One of the challenges we as an industry now face is how to manage the data available from today's integrated systems, and convert it to knowledge for action. I see the process of getting from data to action as requiring four levels of transformation: data (raw data collected from field sensors, operators, purchase orders, inventory levels, etc.), information (putting this information into context of place, time, relative amounts), knowledge (how the change in information affects the stability of the operation), and action (doing something to maintain equilibrium in the system).
For the asset management system to even start the four steps, the data has to arrive in a format that can be understood by both the sender and receiver. But data flow is one half of the equation. The other side is the physical layer and associated protocols that are all defined by standards, which define the format in which the information is to be converted to bits, then the bits into a signal, so it can be transmitted and received as packets of information. It's likely that a single packet of information moving from a field sensor to the control room and then to the manufacturing execution system (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system will use one or more of these physical media, as well as multiple protocols.