It seems that its time has come and its more than we imagined.
As an ABB Chemical Business Unit employee in 1991, I attended an internal meeting by a corporate "think tank" group within the company that postulated on automation and where it was trending. The main theme was that user interfaces would be multi-faceted. Displays that offer configuration forms, loop drawings, and P&ID views for engineering; at the click of a button morph into a version with setpoint entries, alarm status feedback, and real-time trends for operators; another click transforms to I/O troubleshooting, statistical reports, and repair orders for maintenance; still more variations with cost of operation, yield and order status for production and management. It sounded like a great idea, but no products offered this type of seamless operation between stakeholders.
As time has moved on, display faceplates have matured to include the engineering, maintenance and asset management "tabs" needed for a control loop. There are even best practices for icons, colors, and contrast of images to help keep this amount of information from becoming overly obtrusive. Furthermore, nearly all documentation has been moved to network storage that can be accessible from anywhere at any time. With some relatively small amount of forethought and planning the concepts envisioned 25 years ago are now a reality. But just having access to this information is not enough.
It turns out the real breakthrough is in the advent of Modern Manufacturing or what some call "Smart Manufacturing." The coordination of Automation, Information, and Analytics. You know, think Watson. It is showing up regularly in industry posts.
As usual, the way to reach these advanced capabilities is in better engineering tools to reduce time and cost, higher levels of standardization to allow APIs to work together (think XML, JSON, SQL, etc.), and device connectivity to provide access to the information needed from production databases, vendor documentation, and field equipment.
As systems integrators, Optimation is using standard libraries for process objects, engineering tools for application code development, standard IT technologies for virtualization and server deployment, and database technology for interoperability with client info centers. Moving forward, there will be a significant payback to clients that want to build in more business intelligence into their systems now that the automation platform is ready to support it.