Interviews Tom Burke, President of the OPC Foundation

headshot_ken_sinclairAn interview of Thomas Burke, President and Executive Director of the OPC Foundation, by Ken Sinclair, Publisher and Owner of


OPC UA is designed for information integration between industrial automation and building automation systems.

The OPC Foundation has been collaborating with many other standards organizations in the advancement of interoperability by providing an information integration infrastructure for standardizing of complex data models into the easy to understand OPC UA information model namespace. One of the most important collaborations has been building automation.

Sinclair: I have watched the OPC Foundation change over the last 20 years from starting as a simple data access standard for industrial automation control systems to now being well recognized as the organization for providing standards for information integration from the embedded world to the enterprise in industrial automation, and at the same time is providing an infrastructure to allow other standards organizations to take advantage of this really cool OPC stuff. Can you give us some insight into your vision and what are the benefits of the OPC unified architecture?

Burke: When we started the OPC unified architecture in 2004, the concept was to provide a set of services that would facilitate moving data and information across corporate firewalls allowing control systems and IT systems information integration. The service-oriented architecture of the OPC unified architecture provided a highly scalable architecture that allowed an easy mechanism to embed the OPC technology into very small devices, like a chip for instance. Consequently we had a strategy that provided an infrastructure for devices and applications to be connected seamlessly using the OPC UA services. Because we had separated out the standard OPC data models from the services like read and write, we actually set the stage for the OPC unified architecture information model building blocks. Now we have a way that allows OPC, vendors, and other organizations to be able to add information models to the architecture allowing generic clients to be able to discover and use the OPC UA services to operate on. The benefits of OPC UA are really opening the door for information integration at its finest because OPC UA provides a multi-platform secure reliable interoperability infrastructure that seamlessly provides the ability for information models to be easily added into total systems.

Sinclair: Building automation has changed a lot over the last few years with the advancements of technology being available and the desire for having data and information from the entire myriad of connected devices. How do you see the opportunity for the connected devices and building automation being relevant to the industrial automation sector? Does OPC plan to play a part in this as well?

Burke: OPC started as a mechanism for providing data acquisition services between devices and first-tier visualization applications, all based on the Microsoft OLE technology. The market OPC initially served was totally focused on the domain of industrial automation. We continued to add support for more OPC data like alarming and history but each with their own separate data acquisition remote procedure calls. With OPC UA we separated out the services from the data. With all these connected devices we can now have a single set of services be able to acquire the data from the connected devices. Now we have a mechanism to do data integration between industrial automation and other related domains inclusive of building automation. The opportunity to do complex energy management is simply a byproduct of this information integration.

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