AVEVA World showcases connection of data, functions, people
Let’s face it: AVEVA is fascinating. It started 50 years ago as a Cadcentre, a spinout from the UK’s Cambridge University. It was a sleepy tech company for a long time, then maybe 10 years ago, it got noticed. Schneider Electric did/didn’t/partly acquired the company, and then acquired the shares it didn’t already own last year. All of that has led to many changes. The company will undoubtedly be profiled in case studies someday on whether acquisitions are ultimately a good or evil thing, about corporate reinvention, branding and re-branding … But that’s to come.
I attended AVEVA World in San Francisco to learn about the current version of AVEVA, which brings together that plant design CAD/PLMish side with SimSci and Wonderware from Schneider Electric Software, the PI data historian from OSIsoft and the RIB construction software suite. It’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
(A quick cheatsheet, primarily for me, but you might find it helpful: E3D is AVEVA’s CAD solution, replacing PDMS; SimSci process optimization solutions are now called AVEVA Process Simulation; Wonderware is industrial automation software, human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and has various names under the new branding; OSIsoft brought operational data management and the PI data historian.)
As you might expect, digital twins were everywhere — but not, as Chief Product Officer Rob McGreevy said, in a one-digital-twin-to-rule-the-world approach. Mr. McGreevy said that AVEVA believes that “specialized digital twins that cater to particular business functions” are more practical because they can be more nuanced and specific to job and sector needs.
During his keynote, Mr. McGreevy showed off AVEVA Connect, a visual front end that combines data from many sources across an asset’s design, build, operate, and optimize phases. (Connect is the follow-on solution to AVEVA Data Hub, if you’re familiar with that.)
Suppose you’re in the design phase. In that case, you might see E3D (lower, center/right in the image below), a project cost summary, progress against the current schedule, specific requirements, simulation results, and other information in your dashboard. If you’re operating an asset, you might see real-time data from Wonderware or PI historian —or a third-party solution— to monitor energy use, product quality, emissions, or anything else that’s measurable and relevant.
What excited the users I spoke with is that AVEVA has made these dashboards easy to create and customize, using AVEVA’s Data Hub, so that more or less anyone can set them up to show just the data they need to see and adjust this as the project progresses.
Mr. McGreevy added that this isn’t just about surfacing data but about enabling users to draw actionable conclusions based on that data. He said that AVEVA has been incorporating “predictive and prescriptive analytics for many years. We’re now beginning to leverage large language models [to help us provide information in context].” He showed data from a wind farm; something was trending downwards, signaling a problem. He opened a dialog box and typed, “Are there any issues with [this farm’s turbine] fleet? Is there anything I should be aware of?” The generative AI returns, “Yes, there’s a problem with turbine ABC.” And the conversation turned chatty, with the AI giving detailed descriptions of what was going on, suggesting other data sources, and (I think) corrective actions.
I saw a more detailed version of this demo later in the Expo area. While what I saw was clearly canned, it’s a vision of the future: technology highlighting things we might want to do something about and providing information that might be useful in identifying the next steps. I say “might” because an AI can’t know everything; for example, if experience shows that we can wait to fix something until the human expert returns from lunch, we should. Humans are not out of the picture — this technology is meant to augment our abilities, not replace us.
Back to Mr. McGreevy’s demo. Let’s say that the result of our investigation is that a human needs to go to the turbine and perform an inspection: “I can also ask [Connect] to pull up a 3D model. In this case, it knows, based on where we are contextually, what this asset is, navigates directly to the right 3D model, and highlights for me where the issues are. From here, I can plan my work.” AVEVA has always been about the visuals, recognizing early on that drawings and documents are much harder for people to interpret; Connect takes that visual ethos to the next level. It’s impressive.
In a later conversation, Mr. McGreevy clarified that while the examples were of a wind farm, AVEVA has/intends to have example cases across data centers, water/wastewater, power plants, utilities/transmission/distribution, mining, and other industry verticals. “It’s a horizontal technology that gets verticalized across end markets.”
A couple of other tidbits:
- I am often asked how independent AVEVA really is, given that Schneider Electric now owns 100% of its shares. AVEVA CEO Caspar Herzberg said it’s no different from being publicly owned: “AVEVA is a separate company that reports to Schneider Electric. I report to a board, and they sign off on the strategy instead of AVEVA reporting to the stock market.” He explained that AVEVA and Schneider Electric are careful to “ensure the agnostic strategy of an independent software company.”
- AVEVA had traditionally sold via direct channels to massive global companies, while the other brands sold via resellers. Bry Dillon, SVP, Partners told us that his team is working to rationalize the sales strategy, to reach “customers [in a way that] supports their buying preferences.” So, for example, something I hadn’t considered: OT, operating technology like Wonderware, often comes out of a manufacturing facility’s budget and not an overall IT or divisional budget; it’s factored into how that facility’s profitability is measured. They might want to buy individually, perhaps from a local reseller but could legitimately ask for a volume discount. It’s challenging, and Mr. Dillon is working to sort it out.
- I’ve also wondered how AVEVA can roll out more of its products to through product-specific channel partners. For example, might PI historian resellers want to sell Wonderware? Mr. Dillon said that it comes down to enablement: “Some partners resell our technology and offer services around our technology. We’re building programs internally that enable partner to pick which products to be certified in and which area of expertise. If you want to resell our technology, then we have reselling programs. If you want to do both [sales and services], that’s fine. We’re trying to make it simple” to do business with AVEVA.
- CEO Herzberg mentioned another important point on channels: “We’re fortunate that we have a large, diverse channel community. But what differentiates us from others is that [this ecosystem includes] bigger integrators and a large group of family-owned businesses with deep skills in a specific industry in a local geography. We are very proud of this diversity and we want to maintain and grow that.” It’s clear that the company is committed to all of its channels—and to making it more straightforward for partners and customers to engage with AVEVA.
- Aside from the comment about AVEVA’s independence from Schneider Electric, the parent company was treated like any other partner. Several customers including Henkel (makers of Persil soap, among many other things) spoke about using Schneider Electric’s ProLeiT Plant iT control system with AVEVA’s System Platform (fka Wonderware) to reduce the energy consumption of Henkel’s energy-intensive spray drying process. It sounded as though the implementation was straightforward, and the benefits are impressive. (See that user presentation, if you can – inspirational.)
AVEVA made three big announcements at the event:
- PI Data Infrastructure, a hybrid cloud solution that gives PI users access to cloud services from Aveva Connect, including Aveva Data Hub and Aveva Connect visualization
- AVEVA Advanced Analytics, a cool-sounding no-code SaaS AI tool.
- Finally, AVEVA and Microsoft expanded their partnership to make interoperable Microsoft’s Fabric data analytics solutions and Aveva Connect to “streamline the process of collecting, transforming and organizing data from various sources.” (I presume the demos I saw included AVEVA Advanced Analytics and the Fabric interop, but I did not specifically ask.)
I spoke with so many AVEVA people, customers, and partners that my head is still spinning. So let’s give Mr. Herzberg the last word: “A connected industrial ecosystem breaks down silos and removes barriers … Those that master the art of connecting their industrial ecosystem will outperform other ecosystems.”
That’s really what I think AVEVA World 2023 was about: connecting people, data, and technologies as a force multiplier. What I know can inform why you know, and together we know more than just those two things, summed. As Kim Custeau, AVEVA’s EVP of Portfolio, said during her keynote, this enables us to fix problems we know about today and anticipate those that we aren’t even thinking about yet. That de-risking is what industry needs.
As of this posting, the event recordings are not yet available. But keep checking — I’m told they’ll be up soon.
Note: AVEVA graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is of Mr. Herzberg, during his keynote presentation, taken by me. The image of the Unified Ops Center is actually grabbed from Mr. Herzberg’s presentation at this week’s Schneider Electric’s Capital Markets Day but it’s the same dashbord used in Mr. McGreevy’s AVEVA World presentation.