Can We Get the Best Out of IIoT by Doing What We’re Doing?

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The New Year is a time of reflection for most of us. But it was as I tucked into my Christmas turkey that I got to thinking about my US colleagues and their annual Thanksgiving feasts. Of course, when they were sitting down for their traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinners, Europe’s industrial and manufacturing movers and shakers had been gathered in Nuremberg for SPS IPC Drives, the flagship event for the electrical automation industry.IIoT

If you’ve never been to a trade fair in Germany, be prepared. The 2015 show was spread across 122,800 square feet at the Nurnberg Messe, where 1666 exhibitors attracted over 64,000 visitors during three days from November 24th – 26th. In common with much of Europe, exhibitions are important to German culture. Trade shows are highlights in the business calendar and companies actively encourage their people to take time to visit and be brought up to date.

As you’d imagine, with big themes around industrial and manufacturing control and automation, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), technology was much in evidence. Which leads me neatly into my theme, because with all the advantages of technology at its fingertips, most of the attendees appear to opt for a paper ticket and not the electronic ticket option to gain entrance to the show.

I’m not going to delve into the impact on the environment of producing all these bits of paper. Let’s pretend that it’s a circular economy and all the paper is recycled, carbon footprint is mitigated and no jobs are at risk as a result. There’s probably a good essay in that though.

My point is about entrenched behaviour. People are perhaps more comfortable with a paper ticket because that’s the way things have always been done. Or at least, if you’re a certain age or from a certain generation, that’s how things should be done. If you’re fifty-plus, it probably rests nicely with your expectations and you won’t feel that you’re really off to SPS IPC Drives 2016 until you see that printed ticket sitting on your desk.

But is that really appropriate for today or even for a new generation coming through the industry? Ask your kids! Generation Y was more or less born with a smartphone in its hands. However, they don’t make (or respond to) phone calls. They don’t use SMS like we did. But they do plan and conduct much of their personal and working lives using the phone. If you don’t believe me, try taking the device away from them and see what happens after an hour!

This is a lesson for those of us who are not digital natives – step out of your comfort zone – take the digital option next time you fly, go to an exhibition – or even order a latte.  This is also  a lesson for our industry as a whole. The thing which stands in the way of progress is not technology.

We have technology in spades. It’s there, it’s available and it’s never been more effective, efficient or, dare I say, low cost. What we need to address is our attitude towards it and our willingness to accept it.  And where required, implement change management programs to adapt our work practices and start capitalising on the advantages technology can deliver.


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