Overcoming obstacles to IIoT
21 February 2017
The possibilities offered by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are truly limitless, yet market penetration for IIoT implementations is still a fraction of what it could be. Stratus solutions architect, Andy Bailey outlines the three main obstacles to successful IIoT and how to address them
Harnessing the data generated and collected at the industrial edge, the technology can be used to drive improvements in yields, efficiency, insight, and many other things besides. And none of this is new – the technology has been in place for years already.
So what’s going on? In my view, there are three main obstructions currently blocking the path towards greater IIoT uptake. I present them here with my strategies for dealing with them:
Risk-averse technology culture
One of the biggest impediments to greater uptake of the technology is the institutional mentality of Operational Technology organisations (OT), which is quite distinct from that of Information Technology (IT) organisations. While IT is fundamentally about managing constant change and system development, OT is naturally far more cautious. In the World of OT, stability is the name of the game and for many, change is synonymous with risk. For that reason, it isn’t uncommon to see industrial systems in place for decades on end. The World and its IT systems change, while the OT stays the same.
Driving the IIoT project forward will require better synthesis between these two communities, because as with everything the speed of progress is limited by the slowest essential part. In answer to this demand for better synthesis we have started to see the emergence of a new type of hybrid engineer. Usually known as ‘industrial technologists’, they bring a new and balanced perspective to the relationship between IT and OT.
Return on Investment
Return on investment is important for every type of enterprise, and industrial technology companies are no exception. OT organisations tend to have deeply entrenched ways of using existing technology – a factor that limits their scope for embracing new solutions. For example, company that has used a SCADA system for decades, will have to be presented with a very good reason before it makes any changes to what has worked so well for them in the past.
The IIoT is now this good reason; sensors throughout the facility can gather data that analytics can synthesise into information that can be used to produce powerful insights with the power to benefit the enterprise in ways that were previously unimaginable. Predictive maintenance is one such example.
Security concerns can be a key factor in the decision to adopt IIoT. To minimise risk to the enterprise, industrial automation systems are often kept at arm’s length from the rest of the IT network. Inevitably this impacts the effectiveness of the system, since it can only be as successful as it is integrated. The deeper the integration, the greater the benefit – and vice versa. So, what can companies do to protect themselves from security breaches while still getting as much of the benefit as possible?
One way is to establish a private Cloud platform, thus massively reducing the enterprise’s exposure to outside influence. While some public Cloud systems are more secure than others, an entirely private network is a real possibility, albeit usually for larger enterprises with high-value mission-critical applications. Another approach is to use a secure corporate network with no “doors” to the World outside. The network would then be operating as a data centre.
Though there are several excellent solutions to the problem of cybersecurity for IIoT systems, it would be remiss to suggest that the nature of the system does not expose it to additional risk. Nevertheless, there are clear and achievable ways of minimising the risk and it is also clear that the benefits of an IIoT installation are potentially enormous. With a sensible approach and a touch of ambition, the IIoT can be made to work for you in a safe, secure, and viable way. The alternative is to be left behind.
- While IT is fundamentally about managing constant change and system development, OT is naturally far more cautious
- Demand for better synthesis between IT and OT has seen the emergence of a new type of hybrid engineer, usually known as an ‘industrial technologist’
- Sensors throughout a facility can gather data for analysis, information from which can be used to produce extremely powerful insights