The number of wired and wireless devices that collect data is growing as industrial operations and related technologies advance. However, the data gathered is typically uncontextualised, making equipment insights, such as in asset integrity management, even more challenging.
Despite this, the vast amount of good data acquired by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), as well as increased industry investment in new technologies, is consistently generating outstanding results for those who integrate these solutions effectively into their operations and procedures.
The Miniotec team is fortunate to be able to talk Digital Transformation with many international and local companies across an array of industry sectors.
While we assist customers across a broad range of digital initiatives and strategy creation, the IIoT is often where we are requested to provide a particular emphasis. Miniotec has steadily put in a lot of worthwhile time and effort to assist clients with their Digital Transformation initiatives. We have made it a point to be leaders in the technologies that power IIoT across a variety of use cases because we view it as an essential component and undervalued enabler of digital transformation.
But simply buying IIoT devices without understanding their contribution to the building blocks of successful Digital Transformation programmes wont on its own lead to successful outcomes.
The challenge is that many IIoT devices and solutions are often not built to easily integrate with other systems. They can also be difficult to manage and maintain, which increases costs and reduces the potential value of your IIoT initiative.
Additionally, collecting the ‘right’ data, not just any data, is important to supporting Digital Transformation success with IIoT. We believe that data is only helpful when it can be applied in practical and real-world ways. That's why we focus on providing our clients with recommendations and solutions that offer the best available data that is as close to real-time as possible. It's a necessary tool for making informed decisions.
But which components, tangible and/or intangible, have the most chance of succeeding inside a larger Digital Transformation framework that includes the IIoT? Here are the main suggestions for realising your IIoT success that are based on our knowledge and experience.
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." – Helen Keller
Organizations must have a culture of continuous improvement via learning and a drive to work smarter in order to effectively deliver value from IIoT solutions. This involves commitment, but the benefits for your efforts can be significant.
IIoT solutions provide opportunity for asset owners to operate more effectively by creating a setting where ongoing machine performance monitoring enhances human participation.. However, if an organisation’s team is not fully behind its IIoT strategy, the chances of failure will increase markedly. Therefore, it is crucial to establish a culture of learning and handle change resistance.
Recognising and managing people’s potential resistance e.g. fear of being replaced, is very important to understand as team members may consciously or unconsciously resist the changes. The fundamental intent is not to replace roles but to enable better use of a team’s time to focus on greater benefits. If the digital transformation then returns perceived poor outcomes, senior leaders may eventually abandon the change effort thus leaders need to work closely with their teams to ensure the solutions are viewed as an opportunity for better use of their time and which allow them to focus on other business value adding activities.
In summary, the people component of any Digital Transformation strategy, in IIoT or otherwise, is the most critical element for Digital improvement success. Teams need to be heavily involved throughout the planning, implementation and measurement of these improvement projects, motivated and engaged to achieve higher performance and encouraged to improve and evolve day by day.
"The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life." – Bill Gates
When companies develop their strategic approach to IIoT, there is often one area that is consistently overlooked: integration, or more precisely, evolving your operation’s existing business processes to integrate the benefits that the technology brings.
IIoT sensors, once installed, will make your unintelligent assets intelligent through the collection, aggregation and communication of multiple data points that were once not available 24/7, all-year-round. This will amount to massive datasets being visible. While this data will provide tremendous insights, it is similarly central to select the right data points that contribute to the business case benefit sought.
This insight presents positive opportunities to evolve people’s roles and enable them to focus on varied value-add activities. This business process change and how IIoT integrates within the way you manage your organisation is often a missed opportunity to develop more streamlined business processes and move individuals away from mundane tasks to more strategic and proactive analysis of data and root cause analysis that will support better decision making in parallel to optimising maintenance activities.
Newly acquired IIoT data will enlighten your operations and create a considerable amount of data that was not previously available. The ROI from streamlining business processes is often undervalued. (Refer to this recent article discussing IIoT and ROI considerations)
"Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out." – John Wooden
The technology components in an IIoT device varies depending on the asset or equipment being monitored. Going into detail here regarding IIoT componentry therefore is beyond the intent of this macro article. We will focus our discussion on a key consideration that is common to all IIoT sensors, ‘communication’. This element is pivotal to IIoT sensors being able to transmit their data packets to the analytics platform and dashboards.
However, there is much miscommunication and false claims as to what some IIoT solutions can offer based on the imitations of their communication protocol.
Devices connected through IIoT may exchange data in countless ways and use countless protocols. This is due to how IIoT solutions communicate differs depending on what they are, where they are, what other systems and devices they need to interact with and the amount of data they are collecting. That stated, whilst there are many protocols that work across a number of use cases, there is always one that works better for particular applications.
For instance, the LTE protocol is a superior communication channel compared to others for genuine Predictive Maintenance applications since it has the ability to transport very large data packets very fast over great distances without the need for gateways. The advantages of the LTE communication protocol offset any of its disadvantages. For basic single point data user cases, e.g. temperature readings, LoRaWAN protocols are likely more applicable.
Other notable areas of key importance;
4. Cyber Security
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and a few minutes of a cyber-incident to ruin it." – Stephane Nappo
Information technology (IT) and OT (Operational Technology) systems are currently facing a variety of internal and external cyber security threats as a result of the increased digitalisation of assets across all industries, the application of digital twin technology, and the use of cloud solutions for data analytics and digital storage.
Regarding IIoT devices specifically, poor or inconsistent device updates, a lack of effective and reliable security mechanisms, user ignorance, and subpar or insufficient encryption techniques are some of the major obstacles that might reduce confidence in IIoT devices. Since the usage of IIoT devices has been shown to have considerable advantages when implemented, these trust concerns may and should be addressed and overcome. (Read the recent article on Cyber Security and considerations for Digital Transformation initiatives utilising IIoT.)
5. Business Use Case
"Every problem is a gift—without problems we would not grow." – Anthony Robbins
Whilst the benefits of IIoT solutions are numerous and well documented, one of the key initial considerations with IIoT deployments is to define the use cases and SMART measurement metrics that support the intended business objectives.
Examples of useful business cases could be improving manufacturing productivity by ‘ABC’ percent, increasing mean time between failures by ‘DEF’% or improving safety and decreasing accidents by improving LTI by ‘GHI’ days etc. Whatever SMART metrics an organisation selects based on their requirements, they must be practical and have significant commercial applications in order to guarantee that they will focus your efforts.
Notwithstanding, where we have seen IIoT strategies within a Digital Transformation framework become unsuccessful is when organisations seek to ‘test a few units for free’ or ‘trial sensors for a week to see if they work’. Regrettably, we know from these types of discussions that the organisation is not empowering or investing in their own success, rather their interest in IIoT may only be a “tick in-the-box” exercise.
Discussions that really excite us are when we work with organisations who seek to improve their machine reliability programs by XXX% as we have determined this will then increase their production outputs by YYY% that then positively impacts their bottom line by ZZZ% or ZZZ$ per unit. When we are engaged in these types of proactive, honest and strategic discussions we know we are on a journey of working collaboratively to resolve a business challenge the organisation considers valuable. (for more information on ROI success cases, read the recent article.)
In today's technology environment, including IIoT within your Digital Transforming strategy supports connecting everything and everyone. It is changing the ways in which new value may be generated in almost every organisation and workplace. It is transforming business models by requiring companies to focus more on outcomes, long-term strategy and process optimisation. IIoT is opening up new options for companies to improve their operations by gathering better business insights almost never possible before and becoming more efficient, competitive and forward-thinking.
Using IIoT to both innovate and become more efficient in your organisation delivers considerable payback, but the returns may be improved even more if the IIoT system used is specialised for your operations. The moment has come to embrace IIoT and see how digitalisation may provide immediate outcomes. Here, in addition to our digital consulting experience, Miniotec support Clients through validated and tested technology innovations that are proven to make a step change in operational performance.
Let us know your thoughts?
How do you see IIoT supporting Digital Transformation?