Remote meetings, Internet connectivity, and cloud collaboration are cool, but potentially require funneled resources. The reason why is due to a schedule. Video conferencing and browser-based applications such as Skype and Paltalk give us the ability to see and collaborate to a limited degree.
The user experience might not be enough to be truly useful in our biz.
It could be that to be useful in engineering, project startup and ongoing maintenance, the real deal is the component of real time, and flexibility of the end-point configuration for the users.
Here's a technology that most people don't use or know about, but it probably will define some of our future. Called "switched visual collaboration" and developed by Magor in Ottawa, Canada, the technology was created to replace and/or augment bridged conferencing solutions.
The bridged solution required that participants be scheduled and log in to join the party. This single-access model is an issue for real-time anything. Aerus from Magor is a cloud-based, switched, visual collaboration solution that allows a multi-end point and spontaneous workflow.
This technology is very new. And, of course, it's all about the applications that it can be applied to.
First off, the blocks would be teleworking design meetings for engineering and automation groups. There've been tons of times when the guy starting up a project in Kalamazoo is needed in a design meeting with a customer in San Diego.
Engineering meetings with mechanical people, and/or the C-level are common place and, of course, almost any meeting absolutely ruins and daily workflow for any individual. Aerus could make a difference.
Thinking out of the box is not normal for most. Polycom conferencing is a mainstay. The "wouldn't it be nice to…?" question should be asked daily to task your mind to think differently.
How about the concept of remote operation? Can you conference in real time with operators to tune the operations from a distance? But, it's not just one operator, it's 12 from various parts of the process. Management can be involved, if you want them to be.
The benefits to me seem endless. Everyone can look at a single HMI screen and comment on it. But what if the flow went from one screen to user #2 with a different screen, and then to user #12 who whiteboards a part of the screen to ask why the value of a particular set point is where it is? And then User #8 brings up the logs to show when it was changed, why, and by whom. Most other users wouldn't know how to get to the logs, so you can bring in best-of-breed collaboration.
While I'm not totally comfortable with the abilities of the software regarding tapping someone on the shoulder like this, it sure feels like you can page a user to ask them to join the video dialog.
One other feature would be to use any device to be part of the action. If you were sitting at your desk and the discussion was about something in San Diego, then you'd hop into the fray and contribute.
The expertise we all have must be available at all times. Blackberries made that concept somewhat possible, except, of course, on golf courses where they aren't allowed.
But, the migration from a keyboard to a screen to full and true knowledge collaboration is remarkable.
The Internet requirement and the cloud are the elements that scare me. We are talking infrastructure, utilities and food-chain issues here. It could be opened up to the outside world in a way we might not want. We wonder who might hack into the product discussions, and then steal intellectual property. This has been happening with all the protection we have now.
We need to work smarter and more effectively. I'm giving a talk at ISA Automation Week on knowledge that walks out the door. While it will entail more than that, we're dealing with a more diversified workforce and automation intelligence IQs.
We need to bring in the experts in real time when we need them. Scheduled appearance doesn't cut it. The ability to see someone's grumpy face just isn't enough anymore.
We need this level of true collaboration with all the trimmings. I still fear about security, but this could transform our businesses.