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Regrouping toward digital transformation

April 21, 2020

The pandemic has shown us that we’re all in this together.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us all to adapt to fast-changing conditions. We’re working in new ways, and many companies are making products they’ve never made before—hand sanitizer, face shields, and ventilators, for example. With these and other disruptions, along with more teleworking than ever before, many organizations suddenly have fragmented workforces and objectives. But we WILL be bringing things back together in the future, as soon as it’s safe and sensible.

Inductive Automation's Don Pearson

Bringing things together is a path we all started on a while ago. That’s because real digital transformation depends on it. Like bringing OT and IT together. Or MQTT and edge computing. Or entire ecosystems. There’s no one solution that makes Industry 4.0 a reality; it requires a lot of parts and a lot of players working together.   

So how do industrial organizations get this done? They do it by leveraging modern SCADA systems and getting better access to their data. They get away from old applications that have been closed, proprietary, and limiting in functionality, connectivity and licensing. Today, there are so many tools available for business intelligence, data analytics, machine learning and more. But it all starts with data. Many organizations want big data. In order to work with big data, you need big-data access.

 A new architecture built around a versatile platform

To capture more data and get greater value from it, we need a new architecture and a versatile platform—a combination that features these six capabilities:

1. Decouple devices from applications. Stop connecting devices to applications with protocols. Instead, connect devices to infrastructure. Use edge-of-network devices and MQTT—a lightweight publish/subscribe protocol. MQTT enables message-oriented middleware architectures. Device data is published by exception to an MQTT broker, either in the cloud or on the premises. Applications that need data subscribe to the MQTT broker. MQTT is bidirectional, has stateful awareness, and uses little bandwidth. It’s the leading protocol for connecting IoT devices, overtaking HTTP.

2. Provide a superior OT solution. We can talk about analytics, machine learning and AI all we want, but if the solution doesn’t meet the needs of operations, it’s a non-starter. If it doesn’t work for the operator on the plant floor, it won’t succeed.

3. Create a single source of truth. Making the device the single source of truth for tag information saves thousands of man-hours in work. It gives everyone in the enterprise the correct data.

4. Go for plug-and-play. We need devices that can dynamically join the overall infrastructure. Auto-discovery of tags is another huge time-saver.

5. Eliminate cutovers. Most SCADA systems must be deployed in one fell swoop. But when you can run an OT application in test mode, in parallel, you eliminate cutovers and increase your migration velocity.

6. Scale with unlimited licensing. You need the ability to scale as your project grows. That’s the very nature of IIoT! You can’t connect thousands of PLCs and hundreds of thousands of sensors under traditional pricing models. Unlimited licensing enables the projects you really want to do.

Making it work

These six items facilitate the convergence of OT and IT, the connection of the entire enterprise, and digital transformation—all in a way that works in the real world, right now. But it takes systems that are open, interoperable, and based on standards. It takes solutions from companies that are collaborative and transparent.

As a foundation, you need versatile industrial-application platforms upon which you can build the solutions you truly need and want. You need open platforms, open standards, and open architectures. You need ecosystems that bring together the best of suppliers, institutions, customers and other stakeholders. You must build on a platform and participate in the ecosystem.

If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that we’re all in this together. A factory, a company, a partnership whatever it is—is part of something larger than itself. It’s only by bringing things together that we can make digital transformation exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Don Pearson is chief strategy officer at Inductive Automation

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