Friday, June 17, 2016

The Value of Third-Party Validation for Industrial Automation Software

Posted by Steve Sponseller

Today, customers expect products to “just work” and be free of defects and bugs. While warranty programs have become more and more gracious to help manage this expectation, the inconvenience and frustration of managing a return may ultimately still result in a negative customer experience. Redeemed warranties are also expensive for vendors due to the short-term impact on revenue and long-term impact on market share and brand reputation. In the industrial world, downtime and safety are the cost of poor quality and unstable software—which can have a dramatic impact on business.

Aside from a quality assurance team that tests products to the best of their abilities for real-world scenarios, what else can be done to get the level of assurance required for your product and to avoid warranty returns? Kepware has found that the third-party validation of our software is an effective addition to our quality assurance strategy. It also signals commitment to the market, helping alleviate customer concerns over being “guinea pigs” for new features or products in markets where your company is not yet a well-known and trusted entity.

Such was the case when Kepware 081A4928.jpgdeveloped our Electronic Flow Measurement (EFM) solution that polls flow computers on wellsites and oil and gas pipelines for measurement data, which is often used for custody transfer purposes where big money is at stake. Measurement was a new market for us—Kepware was well-known in the Oil & Gas control space for our real-time communication with PLCs, but had little market share in the measurement sector. Kepware contracted with a well-known research institute in San Antonio to perform third-party validation of our new solution (we respect this organization’s desire to remain anonymous in public materials such as this to retain their non-biased status). Our commitment got the attention of strategic partners in the hydrocarbon measurement industry like Flow-Cal, ABB, and Emerson—as well as end users like Williams, Pioneer Natural Resources, Whiting Petroleum, and Petrobras Transpetro.

As another example of third-party validation, Kepware was recently invited to participate in a study on real-time data transfer for an Oil & Gas Industry consortium group that focuses on cyber-security (similarly, they prefer that their name does not appear in print). The consortium is made up of the five “SuperMajors” and the Department of Homeland Security. The Kepware solution that was tested was the OPC UA Tunnel, which utilizes the security component of the OPC UA standard to allow for secure data transfer across networks and through firewalls. To request a report of their findings, please email

Lastly, aside from running the OPC Foundation’s Self-Compliance Testing Toolset to certify Kepware’s OPC implementations, we also submit our products for OPC Test Lab Certification and participate in their annual interoperability workshops. In this week-long session that takes place in North America, Europe, and Asia, vendors collaborate to test and ensure that their OPC products work together. For instance, Kepware tests our various OPC server interfaces with the participating client software applications, as well as our OPC client drivers (OPC DA and OPC UA) with other vendors’ OPC servers. This allows us to make appropriate changes to our implementations to ensure they work in harmony with other products in the market—before frustrating customers who might be trying to get two systems to exchange data in the eleventh hour of a critical project.

In summary, we believe that internal testing of products is not enough to ensure their quality and ability to integrate well with other solutions in this “best-of-breed” paradigm that today’s market requires. Real-world, unbiased testing via multiple third-party validation is a great approach to strengthen your quality value statement and provide a comfort level that your prospects, customers, and partners will appreciate.