This much we know...more and more companies are working to capitalize on the promise of the Industrial IoT: better business intelligence, process improvement, and intelligent asset management.
To realize this, IT and operations departments increasingly need to work together, which is challenging, as these departments have fundamentally different goals and ways of working.
Working with industrial companies, I have seen these challenges first-hand.
It has been suggested that the solution is increased cross-training and an exchange of skills between the two groups...perhaps even going as far as creating an IT/operations hybrid. There are benefits associated with organizational changes, but on their own they do not represent a complete solution. It is incumbent on Industrial IoT technology to allow both IT and operations to continue to be successful in their traditional roles while also benefiting from the IoT.
In order to identify the required characteristics of an effective IIoT platform, it’s important to understand the responsibilities and motivations of individuals in each department.
You likely already have an image of the stereotypical "IT guy." Often computer science graduates, they are typically excited by the latest and greatest technology. Their responsibilities are daunting: ensure the wide variety of systems that keep the enterprise running (ERP, CRM, accounting, etc.) are installed properly and that they don’t go down. On top of that, add in the need to counter the daily barrage of cyber-attacks that are leveled at the modern enterprise. And now, in many cases, they are responsible for implementing an IoT solution. The job is fast-paced and often hectic.
The operations department is wildly different. Populated by various types of engineers, the almost-singular goal is to produce a product reliably and safely. Their responsibilities are equally intimidating--any mistakes could lead to product losses, injury or death. As a cautionary tale that warns against pursuing the shiny and new, a prominent engineering school distributes stainless steel rings as a reminder of a collapsed bridge that was built with the material before it was fully tested. The job is deliberate, methodical and errs on the side of safety.
Both departments have critical roles, and both departments need to continue to execute on their traditional responsibilities. When implemented correctly, the Industrial IoT can provide massive benefits to both. It’s therefore critical to find a solution that can offer these benefits without compromising the departments’ unique objectives.
When evaluating your IIoT solution, look for these five characteristics that will foster buy-in from both groups:
- Must be compatible with existing systems: The promise of the industrial IoT is that critical plant floor and enterprise system data will be available anywhere, at any time. If an army of developers needs to "open the hood" of a given production system to enable communications, there is more chance of an interruption to production, and less chance that operations is going to help implement the solution. Industrial IoT technologies need to connect "out of the box" to a wide variety of devices and systems, including legacy machines and systems that could be decades old and are too costly to retrofit.
- Must be secure: Most operations networks today are maintained separately from enterprise networks, pointing to just how critical these operations are to keep secure from outside threats. If IT and operations are going to be comfortable connecting, the security of the technology has to be rock solid.
- Must be accessible: An Industrial IoT solution doesn’t offer much benefit if it just ends up providing intelligence to one department. IIoT solutions need to democratize data and allow users across the organization to quickly access the data they need. These platforms need a clear and comprehensive way of organizing and providing access to data, without requiring interruption to production.
- Must utilize user permissions: If anyone across the organization has access to data, there needs to be strict controls regarding who can make changes to an IIoT platform, especially edge software that resides on the plant floor. Having the ability to set read-only and configuration permissions will significantly increase the likelihood that operations is comfortable with adopting the new technology.
- Must show tangible benefit to operations: If an IIoT tool is only providing dashboards to audiences outside of the plant, it will be harder to get buy-in. Some benefits specific to operations include asset-monitoring and alerts, predictive maintenance, advanced analytics for process improvement, enhanced work instructions, and innovative new HMI capabilities.
The IIoT has the power to bring these two very different roles together in new ways that benefit the entire enterprise. However, you cannot simply implement an IIoT solution, hold your breath and wait for IT and operations to begin working together. Instead, carefully evaluate and select an IIoT technology with characteristics that will promote collaboration. Not only will your organization reap the benefits of the IIoT, but your IT and operations departments will be the champions of the solution.
Jeff Bates is product manager at Kepware.