OPAF: Opportunity for control systems integrators with Open Process Automation

By Don BartusiakBartusiak_headshot.jpg

Control system integrators (SI) play an essential role and are a key success factor in the business ecosystem that the Open Process Automation initiative is creating. The business opportunity is significant. The scope of work and skill sets required of SIs will be different from what they are today.

At present, the distributed control system industry is a USD 14 to 15 billion per year revenue global business (Forbes and Clayton [2017]). Fifty-two percent of this revenue was for:

  1. Installing, configuring and commissioning services by DCS suppliers, and
  2. Post-installation maintenance services provided by DCS suppliers.
Services by third parties that is, CSIA members are not included in this revenue tally. Therefore, an estimate of the total addressable market for system integration and post-installation services in the current DCS market is on the order of USD 7 billion per year.
Accessing this addressable market requires changes to the status quo. The Open Process Automation Forum of The Open Group envisions a future state for industrial control systems, involving a standards-based, open, secure and interoperable process automation architecture. The value proposition for Open Process Automation and the roles of stakeholders including end users, hardware suppliers, software suppliers and system integrators are detailed in the Open Process Automation Forum Business Guide (Stevens, et al. [2018]). SIs will assemble Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS) conformant hardware and software component products into systems specified by the end user (asset owner) or the EPC company.
Compared to today, the changes for SIs can be summarized as follows:
  • The number of vendors supplying components for a system instance will probably increase.
  • Integration of hardware and software components will be facilitated by the use of O-PAS standard interfaces.
  • SIs will need greater software engineering capabilities.
  • SIs will have greater freedom to operate as proprietary interfaces (and vendor-specific domain knowledge) are replaced by O-PAS conformance certified standard interfaces. 
A more-detailed assessment of changes for SIs can be done by referring to the CSIA Best Practices 5th Revision (Schaefer, et al. [2018]). Highlights of required changes are as follows:
  • 6.2 Requirements and 6.3 Design: In the future state, end users or EPCs may go beyond stating preferences for one or more DCS or PLC suppliers to stating preferred configurations of the O-PAS reference architecture or preferred hardware or software component products. Particularly during the transition period from currently available control systems to O-PAS conformant instances, the SI should (a) give particular consideration to the client’s infrastructure/systems and personnel capabilities and (b) put additional emphasis on understanding, documenting and validating client requirements.
  • 6.4 Development and 6.5 Unit/Module and Integration Testing: SIs will need to retool their processes for design and development, and for structured approaches to integration activities. These are the activities that will require greater software engineering capabilities of the SI. Similarly, processes for outsourced development are likely to change.
  • 7.2 Standards and Templates: The SI needs a culture that both embraces standards and templates as well as a willingness to adapt them to improvements enabled by new technologies. This applies to hardware, electrical and software designs and system testing.
  • 5.2 Project Procurement Management and 7.4 Procurement Management: The SI will likely want to access a larger population of hardware and software component suppliers in the future OPA business ecosystem. Processes for vendor/supplier selection need to be retooled. Periodic reviews of supplier quality and performance will be even more useful in the future state because substitution of O-PAS conformant hardware and software components will be easier to do compared to the current state.
  • 7.6 Configuration Management: Configuration will move up to a new scale. Counterbalancing the increase in scale, use of the O-PAS standard interfaces and O-PAS conformant component products will enable and simplify system configuration.
  • 7.7 Reuse Management: Software reuse will be greatly enabled by the O-PAS standard. Application software portability is a key quality attribute that is driving development of O-PAS.
  • 3.1 Marketing Management and 3.2 Business Development: Messaging and branding must represent the SI’s capabilities for assembling, delivering and supporting O-PAS conformant systems. SIs who want to enter this market must differentiate themselves clearly from current expectations of control system integrators. Client and industry business development strategies and relationships with other parties (i.e., distributors, vendor representatives, etc.) need to be revisited.
  • Saving the best for last, the two practices that are the basis for an SI to enter the O-PAS market are 2.4.10 Training programs that address the hard skills required of technical people and 1.1.1 SI’s clarity of purpose, strategic objectives and goals. The SI’s staff must be sufficiently trained on the O-PAS standard and its requisite technologies to be successful on the first project they take on. Fundamentally, the first step in this transformation from the status quo to the OPA future state is the SI management’s commitment to making the journey and seeing it through to a successful completion, and its communications to employees, customers and suppliers of sincerity of intent.
The benefits of the O-PAS standard for end users and suppliers, including SIs, are stated in the Open Process Automation Forum Business Guide. ExxonMobil and other operating companies already have projects under way to build and test OPA system prototypes (Houk [2019]). More prototype and field trial projects are planned as steps to drive development of the O-PAS standard, develop the business ecosystem and establish technical readiness of O-PAS conformant systems.

An estimate of the size of the business opportunity for system integration and post-installation maintenance services is on the order of USD 7 billion per year. This is a global market and ultimate success for all participants depends on an abundant supply of O-PAS qualified control SIs.

The best way for an SI to understand and influence the developing O-PAS “standard of standards” is to join the Open Process Automation Forum of The Open Group. Several CSIA members have already taken this step. We welcome and encourage more CSIA members to get actively involved in the OPA Forum and participate in future RFPs in the OPA prototyping projects and in the full-scale commercial procurement opportunities that are to come within a few years.
Forbes H, Clayton D. “Distributed Control Systems Global Market: 2016 – 2021”. ARC Advisory Group report. Sep 2017.
Houk B. “Open Process Automation: Unlocking Value with Next Generation DCS“. Presentation at Spring AIChE Meeting, New Orleans LA. Apr 2019.
Schaefer E, et al. “CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks, 5th Revision”. Control System Integrators Association. 2018.
Stevens D, Tung E, Blue D, Bartusiak D, Brandl D, Cusworth T. “The Open Process AutomationTM Business Guide”. The Open Group. https://publications.opengroup.org/g182. 2018.
Don Bartusiak is chief engineer, process control, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering in Spring, Texas.