I literally visited Inductive Automation the day before Gary Mintchell did. I didn't get the opportunity to meet him, but I did get a glimpse of his insight. He quoted the company as a "database company" - as a foundation, which is an insightful perspective.
Here's what occurred to me - I've been involved in big projects and small projects, private sector, government, and military running a variety of platforms. Does anybody have issues creating a tinker toy HMI with a few setpoints and graphics that change color? I really doubt it. Which vendor would I recommend for that? Who cares - they all do it. That's what Walt refers to about the commodization of HMIs.
So what's valuable and where are we failing? My top choice, and they are together, are "customizability and interoperability", something we tend to suck at. Suppose I asked, "how much power have we used so far this month". I'd likely get, "I donno - but you can figure it out if you keep a log of readings from that meter". Or - "what's the status on that shipment we sent out last week"? It's available on the Fedex/USPS web site. But why not on our information/SCADA system? Isn't that what web services is all about? Who are we kidding - we have enough issues migrating/tying in our legacy systems. I bundled "customizability and interoperability" together because the point is to be able to tie your system to others easily. Managers shouldn't have to buy hardware and large amounts of integration services to make their systems work for them.
Great! So how does this work? The key is being able to pass data - through standardization. This is where technologies like OPC (UA) and web services come in. But another huge, often overlooked method is using SQL databases. Most applications, and nearly all business systems use them natively. You want to know anything about your process - inventory, QA, for example - past or present. That should be available in your SCADA system. It's a great connection point, provided that it's flexible, which is Inductive Automation's strength. Get that SCADA vendors - hint, hint - step away from the custom Microsoft SQL Server implementations! The royalties are great, but nobody belives that you need them for performance. Besides databases are useful for other reasons than being a historian! It's not hard to support Oracle, MySQL, DB2 and others - just swallow your pride and old company lines.
How do you get your existing or legacy system to interoperate with others? Simple, OPC <-> SQL database bridges exist for that purpose.