Pinto's Law of Market Confusion

C = P x V/U

As Applied to Industrial Fieldbus Networks

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

For several years now, there has been a significant amount of confusion over "Fieldbus" industrial networks. Users and vendors alike have recognized the inexorable trend towards industrial networking - simplify wiring, reduce cabling costs, improved flexibility, easy system expansion or modification, increased fault-tolerance, local and remote communications ability, maintenance and operating diagnostics - the list of benefits goes on an on. And, of course, one of the major advantages is "inter-operability" - connecting the widgets made by Vendor-A to the doo-dads made by Vendor-B, all on the same network, speaking the same language. What a wonderful world that would be.....!

Everyone wants to be the "standard"

Since everyone has seen the writing on the wall - so everyone wants to be in the networking business! But, no one knows where to start - because everyone is inventing a new network ! The vendors, of course, after having made a major investment in development of "their" network, would like everyone else to join their bandwagon - so they throw the doors "open" and publish their protocols, so everyone can connect to "their" network and gain access to everyone else's stuff.

But, of course, the lead-vendor doesn't advertise the fact that you'd probably have to use their chips (which, of course, you can buy from them at an "amazingly low cost", or from a third-party supplier who pays them an "insignificant royalty") and they already have a 5-year lead with 300 people trained in their technology (which others would have to learn from scratch).

The BIG vendors (like Siemens in Europe and Allen-Bradley in the US) generate enough momentum to have "hordes of hungry hangers on" jump on their supposed bandwagon, with the hopes that they could bask in beams of borrowed bigness - telling the world that they have the answer. But, of course, if everyone has the answer, then no one has the answer - because all the other vendors can not and will not allow everyone to follow their major competitor, thereby giving away their own proprietary edge.

"Open" networks

So, each of the major vendors announces their own "open" network (since users have demanded interoperability as a significant benefit) and this confuses the HOHHO's (Hordes of Hungry Hangers On) who then have no choice but to join the "other" open-associations. And, of course, you have the inevitable (and somewhat dis-concerting) result : All the HOHHO's join ALL the Open Associations! Hey, what's a poor little HOHHO to do?!

Of course, this leaves the Users totally confused. They want interoperability because they want to get away from over-dependence on just one vendor - and now the confusion is even worse ! Which brings us to Pinto's Law of Market Confusion :

    C = P x V/U

    where :
    C is the Confusion
    V is the number of Vendor's supporting more than one "standard"
    U is the number of happy Users
    P is Pinto's Confusion-factor, which decreases non-linearly with time

You can apply Pinto's Law to other major technology advances such as PC vs Apple vs Commodore vs Atari; or DOS vs CP/M; or Windows/95/3.1 vs OS/2 vs UNIX; or VME-BUS vs Multi-BUS vs STD-BUS vs PC/AT-BUS vs Microchannel. In each case you will note that confusion reigned for a time, while lots of vendors supported multiple systems. Eventually, confusion subsides when most vendors support just one system and most users are happy with what they are using and the Pinto-factor has time to reduce asymptotically to 1.

The Pinto-factor

The Pinto-factor can also increase with technology-shifts, which also relate to time. Technology can cause a sudden shift (technology step-change) or slow drift (build-up of dis-satisfaction) in the Pinto-factor. For example, there are a lot of happy users of the 4-20mA standard; and yet digital networks promise a lot of significant advantages, causing new confusion.

When the Pinto-factor is 1 a single Supreme Vendor reigns and all the other vendors spend their time plotting new confusion and the opportunity to wrest the glory of a new standard. So, while Billy Gates and Andy Grove are basking in the WINTEL sunshine, Scott McNealy of SUN and Larry Ellison of Oracle and Jim Barksdale of Netscape are busy trying to start a new NetPC revolution, which starts all over again with high-confusion and a high Pinto-factor!

Similarly, in the industrial fieldbus environment, Siemens is trying hard to promote Profibus, while Allen-Bradley advocates DeviceNet and ControlNet, and people like Phoenix Contact and Honeywell Microswitch try vainly to gain glory through various blends of Interbus and CAN without recognizing that each different new variety simply increases the Pinto-factor and the consequent confusion. And the DCS vendors, flocking together like birds of a feather, try jointly to promote Fieldbus Foundation, without recognizing the implications of Pinto's Law.

Of course, Fieldbus SP-50 is touted as the final interoperable standard, supported by ALL the process control vendors. If Pinto's Law is applied, without too many happy users and a multiplicity of Vendors, the Confusion variable is high. And confusion cannot be reduced till "V" is reduced (fewer vendors who are hedging their bets through supporting multiple standards) and "U" is increased (sufficient number of happy users - till now, woefully few).

Take heart ! The confusion (as measured by the declining Pinto-factor) does reduce with time. An increasing number of Happy Users begin to realize the benefits of staying with one of the better-supported industrial-networks, software and firmware becomes stable and vendors migrate inexorably to one or other of the inevitable handful of interoperable standards that yield practical and profitable results.

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