Posted by Parul Bhandari
Government Industry Solutions Lead, Worldwide Public

The “Internet of Things” is one of biggest buzz words of 2014, and the year isn’t half over. Today, automating the connection between many data sources and IT is more important than ever, and COPA-DATA knows this better than most.

COPA-DATACOPA-DATA, a Microsoft Partner Network member since 2005, is a technological leader for industrial automation software and has been delivering visionary innovations for more than 25 years. They are applying this expertise to help governments draw insights from complex and large sets of data to create more sustainable and economically competitive cities.

Johannes Petrowisch, Partner Account Manager at COPA-DATA, recently offered their perspectives on big data, open standards and the “Internet of Things.”

Johannes PetrowischWhat are the biggest challenges and opportunities big data presents?

With the increasing number of internet-enabled devices in production facilities, cities or households, the data volume is exploding nowadays. At the same time, the variety of data is increasing and the velocity of data is speeding up the pace of business.

As a result, this increasingly large and complex data sets are challenging traditional database systems. Businesses and the public sector need to be able to quickly analyze (new) data and take actions. The biggest challenge is to combine all these different data types, convert and analyze them, and create valuable insights for fast and profitable decision-making. The connectivity to specific data sources and sensors, which are either isolated or hard to access, represents another tricky task.

What does this mean specifically for private businesses? In the future, for example, if a manufacturing business wants to be more efficient and to stay competitive, it needs to get more out of the data it is creating – taking advantage of the “Internet of Things.”

And what does the future hold for the public sector? As of 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. It will be very important for the local government to collect data from numerous data sources and create insights to save energy, make processes more efficient, and address the challenges of tomorrow. Only through an impactful IT infrastructure will it be possible to be cost efficient, sustainable and to make cities a great place to live.

Besides the technical requirements for the automation and IT software, there is still one very important aspect to consider when talking about big data: user experience. One of the biggest challenges will be flexible staff who can cope with the changing requirements and the growing amount of data that is generated – having everything under control like a conductor. Ergonomic and intuitive software helps to increase flexibility and user experience – making the person perhaps the most important factor in the big data-driven world of tomorrow.

What’s the most innovative government use of big data you’ve seen thus far?

Some projects already done by the City of Barcelona, supporting e-government, or by the City of Manchester in the area of public transportation. For improving its transportation services, Transport for Greater Manchester decided to make its data publicly available and used Microsoft Azure to create and host a real-time open data platform. Third-party developers are using this platform to create a wide range of apps that make it easier and more enjoyable to use Greater Manchester’s public transport network. We are curious to see how this helps travelers to better plan, manage, and enjoy their journeys.

How do you help governments maximize the opportunities and free flow of big data while minimizing the risks to privacy?

We help governments collect and pre-process data to create valuable insights from the data generated from numerous industrial devices across cities, such as energy supply and distribution, water and waste water management, public transportation, smart buildings, and more.

In addition, our zenon Product Family supports municipalities to make processes more efficient and to make the right decisions based on real-time and high quality data – all while the government maintains full control of all the data generated to protect data privacy.

In order to provide the required data privacy and security, zenon offers several integrated features to prevent unwanted data loss from unauthorized access. These features include – among others – full support for Active Directory, IPv6 support in the zenon core system, http-tunneling for web servers, as well as 128-bit communication encryption between server, standby server, and clients in the network and in the communication with web clients.

What role do open standards play in your technology solutions?

Open standards play an important role in the solutions from COPA-DATA. All important industrial standards, like Object Linking and Embedding for Process Control Unified Architecture (OPC UA), are embedded into our software and can be used out of the box. They play an essential role in providing a basic level of connectivity in heterogeneous environments.

How did you come to work with Microsoft?

Back when Thomas Punzenberger founded COPA-DATA at the end of the eighties, he knew that he would develop the automation software zenon on the basis of proven products from Microsoft. Since COPA-DATA’s software zenon is based on Microsoft technologies, the collaboration has existed for more than 20 years now. COPA-DATA has also been a member of the Microsoft Partner Network since 2005. With access to the latest technologies, as well as extensive information and support resources, this membership contributes to the quality and innovative capacity of our own products and services.

The continued development of our initiatives with Microsoft led to us to receive the Gold certification for the Application Development and Intelligent Systems competencies. This year, COPA-DATA was officially confirmed as a Microsoft partner for CityNext, an initiative that is empowering people to create more sustainable and economically competitive cities.

Has anything surprised you about working with Microsoft?

Microsoft is a big company and represented worldwide. However, we are very pleased with the fast feedback and support we get for our solutions based on Microsoft’s latest technologies, such as Microsoft Azure. In addition, we are truly happy to have access to a great variety of resources through the entire Microsoft Partner Network to support joint marketing and sales, as well as technology best practices. These resources support us really well in delivering our solutions to the market.

What’s next for Microsoft/COPA-DATA collaborations?

COPA-DATA is currently working together with Microsoft on several projects.

One is in the area of Intelligent Systems and Machine-Cloud solutions. Together with Microsoft Germany, we are currently developing a sophisticated solution based on our software zenon and Microsoft Azure. The solution enables private businesses and the public sector to do multi-site analysis of machine-generated data in real-time, directly from the machines/sensors across the entire organization into the cloud and to mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). With this complete solution, all machine-generated data is available in real-time whenever and wherever needed.

Another project is CityNext. Since being named a CityNext Partner earlier this year, we’ve intensified our activities to offer Smart City solutions to the public sector. Especially in countries and regions where resources such as water and electricity are limited, the solutions based on zenon help local governments to provide services as reliably and efficiently as possible to citizens, to reduce costs and to be sustainable.