See the forest

March 22, 2024
Prepare to look back, be patient and explain the basics

Just as individuals can freeze up, speak without thinking, or otherwise have difficulty communicating, I believe groups small and large can have the same problem. During a large presentation and panel discussion on the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS) at the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, an audience member asked a basic question about its purpose. Unfortunately, this query seemed to throw the experts on the panel and in the audience for a loop because several immediately launched into explanations about standards-development and documentation efforts by the Open Process Automation Forum’s (OPAF) committees and details its distributed control nodes (DCN), O-PAS connectivity framework (OCF), advanced computing platform (ACP).

While all of these answers were true, they really didn’t answer the initial question about the purpose of O-PAS, which is interoperability and plug-and-play process controls. I was little shocked by the OPAF experts’ detailed but seemingly ineffective responses because they’re some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever covered, and most have been working on the “standard of standards” for close to 10 years. Not only is O-PAS’ mission tattooed on the brains of every OPAF member, it’s also in its name, but articulating this was temporarily elusive.

So, why are simple answers often difficult to express? I think it’s due to the well-known situations where we “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Many of the technical professionals I’ve covered are so forward-focused on the technical problems they’re trying to solve that it’s hard to look back and express the overall reasons for what they’re doing.

Of course, the varying receptiveness of audiences also plays a big role. Even questioners sometimes can’t understand answers, aren’t paying actual attention, or may not want to hear them. Legend has it that even after the newly enlightened Buddha attained Nivana and gained the ultimate wisdom of the universe, he failed to convey what he’d learned to the first man he met.

The superpower of ignorance is that it doesn’t have to do anything to have an impact. Facts require work. This is also the reason “a lie can go halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.”

Not to worry though. Just prepare and keep in mind some answers that could help potential O-PAS users or rookies in any field who need orientation. FAQs and mission statements used to be staples for most organizations and websites, so it would probably help to revive and/or update them in many places.

Likewise, it could also help to check out the Flame Challenge from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. This was a terrific program that asked technical professionals to explain concepts like fire, color, time, sleep and others in language that 11-year-old students could understand.

Likewise, O-PAS already operates several outreach efforts, and just established its new end-user subcommittee, so there’s little doubt it will continue to succeed, and reach more and more potential process control users and application with its performance advantage, cost savings and other benefits.

However, the windows for reaching and engaging with the largest possible audience for O-PAS or any potentially useful solution are typically narrow and can close quickly. This is why it’s so important to consider the receptivity of others who aren’t as far along our learning curves, and remember that digitalization makes everyone a newbie in one area or another.

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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