When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes: Gray Matter Systems Thanks Steve Rubin

Let’s Go For It

Recently I took my son Max, who’s about to graduate from high school, on a college trip to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It caused me to flash back to a very important person in our lives and how Gray Matter Systems got its start.

It was 1991 in Pittsburgh and Carson Drake and I had big plans.

A revolution was underway as personal computers were shaking things up on the factory floor. Just as big data, the Cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things are disrupting everything now, it was an exciting, but unsettling time.

Business owners, managers and workers were frightened about what this meant for their jobs, but we were excited because we knew operational technology was the future. It was time for us to leave the comfort zone of working for a company to start our own company.

When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes

When two people start a company they need money, but more than that they need the type of support that helps you make fast, innovative decisions and inspires you to carry the heavy weight of success or failure. Steve Rubin gave us both.

Steve believed in Carson and I with a passion that got Gray Matter Systems off the ground and running. He built one of the most successful industrial automation software companies from his basement. He knew there was a need for a wide-ranging computer control system that could do many things at once. That’s why he created The FIX (fully integrated control system) and took industrial automation to a whole new level. We helped bring that technology to people in manufacturing, energy, and many other industries.

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

Steve’s company, Intellution, was later bought by Emerson Electric Company, and finally by General Electric. The rest is Fortune 500 history. Steve Rubin passed away in 2015 from complications related to ALS.

Steve’s enthusiasm and passion extended beyond his work. One very special place to him was Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he received his computer science degree and later served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The Rubin Campus Center is now where students meet, debate and innovate. He cared deeply about students and wanted a space for them to grow.

At Gray Matter Systems we honor Steve’s dedication to customers. One year he flew his own plane to speak at our annual conference, sharing his insights with customers and devoting his time to their needs.

We also honor his sense of adventure and fun. Steve was a huge baseball fan and couldn’t have been happier when former Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner, Kevin McClatchy, presented him with a jersey during a Gray Matter Systems user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, pictured here.

Most of all, we honor his incredible business values of fairness and honesty.

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Two Becomes Four, Four Becomes Fifty

We’ve come a long way since Steve helped us get started.

At first it was just the two of us. But we soon added a few others and found our home in Sewickley, a walkable suburb of Pittsburgh. Working in the house on Thorn Street made us feel like a family. And that’s who we are.

Sewickley is a special place bookmarked in our history. But it was time to turn the page and transition into a bigger space for our growing company.

Now we have a state-of-the-art headquarters in Pittsburgh, more than 50 employees and we’re growing fast. We also expanded our territory in the Gulf region to include Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Western Tennessee and Southeastern New Mexico.

The World is Waking Up to What We’ve Been Doing

We help some of the biggest companies in water/wastewater, oil and gas, and manufacturing use operational technology to get faster, leaner and smarter. Thanks to Steve, we have the opportunity to solve some of today’s toughest, data-driven challenges.

These days, everyone is talking about big data, the Cloud, the Industrial Internet of Things and predictive analytics.

We couldn’t be more thrilled. We’ve been ready for this for a long time. Our team of experienced engineers, technical consultants and leaders translate all the hype around these concepts into real value for our customers.

We feel good about where we are and where we’re going and that’s all because someone believed in us. We wish we had said this sooner—thanks, Steve.

Q & A: Intelligently Automating the Data Integration Process for the IIoT

This guest blog post by Karen Dosanjh originally appeared on Bit Stew Systems’s blog page. 

Last week marked World IoT Day, where industry leaders and influencers gathered to discuss developments at the Industrial Internet of Things Summit in Chicago.

The Bit Stew Systems team sat down with Alex Clark, Chief Software Architect at Bit Stew, to talk about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the resulting data integration challenge that is leaving many industrial enterprises feeling like they are drowning in data.

In our interview, Alex talks about the heavy-lift involved in supporting data management strategies that can handle the data that is being generated by information systems, operational systems and the extensive networks of sensors. Alex shares his insights on the technology that is key to solving the impending data integration problem at scale.

Bit View: How do you define the Industrial Internet of Things at Bit Stew?
AC: The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network connection of physical objects, or “things” across existing communication infrastructures. The IIoT is the same thing but on an industrial level where the value, volume, variety, velocity and veracity of data is more critical. The challenges are compounded by the complexity and scale of data being ingested in industrial environments. Although the challenges are greater, the opportunities the IIoT presents are more prevalent. The technologies behind the IIoT have brought significant advancements to industries such as manufacturing, oil & gas, aviation, energy, and others.

Bit View: Describe the challenge that industrial enterprises are dealing with?
AC: Gartner forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, and the number of connected devices will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. Newly connected devices are coming online within networks at an alarming rate, and most of the effort has been focused exclusively on data generation. Developments have been hindered by challenges in handling the data as well as in the disparity of data characteristics such as quality, completeness and timeliness.

Another issue is that industrial organizations often have multiple, silo-ed legacy systems producing data in different formats and protocols, which do not communicate with each other. Integrating this vast amount of dissimilar data into a unified data strategy is proving to be overwhelming for even the largest organizations and we are seeing this first-hand.

Bit View: How is data integration blocking progress on the transformations and ROI that companies originally envisioned?
AC: Data integration has become the Achilles’ Heel of the IIoT and is blocking progress on the transformations and ROI that companies had hoped for. Data integration can account for more than 80% of project costs and are the primary factor in lengthy delays, and cancelled or failed projects. In fact, Garter reports that 50% of projects will exceed budget, or fail to deliver expected benefits due to inadequate data integration tools and architecture. Our industrial customers are concerned about these major challenges, complexities, costs and delays in integrating the diverse technologies, devices and proprietary solutions.

Bit View: What are some common mistakes organizations make with their data integration strategies?
AC:  Implementing an IIoT architecture can be a daunting task. Industrial enterprises often prematurely make investments in open source architecture, business intelligence tools, analytics products, or ETL processes for their data. These traditional tools are not necessarily designed for the IIoT.

Solving the data integration challenge requires a new way of thinking and approach. The only way for an industrial organization to come around the curve and efficiently capitalize on the exponentially growing data in industrial environments is through a software solution that is purpose-built for the Industrial Internet. Buying a product that comes with a robust partner ecosystem of integrators, OEMs, and resellers is also an integral step in planning the IoT roadmap.

Bit View: What is the key to Bit Stew’s ability to solve the data integration challenge for the IIoT?
Bit Stew offers a comprehensive and end-to-end approach to data integration – an approach that is purpose-built for the IIoT. The key to Bit Stew’s data integration capability is our MIx Core™ technology – a data integration kernel that supports Machine Intelligence, an area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that uses machine learning algorithms, reasoning algorithms and methods for automated detection and integration of data sources from any device and system.

Bit Stew’s Mlx Core platform applies a schema first approach that allows industrial enterprises to integrate data rapidly by removing the heavy lift of data wrangling. Another key to Bit Stew’s data integration capability is that Mlx Core automates the data modeling and mapping of data from billions of endpoints enabling you to intelligently manage your data in wristwatch time.

The Road Map You Need Before a SCADA Upgrade

Imagine agreeing to a road trip with a driver who refuses to use directions.

No GPS, no folded-up paper map, and certainly no stops to ask for directions, just an open road stretching out into a giant question mark.

“I’ll wing it,” the driver might say. “We can figure it out as we go along.”

Chances are, you’re not going on this one.

You wouldn’t agree to an aimless road trip, and you wouldn’t trust your surgeon to improvise an operation. You wouldn’t want your operators on the plant floor to just wing it.

So why risk a SCADA upgrade by skipping the system assessment?

SCADA upgrades are nothing new—nearly every company or organization has been through some kind of system upgrade. Whether it’s as simple as updating the operating system on a PC or as involved as a full-fledged SCADA upgrade project, we’ve all experienced it.

Once an organization overcomes the hesitations that typically surround facilitating a SCADA upgrade, situations that we previously outlined in the white paper, “3 Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades,” it’s time to get down to business.

Let’s think realistically here. Depending on the size and scope of the existing system, an upgrade can be fairly complex. In fact, some can include over 70,000 points and 13 independent legacy nodes, all of which will be combined into one seamless system.

Of course, sometimes the most common challenges surround the systems that don’t seem all that complex—small to medium systems, or situations that have 8,000 points or less.

A project of this scale takes a lot of planning. It takes a game plan, or a road map into your system. The most critical part of preparation comes down to performing a system assessment.

The System Assessment As Your Road Map 

More often than not, organizations will run through an assessment for virtually any sort of process modification. For some reason, when some organizations discuss the assessment as a first step toward a successful upgrade, it’s viewed as an extravagant step.fingers-map

But most of us would hardly label our GPS navigation for long road trips as extravagant.

It might sound simplistic, but that’s what the system assessment is able to provide– important, thorough insight into the system. It’s worth it in the end to not skip this step.

And the assessment isn’t just a visit. It results in a physical document that outlines the system in detail. The deliverable gives you an accurate, clear picture of the work that will go into actually performing the upgrade. It’s your own, personalized route to completing a successful upgrade.

So what should be documented when going through the system assessment? Here’s what you can expect.

Architecture

Begin the process by noting the number of SCADA-related computers, servers and clients, computers, computer physical locations, and IP addresses.

Process Hardware

It’s important to record the hardware brand and model, the number of devices, locations of devices, and communication media and protocols.

This can be challenging, especially if operators are using older protocols. It’s possible that the companies who provided the protocols are no longer viable options. In this situation, it’s going to be critical to look for new ways to communication with new hardware.

This can quickly turn into a situation where some careful investigation and brainstorming will be needed to overcome the challenge. But that’s why you’re facilitating the system assessment.

PC Hardware

Next, be sure to note the type of PC and how much RAM, hard-drive size, or free space is available. You’ll also want to know if the internal cards will work on the new architecture. If not, it might be the time to see what else is available.

Document what supplementary equipment, such as barcode scanners, is included. It’s critical to know what’s in place that the organization frequently relies on.

And don’t forget to note the PC software—the operation system version, the Microsoft Office version, and installed components that work with the operation system.

SCADA

Of course, it’s important to note the SCADA version, along with any patches or service packs that are currently in place.

After noting the basics about the SCADA, take a deeper look into the tag database, or how many tags are currently in the system. An export of the database is preferred here. It allows you to not only look further into the number of tags, but the types of tags that are being communicated with.

Additionally, document the driver versions and complete an export of those configurations. Depending on the system, those drivers may no longer be viable. Now may be the time to make wholesale changes to the drivers. If so, it’s ultra-important to know the configurations that are going to be replaced and the effect it will have on the tag database.

Historical Data

Once the knowledge surrounding the SCADA system is mapped out, it’s time to outline the details of the stored, historical data that’s being collected. System Assessment

The organization might start the process by asking: How many points are being collected? Where are they being stored? How much data currently exists?

And does that data need to be migrated to a newer system, or can it be held, maintained and accessed on an as-needed basis? Or maybe it’s important to simply hang onto the data, but not necessarily to have immediate access to run operations.

Pay special attention to reporting. It’s a term that everybody seems to understand, but it’s not always the easiest concept to define. It’s certainly not always black and white.

Reporting can be so intimidating that it’s thought of as a black hole, because there’s just so much to it.

There’s the format of how data is presented, how the data is laid out, the specific time and date of when data was retrieved, and the location where it usually comes from.

Even the most qualified, knowledgeable operators might be unfamiliar with where an actual value is coming from—not just from the SCADA, but from within the PLC.

So while you’re knee-deep in assessment, building your road map, why not spend the time to take a more thorough look into reporting. You might be able to better understand where the data is coming from.

Does a system assessment make sense as your first action into a successful SCADA upgrade? We can be a part of your next system assessment in your ongoing journey to maintaining an effective, profitable system.

In the meantime, download the Gray Matter Systems white paper, “Why the System Assessment is Critical to a Successful SCADA Upgrade,” to learn even more about completing a system assessment.

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