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Although many outsiders would look at control rooms as quite static environments, the market actually has gone through many changes in recent years. The exponential increase in available sources, for example, has caused many challenges for both staff and infrastructure.
1. Critical operations centers will proliferate:
Over the next couple of years, we will see a significant growth in critical operations control rooms, such as those operating within corporate, healthcare and industrial facilities. This escalation is largely due to advancements in technology making their implementation more cost effective, accessible and multi-functional. Such operations centers serve a variety of applications including, but not limited to, risk management, surveillance, process management, network monitoring, personnel management, and asset management – all within the enterprises. Essential features include large-screen visualization technologies – such as the Barco UniSee LCD video wall – to deliver an overview of situational awareness, media platforms that can manage all types of operational content and innovative software to simplify engagement with control room managers and operators. With the increasing spotlight on operator effectiveness, digital workspace solutions for control room operators must focus on reducing operator stress while promoting ergonomic working and supporting healthy shift operations.
2. The rise of IIOT (Industrial Internet Of Things):
With the proliferation of the Industrial Internet of Things, SOCs (Security Operations Centers) and NOCs (Network Operations Centers) will broaden their focus beyond security to accommodate smart, interconnected technologies, such as sensors and analytics software. Furthermore, control rooms move towards the inclusion of general risk management, so their application across more business sectors will multiply. The growth in demand for multidisciplinary operations centers is, in part, due to affordability. The price of establishing complex networks has reduced due to technological advances and they are now able to handle huge increases in data bandwidth. The software to run these control centers is increasingly sourced as a cloud-based service, enabling more effective collaborations between multiple network applications. This shift makes it easier for NOCs and SOCs to undertake remote asset management and data monitoring.
Centralized business operations are becoming more decentralized. A typical structure would have been hierarchical, with a collection of local operational centers feeding into a cluster hub reporting into a global control center. A new model is emerging with the innovation of software, facilitating improved collaboration and communication across multiple locations. This means that business critical decisions can be made on a company-wide scale, a functional benefit suited to those operating out of multiple locations. This structural shift will continue as businesses recognize the benefits. For instance, decentralized operations can focus on localized asset management, resulting in faster data processing speeds.
However, there are several sectors, such as oil & gas, that are bucking this trend and experiencing greater centralization. This is because it is logistically challenging and costly to build control centers at extraction sites offshore or in remote locations. So, control room management software must incorporate enterprise-grade, collaboration-ready features to maintain flexible workflows that can support remote working and remote situational management.
Display technology and visualization tools continue to play an important role in data management but it is the workflow software that crunches data in the background that is key to managing ever-increasing flows of data. Automated machines now have the capacity to run processes and dataflow systems and, over the next few years, we may see the incorporation of artificial intelligence able to learn and implement risk reduction protocols, significantly reducing the level of human intervention.
These automated processes manage by escalation. They oversee and analyze dataflows and alert operators if irregularities are identified by sounding an alarm. This reduces the need for continuous monitoring of dataflows by personnel as the software is able to analyze vast amounts of data, identifying potential issues and recommending de-escalation protocols which are then authorized by an operator.
At present software is programmed to react to situations with protocols and workflows inputted by programmers. In the future, applied machine learning will be used to enable software to learn through experience and resolution which workflows should be implemented to address an issue before it reaches a critical level. A system where machines learn by experience has the power to increase positive outcomes as it has the computing power to analyze vast amounts of harvested data.
Technology manufacturers and control room service providers are moving towards developing solutions that work in tandem with each other. There is a growth in competitor collaboration to deliver open source offerings to customers. At Barco, with the support of alliance partners, we have made our own platforms open to enable integration with external systems so they can work together to exchange data, visuals and analytical information. As system and network demands become more complex, seamless integration between software solutions will increase.