On Friday, I had lunch with Jose Gutierrez, who has just become Director of Technology Planning for Emerson. Not Emerson Process Management, Big Daddy Emerson. With us at the lunch was Marty Zielinski, in his capacity as co-convenor of ISA SP50.
“The last thing that the end users want is another SP50,” says Marty and I completely agree. Unfortunately, all of the signs point to the possibility that we’ll have the same problems with SP100 that we did with SP50, the fieldbus standard committee.
Now that the deadline for statements of intent to submit for SP100’s Call for Proposals, we find that there are over 20 companies and organizations, from all over the world, who intend to propose their solution to be the chosen solution for the standard.
One of the things I found most interesting about the Call for Proposals document, itself, is that it spends almost all its time talking about the “physical layer” of the specification, and virtually no time at all talking about what end users care about: the application layer. This is dangerous, because the committee could get side tracked for several years worrying about the physical layer.
I don’t believe that the physical layer is as important as the application layer is. But even if I am wrong, there is a way around the “my chip is better than your chip” posturing.
Gutierrez, who was instrumental in the 802.15.4 IEEE standard when he was at Eaton, made a suggestion at lunch that I find has terrific merit. I am passing it on because, even though Jose has only been at Emerson a very short while, he’s a party to the SP100 situation.
While I am a member of SP100, I don’t have a corporate axe to grind, sharpen, or stick in anybody. In fact, I tend to be an equal opportunity offender. Sometimes, people stop sticking knives in each other and everybody gets mad at me.
What we ought to do is to set up some testing for the proposed silicon, in the same way that IEEE 802.15.4 tested their silicon. Perhaps Wayne Manges, co-chair of SP100, could use the testing labs of his own Oak Ridge National Lab, and maybe we could get one of the other third-party labs, like UL or FM or one of the other national labs to be the other test lab. Allow each test lab to run performance testing on each proposed chip or methodology, and then the committee could actually have data, instead of marketing posturing to analyze. Then, the best silicon wins. That takes care of the physical layer.
Now comes the important part.
One of the things that SP100 lacks, and it is certainly not from lack of trying to acquire it, is an acceptable number of user cases and application documentation. As this is written, the committee is trying to get more end users involved in the committee’s work, but I doubt that we’ll get many more users than we already have, and there has been a run of vendors trying to join the “end user” committee. Many companies don’t want their end users to be that involved in standards activities to the detriment of the time they can spend doing their very own jobs, and many vendors believe they know what the end users already want: what the vendor has to sell them. This can be just as dangerous as concentrating too much on the physical layer.
So, I offered to Marty, as co-convenor of the SP100 committee, the offices of Control magazine to help run a comprehensive user poll and acquire use cases. Control, as a disinterested third party, will host the poll. I’m asking every company that is involved in SP100 to help write the poll questions, and then send the URL of the poll, when it is published, to their end user mailing lists. I encourage ISA to do the same. The raw data from the poll will be made available to the SP100 committee as soon as it is acquired.
We need to do more than pay lip service to the idea of user input. “A user driven standard is a great standard, one that will stay relevant,” Jose Gutierrez said. I could not agree more.