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The role of open standards for guiding enterprises and governments through digital change

Aug. 16, 2021
Digital strategies are all about speed, flexibility, and efficiency; open standards bring all of those qualities to the fore.

Earlier this year,  The Open Group, the vendor-neutral technology standards consortium, hosted an “Open Digital Standards” event to explore the key role of open standards for driving and guiding enterprises and governments through digital change. We wanted to learn more about the changing role of standards in the digitalization process, so we connected with Aneil Ali, direct of The Open Group Open Process Automation ForumTake a look…

Smart Industry: Describe The Open Group. 

Aneil: The Open Group is a global consortium that develops open technology standards for industry. More than 840 Member organizations collaborate in a range of different Forums, each focusing on different challenges in sectors ranging from healthcare to energy to IT. Our work helps enable industries to achieve more by giving businesses and other stakeholders a common framework to operate within.

The work of The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), for example, gives vendors and suppliers the ability to offer solutions that work across many different contexts, allowing them to spend more time on innovation and ultimately giving manufacturers better ways of automating processes. The forum’s latest release, the O-PAS Version 2.1 Preliminary Standard, builds out the framework that enables portability of configurations between systems, and is a step towards the ultimate goal of full application portability.

Smart Industry: What is the need for vendor-neutral technology standards at this stage of industrial manufacturing?

Aneil: Manufacturers in many different areas are keenly aware of the potential that process automation holds for their businesses. Whether you are in oil and gas, food and beverages, or pulp and paper, high efficiency means always-on operation. It is a cliché to say that time is money, but here continuous processing really is paramount. Digital transformation is a great enabler for this: repetitive, accurate, tireless operation is what computers are best at. To get there, though, the operational technology needs to be digitized, and new ways of interacting with it need to be established. Doing this on a business-by-business basis is not just wasteful—it’s beyond the means of most manufacturers. Taking care of that element through open standards is a bridge that enables businesses to step more directly toward the benefits of a digital-first strategy.

Smart Industry: How do standards enable digital-first strategies?

Aneil: One of the big casualties of working without industry-wide standards is innovation. Different areas of manufacturing have a lot of equipment and processes in common, but the way that those pieces of equipment communicate with one another are generally proprietary to each supplier. This has a few consequences. One is that it is difficult to mix-and-match between suppliers, so manufacturers have to compromise their digital strategy by identifying a supplier that performs sufficiently well across the board, rather than purchasing the ideal solution at each level at the system. Another is that it makes it more difficult to translate innovation between industries, as businesses are locked into incompatible systems. Finally, it slows down adoption of new technology, as businesses wait for their chosen supplier to bring an option to market. Digital strategies are all about speed, flexibility, and efficiency; open standards bring all of those qualities to the forefront.

Smart Industry: Explain your concept of the "dual crises" of digital transformation and detail how do standards like this address these challenges.

Aneil: The first of the dual crises we’re facing at the moment is the one that everyone has been talking about for the last eighteen months: the pandemic was and is a seismic event in how businesses work with digital. With companies suddenly having to make years of progress in months or weeks, some estimates suggest that there was a 25x acceleration in digitalization.

However, this has shone a light on the second, much less prominent crisis: digital ways of working demand new roles with new skills, and this is widening an already massive reskilling gap. Standards mean that skills are more portable, enabling experts to spread knowledge more easily, but they also clarify what upskilling should look like. With an industry-wide standard in place, we can also train and certify to that standard, aiding the work of putting people into vitally important roles.

Smart Industry: How do standards in the industrial space enable efficiencies / wins?

Aneil: Better tools, more automation, mixing suppliers, and better staff training all, ultimately, lead to higher efficiency, but we might also think about something like digital twinning. In a standards-based environment, it is much easier to understand from the outset how different pieces of equipment will perform and interact with one another. This opens the door to performing highly accurate process simulation before making changes to the real-world manufacturing environment. Given the expense involved in retooling processes, digital twinning will allow businesses to experiment, investigate and potentially find significantly more efficient approaches, with much lower capital risk.