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Integration Alone Doesn’t Lead to Transformation

May 27, 2020

Today, the focus of many IT projects in the petrochemical world is on configuration and integration. In other words, companies seek a software product that is highly configurable. But when you think about it, knowing what to configure, and for what purpose, is necessary for success. Most organizations tackle this need by teaming subject matter experts with a technology team to identifying the optimal work processes in advance of rolling out a solution. 

However, resistance to change is a common roadblock to implementing new technology. In fact, more often than not, companies utilize systems integration to bring in supporting information from external data sources (i.e. Data Historians, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), Human Resource (HR) systems, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems). Conventional integration can therefore be complex to both implement and sustain and a detailed integration design is necessary to identify all the relevant requirements. (See Figure 1)

Circular graphic showing the process flows items
Figure 1 – Sample Integration Process Flows

Conventional thinking was essentially that the new solution should offer improved “workflow-based” processes cobbled together with existing transactional legacy systems. Integration, then, allows access to important external information like temperatures, pressure, and vibration, but it doesn’t address the underlying business processes because it focuses on mapping the existing information. Let’s say that again: Integration doesn’t deliver new information; it provides a way to include MORE existing information in one place. While it certainly can have value to an organization to integrate information sources, integration alone doesn’t deliver transformation because it doesn’t address the underlying business processes. It doesn’t ask, “Why do we need that data? How is it used? To what other data points should it be mapped? What does it tell us about our operations to know this?” Even more importantly, it doesn’t drive our company culture to ask those kinds of questions and understand the answers.

Interoperability

So then, what DOES deliver transformation? Unlike the goal of integration, which is to bring together existing sets for information, true interoperability requires the courage to move beyond the fear that too much change may be too difficult to swallow for a culture. Again, the typical prevailing attitude is “leverage and integrate,” not “rip out and replace.” The truth is true transformation lies somewhere in between. Some systems are viewed as immovable objects such as ERP and EAM systems. Without assessing underlying processes and going beyond workflow-based outcomes (see Figure 2), companies will see limited efficiency and effectiveness from integration projects.

Flow diagram
Figure 2 – Interoperability View of Operations

If companies do not bring processes and data, using the right interoperability points, together with a focus on user intuitiveness and a single source of truth, the end result will potentially be another human-intensive “solution” with sub-optimized processes. In contrast, interoperability drives transformation that enables a single pane of glass that allows for effective succession planning and a single reporting structure to aggregate all aspects of the platform.  Interoperability delivers all of the desired outcomes of integration, but also opens the door to visualization and insight by assembling all of the data, equipment, and relevant business processes in one place and for one purpose: achieving Operational Excellence. 

Visualization is the final layer that adds insight. This reduces the time to value and the time training employees on bifurcated systems with multiple sources of truth. Having a single source of data for structured and non-structured data is paramount. In order for the transformation to be successful culturally, you need to be capturing information at the point of work. In other words, a properly architected solution for Intelligent Operations, the most efficient pathway to Operational Excellence, addresses People, Equipment, and Materials at the point of work.  

Graphic of hand holding smartphone with mobile applications
Figure 3 – The result of Interoperability

To achieve that level of real-time decision support, mobile technology is the key to empowering field personnel at the point of work. Without it, your equipment is capturing data in real-time, but your people aren’t. As conditions change, your people then would lack critical insights to know that new risks might be manifesting in the field. The interoperability transformation involves a culture shift to a belief that data capture, accuracy, and insights are important.

Summary

Operational Excellence requires a strategy that moves beyond integration to deliver interoperability because integration doesn’t lead to holistic process improvements. Interoperability, on the other hand, delivers the result of transformation with the added benefit of integrating data. When coupled with mobility and visualization, the culture buys in to the clear benefits and execution is more consistent.

If you’re interested in finding out more, please visit our Intelligent Operations page.