ensuring the right elements are in place for OT. With that open standard platform approach, this lowers the overall investment costs both for equipment and knowledge of the system standards.

With IT/OT convergence and the economic driver for interoperability comes the need for an evolution and maturation of the industry consortia and international standards organizations in the sector. The consortia and standards bodies play complementary and sometimes overlapping roles in the definition and adoption of converged IT and OT systems. Consortia can be more dynamic, responsive and often more narrowly focused than an international standards body, and leading companies can establish communities to mature key innovations by driving consortia. One example of a leading consortium is the Open Group formation of the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) to meet the interoperability challenge for process and chemicals industries by defining system-level specifications and architectures that draw upon the underlying technology standards across a wide range of standards bodies such as the IEEE, IEC, ISA and others.’

Consortia and standards are most impactful when a critical mass of an industry identifies an area in which they can collaborate and where common benefits outweigh differentiation. The need to collaborate and share R&D costs across the industry also goes up because it becomes increasingly difficult for one company or a small group of companies to continue to manage siloed, expensive R&D. For example, few can afford a dedicated interop and test bed effort. However, using a consortium, interop events provide a means for technology providers and suppliers to get together and make sure that their solutions work together.”

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