Industrial Automation (IA) is often referred to as the “dirty side of the house” of computing applications for business. The dirt here is the dirt of the factory floor. This image is emblematic of the reality that two distinctly separate computing silos exist within most businesses that manufacture products, or generate power, or even drill for oil and gas: one silo for Information Technology (IT), and the other for IA. Usually these silos function entirely separately within the business with the end result that gathering useful Business Intelligence (BI) on the IT side of the house about IA has either required expensive consulting work, proprietary products (for example, WonderWare from Invensys) or hasn’t happened. Now, FactoryTalk VantagePoint from Rockwell Automation introduces web parts that integrate IA with IT through SharePoint.
FactoryTalk VantagePoint is not the first Human Machine Interface (HMI) software to claim integration with SharePoint. Invensys made a similar claim for Wonderware back in 2009, that WonderWare Intelligence 1.0 dashboards can be rendered in SharePoint. But rendering dashboards from Wonderware in Sharepoint required the use of “best in class tools” and further customization.
Therefore, Rockwell Automation’s product, on paper, takes HMI much farther along the road to seamless integration with SharePoint. We hope that Rockwell Automation and Invensys start speaking with Neudesic, NewsGator and Yammer about enunciating their process control alarms across common IMs and mobile applications. We further recommend that they look into using Lync Server’s skill-based routing, in conjunction with SharePoint’s People Search, to consistently alert the right parties within the enterprise as quickly as possible of any IA anomalies to ensure minimal loss of production from the factory floor.
Of course, these same “IT” IM clients and mobile applications can be utilized to change settings, in real time on IA machines. HMIs usually have their own proprietary hooks into IM and mobile applications, but we advocate dispensing with proprietary hooks and simply building web parts to ensure seamless integration with marketplace standard applications that already are have the broadest possible audience.
IA may not have the “sizzle” of IT, but the ROI of software like FactoryTalk VantagePoint plugging into SharePoint can be very powerful. In addition, Rockwell’s offering contributes to wider user adoption for SharePoint as it breaks down the silos between IT and IA. Affording access to SharePoint from the Factory Floor makes the job of reporting results through IT systems that much easier for IA systems management teams. We hope to see further development from other ISVs within this important middle ground between IA and IT.
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