Around 90% of the recorded data in the world today was created in the last three years, and 70% in the last 18 months - a statistic cited by a Repsol manager at the SMi E&P Information & Data Management conference.
While debate revolved around what the term 'big data' actually meant, it seemed clear from the event, 12-13 Feb, in London that the volumes of data generated by industrial operations are now running at unprecedented levels, and increasing at an exponential rate.
The challenge now for industrial process companies is to harness this resource and grasp the opportunities it offers to improve the safety, efficiency and profitability of their facilities - and to do so more effectively than their global competitiors.
That's a recurring messages in this issue of PI Match newsletter, which tracks new technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on the process industries in 2014.
Opinions provided by leading experts in the process control and automation sector suggest industrial competitiveness will soon depend on the ability of a company to leverage vast volumes data flowing through and captured within their systems.
One of the key enablers will be the Internet of Things (IoT), which is said to offer major opportunities for those able to capture the power of mobile, cloud and connected devices and components to improve output, throughput or efficiency.
"More than a trend worth watching in 2014, IoT will be the nervous system of the industry of tomorrow," comments Gareth Dean of Rockwell Automation. "We are just scratching the surface of what is possible as the applications and principles are limitless and will continue to unfold throughout 2014 and beyond."
'Big data' is already established in some industrial monitoring and control applications, with, for example, engineers and scientists now collecting huge amounts of data to track the performance and status of costly assets.
For example, large gas turbine manufacturers are generating over 10 terabytes of data a day from tests on instrumented electricity generating turbines, reports Tristan Jones of National Instruments UK & Ireland.
"The growing field of big data analytics is generating never-before-seen engineering and business insights and solving problems in key application areas such as machine condition monitoring," said Jones.
Innovation in the application of real-time process data is also set to make its mark this year - as evidenced by the emergence of new industrial applications for augmented reality (AR) systems.
With its launch of a new 'dynamic simulator', Yokogawa is offering an AR solution for optimising plant operations in the oil & gas, petrochemical, and other industries. The technology has reportedly proved successful in a pilot project at Mitsui Chemicals, whiich is partnering Yokogawa in the development.
The data revolution will also extend into the world of drives, according to Siemens specialist John Inskip, who expects integrated drive systems (IDS) to make a positive impact on the process industry this year.
The philosophy of IDS allows for data to be acquired upstream, he explains. All production variables can be monitored and the performance of the drive system tracked both locally or remotely.
"Using an integrated approach from VSDs right down to the mechanical system allows a drive train to be optimised in order to deliver energy efficiency, operational performance, reliability and safety," said Inskip.
The bigger picture, though, suggests that process companies will have to invest much time, effort and resources in developing data architectures and systems that empower their engineers, managers, technicians and operators.
To maximise the effectiveness and safety of process operations, these 'big data' systems must be closely and constantly aligned to real business goals to ensure that everyone has access to the right information at the right time, IT experts believe.
As a marker, Shell has now introduced a requirement for every new project proposal to come with a fully specified model for managing the data throughout the lifecycle of the project.
"Otherwise it doesn't get built," Johan Stockman, an IT leader at Shell Global Solutions, said at the SMi conference in London. "If you havn't thought this through, how are you going to have a successful project?"
Technologies to Watch in 2014