Navigant Research Blog

OSIsoft Wants Its PI Database to Sit at the Heart of IIoT

— October 21, 2016

AnalyticsAt OSIsoft’s EMEA Users Conference, the company set out a clear vision for its PI database: to remain resolutely an infrastructure provider and build out its significant number of partnerships. However, the majority of time was dedicated to its customers’ experiences delivering value from their operational data in innovative ways.

OSIsoft Wants to Position PI at the Heart of IIoT

The utility industry will recognize PI as the most widely used SCADA historian. Yet, PI’s scope extends well beyond utilities; it has a strong presence in many industries, including oil & gas, power generation, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. The conference had strong representation from across its core verticals, achieving a record attendance of 1,200 people—3 times the number that attended just 2 years ago.

This remarkable growth is indicative of the increasing value of operational data. A decade ago, PI was used to store data from operational control systems, and few people outside of this domain would access this data. Today, OSIsoft wants to position its database at the heart of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With a strong focus on digital transformation and IT/OT convergence, the Users Conference focused on ways OSIsoft, its customers, and its partners are helping customers deliver value by using operational data in new ways. A large part of this drive is to provide access to PI data to more users, but in a controlled and measured manner.

OSIsoft Must Work Hard to Raise PI’s Profile within Its Clients’ Organizations

This can be a challenge in many organizations, where PI is often not known beyond the departments that currently use it. IIoT, Industry 4.0, and big data create a huge growth opportunity for OSIsoft, but it must work hard to win this new business. The hype surrounding IIoT and big data is driven by myriad cloud-based IoT platform providers promoting the use of relational databases or Hadoop. OSIsoft warns against the proliferation of cloud-based data services, as these lead to the creation of yet more data siloes—the enemy of any large-scale data discovery project that integrates data from multiple sources.

Although OSIsoft has demonstrated success with its product, the company has to make itself heard through the noise of the big data hype machine. And while it is a profitable business, its marketing resources are limited. As a result, OSIsoft is using its biggest group of supporters to help emphasize the message that PI is a critical tool in IIoT data analytics. Many of OSIsoft’s users are also cheerleaders for the product. The Users Conference was full of customers discussing how other users can gain more value out of their PI licenses.

OSIsoft’s Partners Will Be Critical to Its Future Success

OSIsoft has another ace up its sleeve: a long list of partners that are also targeting the IIoT space. This list includes some impressive names: Esri, SAP, Qualcomm, SAS, IBM, Honeywell, Microsoft, and Cisco.

These vendors recognize PI’s strength and want to ensure that their products integrate seamlessly with PI. In the world of IoT, everyone wants to be OSIsoft’s friend—which is unsurprising, given OSIsoft is a monopoly in many industries. However, it is not just OSIsoft’s market penetration that makes it an attractive partner.

From its earliest days, OSIsoft has resisted the temptation to expand beyond its core business. It is resolutely an infrastructure business. While it has augmented the core PI database with various tools—notifications of anomalous events, data visualization, and integration tools—these are not applications. This means that OSIsoft has no competing products with anyone keen to connect their devices or integrate their applications. In the past, I have been critical of this approach, but my stance is weakening. As the IIoT world develops, OSIsoft’s agnosticism toward applications makes more and more sense: it can partner with a whole raft of vendors and consolidate its position as a market-leading repository for operational data.


Flexible Modules and Building Integration Drive the Specialized Solar PV Market

— October 20, 2016

Rooftop SolarAs global adoption of solar power has rapidly increased over the years, competition among solar product manufacturers and developers alike has become intense. As with all matured and competitive markets, the winning technology for the low-hanging fruit—in this case, ground-mounted traditional applications—has been picked. Crystalline silicon (c-Si)-based modules are expected to take the lion’s share of this market.

This means that solar projects suited for traditional products can be quickly signed and completed. But this has left a significant portion of the potential market unserved due to challenging building architecture or unique project locations such as highway luminaires, tents, awnings, or off-grid buildings that can’t bear the weight of a traditional solar panel.

New solutions addressing this area continue to come to market. Both building-integrated PV (BIPV) and flexible solar modules are helping to serve the needs of untapped consumers. This increase in manufacturing for both flexible panels and BIPV is expected to be in addition to the $40 billion global advanced c-Si solar module market by 2025, as forecast in Navigant Research’s recently published Next-Generation Solar PV report.

With such high stakes and attractive opportunities, new products are being launched and partnerships formed. Outlined below are three recent developments in the PV space regarding new flexible panel and BIPV product offerings or partnerships.

SoloPower Systems

SoloPower Systems recently announced a product release on the CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) thin-film front. The company, which also produces flexible panels, has developed a packaged offering aimed at developing countries for off-grid applications. The package includes a panel, battery, connectors, a charger, and LED lights. In addition, the company recently began providing a financing option similar to a pay-as-you-go structure.


MiaSolé, a subsidiary of Hanergy, recently released a new line of “flexible, thin, ultra-light, high efficiency, shatterproof CIGS modules” known as the Flex series. The company claims its new offering will open new solar markets and enable panel manufacturers to integrate solar on locations that have not previously been serviced.

The Flex series panels are approximately 17% efficient, much higher than previous flexible solar technologies. Furthermore, the components that house the panels are 4 times lighter than traditional rigid solar panels and are only 2.5 millimeters thick. With these characteristics, Flex panels can be designed to fit numerous non-traditional configurations and can be integrated into a BIPV design.

MiaSolé has also announced a new sales channel partnership with Inovateus Solar, the first major distributor of Flex series products. Inovateus provides design and installation work for BIPV products in the commercial roofing space.


Panel producer Solaria recently announced that it is entering into a partnership to manufacture semi-transparent BIPV solutions with NSG Group, one of the world’s largest glass producers. The first of these new products will be launched in Europe, followed by distribution in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Although the economics are still challenging, these products are intended for customers that are looking for benefits other than ROI. The products in this arena can’t compete on economics alone; however, they are very suitable for projects where traditional panels are ruled out due to wind, weight, or other considerations.

Final Thoughts

As general solar power policies and building regulations related to PV continue to flourish at a rapid pace, so too will the growth of more specialized flexible and BIPV products. Meanwhile, the growth of traditional PV is simultaneously driving these specialized markets. Finally, increasing acceptance within the architectural community is also contributing to growth; aesthetic value will become more attractive once the overall cost of solar becomes a smaller fraction of the cost of a new building. Ultimately, these factors will ensure that the flexible module and BIPV markets will have an increasingly larger role within the overall PV industry during the years to come.


IoT Standards Groups Merge, Paving Way for Increased Device and System Interoperability

— October 18, 2016

AnalyticsOne of the key barriers hampering wider adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is now on course to come down. Two leading IoT standards groups, Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and AllSeen Alliance, have merged, setting up the next steps toward standardization.

The two organizations issued similar statements about their plans on October 10, saying the combined groups will now operate under the Open Connectivity Foundation name. For now, though, work will continue in parallel for both the open-source OCF IoTivity project and AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn software framework. Eventually the two efforts will merge into a single IoTivity standard.

By joining forces, the enhanced OCF is on track to make interoperability among IoT devices and systems more seamless and secure for all stakeholders, including developers, hardware vendors, and end users. This means a smart thermostat should be able to work well and securely with a smart plug, a smart appliance, or a connected door lock.

Other Standards Being Developed

There are other industry players also working on standards, meaning a true standard is still elusive and the market is still fragmented. For example, Thread Group, backed originally by Google, is another entity working to create IoT interoperability standards. Google engineers are also developing a communications language for devices called Weave, a part of the company’s Brillo project, which aims to create an embedded OS for devices.

Nonetheless, the OCF and Thread Group should be credited for working toward a more harmonious market. Last July, OCF and Thread said they plan to cooperate even though they have different aims: Thread is developing a low-power mesh network layer, while OCF is focusing on an application layer that would run on top of the network. OCF is also working in partnership with two other groups, the Industrial Internet Consortium and the European IoT EEBus initiative. In addition, Thread Group has agreed to work with the ZigBee Alliance on a program to ensure interoperability.

A Market in Flux

The trend is moving toward IoT standards, but right now the market is in flux, and the uncertainty has a dampening effect on adoption. While the merger of OCF and AllSeen is a significant step forward, more work is needed among many technologies or groups in this space, like the LoRa Alliance, narrowband Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE), 5G, and the IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard. Bottom line: The IoT interoperability game is more of a marathon than a sprint, with many players vying for attention and market-mind share. The process could take 5 years or more before things settle down. Navigant Research’s recently launched IoT research service focuses on the IoT trend from an energy perspective and will continue to track changes in the interoperability issues of the market.


The Apple Car Was Always a Long Shot

— October 18, 2016

Connected VehiclesIn February 2015, when word of Project Titan filtered down from Cupertino, California, Apple fans and the tech media instantly whipped themselves into a frenzy that has barely subsided since. However, if a new Bloomberg report is accurate, the never-announced Apple car is now all but dead.

For anyone that gave the premise of Apple building a car serious thought, including yours truly, the concept was always a long shot at best. There is a fundamental disconnect between the way Apple has operated for most of the past 2 decades and the auto industry. With a few rare exceptions like Porsche, automakers have long scraped by on notoriously thin, single-digit margins. Ever since Tim Cook joined Apple in 1998, the company has grown into the most profitable enterprise in the history of the world, with margins that regularly exceed 35%.

Along the way, Apple has created a string of hit products that built on its core competencies of computers and user experience. Building cars would have required several new sets of skills that were completely foreign to Apple. (That’s not to say that a company with $200 billion in the bank and an extremely capable leadership team couldn’t have developed or acquired the necessary skills.)

However, if there is one thing that many (although apparently not all) in Silicon Valley have learned from watching Tesla over the past dozen years, it is that building a car is orders of magnitude more difficult than building a messaging app or a smartphone. The complexities of the supply chain are vast, and the regulatory requirements are labyrinthine.

Automotive Transformation

However, Apple is coming at the automotive space at a time when we are on the verge of the biggest inflection since the Model T. As described in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 report, the autonomous car may be about to take over from the human driver, and we may be shifting from individual car ownership to on-demand mobility services.

To a degree, this would actually be a very good time for Apple to jump in. Apple is a company that likes to control the user experience, and offering an on-demand mobility service where it doesn’t have to sell individual vehicles might actually be a great fit. On the other hand, that same desire to provide a reliable, consistent experience may be working against the company, as we are on the bleeding edge of autonomous vehicles. Apple prefers to let others go first and then learn from their lessons. It didn’t build the first MP3 player, smartphone, or tablet, but instead waited to build devices that worked better. If Apple wants to enter the mobility business, it might be better off waiting a few years until more of the technical and legal hurdles have been overcome.

The Bloomberg report indicates that the company is pivoting toward providing a software platform for other automakers. This seems unlikely to be a successful strategy. The aforementioned desire for control clashes with automakers’ preference to provide a distinct user experience to customers, so if Apple offered an infotainment system beyond CarPlay, it is unlikely to be adopted. If the company were to offer an autonomous driving platform, it would be something that’s not consumer-facing and unlikely to appeal to Apple. The bigger automakers are all developing autonomous systems in-house, and the smaller brands are likely to go with the more experienced Tier One suppliers like Delphi or Continental that can offer a turnkey solution.

Only a fool would completely discount Apple in the transportation space or anything else it wanted to try—but holding your breath while waiting for the company’s automotive offering might prove just as foolish.


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