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What operators need to know about IIoT adoption

15 May 2017

At its core, the Industrial Internet of Things is about using the data generated by operational systems to help optimise the operations of an enterprise, says Stratus solutions architect, Andy Bailey

The intricate details of what this can entail for each individual business vary both in terms of scope and complexity, but the principle is always the same. Interconnectivity drives efficiency. By connecting processes, industrial automation (IA) helps knit together the different parts of the business into a cost effective whole that monitors its own performance in real time. So why is uptake of this revolutionary technology still so limited? Misconceptions about what’s involved may be to blame, and I’d like to address some of them in this post. IIoT implementation isn’t a walk in the park, but the rewards are obvious. 

One issue that comes up with operators is the concern that the IIoT is really only for big organisations. Consider a municipal waste treatment plant in an isolated community, in which staff are focused at all times just on keeping the machinery functioning. Downtime at a facility like that has a tangible negative effect on real people’s lives, and so the introduction of some low-cost sensors to monitor output volumes and temperatures, working in combination with IIoT analytics could help make a real difference. The technology is scaleable and so is the outlay.

Misconceptions

One of the most pervasive fears companies have of the IIoT is that it will leave their enterprise open to security breaches. This is true not only for in-factory systems but for any enterprise making increasing use of remote systems and storage. Clearly, operators want to maintain the control they’ve had for years and are reluctant to take what they see as risks on opening up their processes to outside interference. The truth is that there are all manner of ways to help protect the enterprise, at every level. Private Cloud systems, firewalls and cybersecurity controls that work to detect and deflect attacks from any direction.  

Security aside, there is another common concern for operational technologists. Many choose to delay an IIoT installation for fear of losing some of the control they hold over their IT departments. There is no doubt that significant changes to how the business works will have a knock-on effect on how it operates, and IT and OT both require a clear understanding of their roles in an IIoT system.

IT and OT both require a clear understanding of their roles in an IIoT system

Industrial automation engineers are crucial to the success of the enterprise and require support that other areas of the business do not. IT teams may have to adjust to this new paradigm

At the same time, OT must have a clear understanding of how their systems integrate into the wider IT architecture. IIoT technology will have an effect on all areas of the business whether directly or indirectly, and IT plays a crucial part in achieving the potential gains in financial, operational and security efficiencies.

When deciding on whether to take the first step on the path to IIoT it can be difficult to comprehend in advance what level of commitment the process will require and when it will start to become profitable. This perceived high barrier to entry is one of the biggest impediments to IIoT uptake, but it doesn’t have to be. The rewards for an appropriately-sized installation come quickly even for a small enterprise, whether in the form of eliminating unplanned downtime, improving OEE or efficiencies gained from intelligent use of data. The ability to perfectly control your machinery’s availability is now a reality for enterprises up and down the food chain.

Key Points

  • One of the most pervasive fears companies have of the IIoT is that it will leave their enterprise open to security breaches
  • Many choose to delay an IIoT installation for fear of losing some of the control they hold over their IT departments
  • Rewards for an appropriately-sized IIoT installation come quickly, even for a small enterprise
 
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