The number of connected devices is growing exponentially. In fact, current estimates from IDC Research predict IoT spending will reach $1.29 trillion by 2020. Although many of these are consumer devices (such as Fitbits or smartphones), the presence of IoT devices in industrial settings is skyrocketing as well, with manufacturing forecasted to be the industry making the largest investment in IoT.
With this increased connectivity, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) offers exciting possibilities for transforming many different industries–from industrial automation and manufacturing, to oil & gas and building security. By utilizing the IIoT, industrial companies can leverage technologies like big data analytics to optimize operations, improve efficiency and generate insights that can increase profitability and competitive advantage.
Although many industrial companies may envision an IIoT-enabled future, the reality is that most are still struggling with how to make the transition given they are still dependent on their legacy infrastructure. John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions for Stratus Technologies, has outlined five things industrial companies should be thinking about in terms of IIoT readiness in order to overcome the barriers to making the transition.
Merge your IT/OT teams
A common barrier to the IIoT transition has to do with the mindset and culture of Operational Technology (OT) organizations, which are quite different from those of Information Technology (IT) organizations. IT is most commonly defined by constant change and innovation, whereas OT is change-and risk-averse. Therefore, we often see industrial automation systems in service for decades at a time with little or no change because stability is the top priority in a world where any downtime of production systems can have a devastating impact on revenue.
In order to achieve the full potential of the IIoT, the gap between these two cultures needs to be bridged so that the competing priorities of IT and OT are met. We’re beginning to see the emergence of “industrial technologists,” who bring a combined IT/OT perspective to the enterprise. These “industrial technologists” understand that for IIoT to be a reality, “always on” availability needs must be met. Because they live in both worlds, they play a key role in meeting both OT and IT priorities.
Integrate your systems
Industrial environments are usually composed of discrete automation systems deployed throughout an organization over time and are often not tied together, resulting in “siloed” data stores throughout the facility. Another challenge is the fact that many OT systems that keep the plant running are often outdated applications residing on dedicated hardware. This creates numerous single points of failure and makes it difficult or impossible to integrate the data needed for advanced analytics.
A key step toward the IIoT is making sure any new systems added to the environment are based on industry-standard components to allow for interoperability, as sharing and consolidating data is the key to realizing the benefits of the IIoT.
Modernize your equipment
Before you can begin to tap the potential of next-generation, big data-driven, intelligent automation, the foundation on which it is built needs to be modernized. The first step is to take a look at existing OT infrastructure. In most environments today, you will see old desktop hardware and servers running operating systems and software that are often very outdated; dedicated PCs for each application; and proprietary systems that have been patched for years just to keep them going.