Collaboration in the workplace is a good thing. It creates open lines of communication. With open lines of communication, members of an organization can learn from other members and have an avenue for problem solving. This in turn broadens the perspective in the decision-making process. And creates a strong working culture where members are happy to come to work.

Collaboration provides significant value and benefit for an organization, but it is something an organization must work towards. From hiring decisions to office design and from the company working culture to collaboration tools, collaboration takes energy and effort. Luckily, when an organization creates a collaborative environment, the organization and members are better able to improve (and continue to improve) operations.

Collaboration with Data Historians

Collaboration tools are a good investment for those organizations looking to create a collaborative work environment or improve their current operations. When you do a Google search of collaboration tools, you’ll find a whole host of tools for different users, different needs, and different goals. In the process and discrete industry, one collaboration tool that is sometimes overlooked is the data historian.

A data historian’s original purpose was to collect and store timestamped data. As technology has advanced, data historians are now capable of doing much more, including improved visualizations, data analysis, and reporting. These built-in tools and capabilities make your data historian a strong data collaboration tool. By understanding some of a data historian features and functionalities, you can take advantage of collaboration with data historians.

1. Groups and Assets

A historian is a smart piece of technology. It can understand large amounts of data from disparate sources and organize it quickly so that the user can easily retrieve historical and real-time data. Unlike a historian, a user cannot easily parse through rows and rows of information. In the past, to help its users manage its data, historians organized the data by the tag. Though a useful way of organizing data, this granular level is not necessarily the first way the human brain thinks about the plant. We tend to think of things in groups. In plants, this takes the form of assets like a boiler, turbine, or mill.

To improve the user’s convenience, data historians have provided two capabilities to help. The first is asset management. Rather than centering everything around the tag, the historian can center data around the asset. The other feature is groups. If you look at a group of tags or systems together all the time, create saved groups. This will save you time but also make it easier to collaborate. When you want a colleague to look at the same information as you and troubleshoot, it’s much easier to say open Safety Pressure Valve Group 1 than open tag A, tag B, tag, C, tag D, tag E, and tag F.

2. Dashboards

Dashboards provide key information at a quick glance. For example, having key systems that are critical to a plant displayed in an easy to understand and accessible format helps your organization focus on what’s important. Some of our customers have dashboards displayed on large screens at their centralized monitoring and diagnostics (CMD) center for their numerous sites. With the dashboards, the CMD Center has quick insight into their disparate locations. If something seems off, they can then deep dive with that site.

When people are not in the same physical space, the recommendation is to communicate. Communicate more. And then communicate some more. The reason for this is that when you’re not in the same physical space, you lose informal paths of communication that provide important information. When working in disparate locations, you won’t hear a passing comment from one engineer to another engineer. Having visualizations like dashboards will provide grounds for monitoring but also reminders for continued communication.

3. User Management

A collaboration tool is useless if the majority of people don’t have access to it. Data historians are not meant to be a tool used by one or a select few in an organization. Does this mean that everyone in the organization will utilize the historian or that every user will use all the functionalities? No.

Understanding the different types of users and how you can set them up within the historian will save time and money. For example, a user that will only look at a pre-created dashboard doesn’t need to sit in a historian training. In addition, is there information that should be view only? Your data historian provider should be able to provide built-in features that will help with this.

By giving more people in your organization the ability to view real-time and historical data, you’ll make it easier for people to understand and analyze the current situation and make recommendations going forward. This access will help users leverage data-informed collaboration.

4. Data Access

If not secure, collaboration tools can bring a host of issues and problems. For data historians, ensuring your data security should be an expectation. Speak with your data historian provider to understand how they secure your data, like using one-way communication, key signed and certification verified data encryption and user authentication, and diagnostics and logs.

Once you know your data is secured, evaluate the different methods you have to access the data. Most data historians offer an application for your PC as well as web browsers. For reporting or Excel analysis, you’ll probably not want to try and do that on your phone or tablet. But for reviewing trends or the current status, checking on a web browser is a great option.

When working off site, discuss with your IT team about how you can securely access your data. VPNing into the system is a great option to ensure security while also getting you the information needed for data-informed decision-making. Like your job, collaboration doesn’t happen in one location. Having the ability to view data any where and at any time will ensure that your data is ready when you’re collaborating.

5. Reports

Reports provide the necessary information to understand the past, current, and future status. In the process and discrete industry, there are plenty of reports created throughout the year. And yet, the goal of reports should not be their creation. Rather, the goal of reports is to provide a common understanding so that an organization can collaborate and identify areas for improvement.

Luckily, data historians can help you automate your report generation, so you can spend less time creating the reports and more time collaborating around the analysis. An Excel add-in with your data historian is key. This lets you use the real-time and historical data you have with the advanced capabilities in Excel. Just make sure your data historian has fast data retrieval. There’s nothing worse than pulling a report, it taking forever, and then crashing.

For future blog posts like this one on collaboration with data historians, check out our LinkedIn page.