Metaphor: ISO 15926 is Like HTML

In case you don't know what Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is, you can rest assured that you are a part of a very large majority. HTML is the common language of the World Wide Web. Every web page you have seen is written with some variant of it. If everyone involved in plant design, construction, and operations were to use ISO 15926 to exchange information about plant objects, we would have an equivalent to the HTML experience—but between machines.

For instance, if you want to look at the web page of a pump manufacturer you don't need to know anything beyond the web site address of the company. When your browser connects to the web site, it assumes that what it finds will be encoded in HTML. Of course, it will be—if the manufacturer wants to get any business through the web page-because HTML is the standard format of the World Wide Web. In addition, it does not matter which browser you use. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Netscape are all written to understand HTML.

Imagine the hassle if you first had to contact the pump manufacturer and ask for the encoding format, and then instruct your IT folks to write a translator program, before you could access the web site? Of course, you would not do it. And of course the pump manufacturer would not make a web page like this in the first place because no one else would do it either.

This metaphor does a good job of describing what the average user will have to know about ISO 15926 as well. In the same way that most people who use the World Wide Web do not need to know about HTML, most users of ISO 15926 will not have to know about it to exchange information. When ISO 15926 is mature, it will simply be built into the software we will all use. Engineers will be able to exchange information much more easily than they do now, and very few of them will need to know that the standard exists.

On the other hand, many web sites today are actually written in HTML. This metaphor implies that a large proportion of plant information will actually be stored in an ISO 15926-compliant data structure. Although this is certainly possible, it will probably not be the case. Most companies will maintain their plant information in the proprietary format they currently use. Instead, they will write a public interface to render the information in ISO 15926 format when a business partner asks for it.

In this regard, ISO 15926 is more like the case today whereby a database is exposed to the World Wide Web. When a user queries the database (via her web browser), a program dynamically searches the database and renders the results in HTML "on the fly."

There is another similarity that may appeal to your geeky side. HTML and ISO 15926 are standards that were developed along similar trajectories. Although the underlying infrastructure that enabled the Web started to form in the last quarter of the twentieth century, most of us only discovered it 20 years ago. At first there was some controversy as we speculated about its possibilities. Some of the ideas caught on and some didn't, but over time "surfing the web" just became part of our lives. Now many of our young people cannot imagine life without it.

Similarly, many people are just now finding out about ISO 15926—even though the standards that led to it first started to appear in the mid twentieth century. As with any new technology, there is some controversy and speculation on its future. However, the demand for the interoperability of information is strong and over time ISO 15926 will work its way into the way we do business.


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