Preparing Your Operation for Digital Transformation

At the risk of aging myself, my first job out of college was to manually map DCS system I/O points using a process instrumentation diagram (P&ID), a pen, and a piece of paper. But technology has evolved by leaps and bounds since then. Today, the same can be done with automatic loading and balancing by scanning those same P&ID drawings to pull them automatically into the DCS system design. The key word there being “automatic.”

I mention this because organizations across many industry segments recognize the impact digital transformation, or digitalization, will have on their operational technology but are concerned about their capability to implement it. With advances made through distributed control systems (DCS), operations can automate non-value activities and redistribute the workforce hours that were originally allocated to them.

Digitalization will have a high impact on operations in the next two to three years, but most operations don’t feel adequately equipped to deploy these autonomous and remote activities effectively. We know this because earlier this year Schneider Electric commissioned independent research firm Omdia to explore how organizations are approaching digitalization. What we found was interesting.

Digital transformation improves productivity and reduces operational downtime

The respondents to the survey worked across various OT segments, like energies and chemicals, water and wastewater, refining, etc., and many saw digitalization was required for their business. While nearly 80% of the IT and OT managers stated they were deploying digitalization in some form or another, the cost and opportunity-lost (i.e., possibility of a shutdown) deterred them from fulfilling their transformation needs.

The needs those managers cited as the most important for implementing a cloud-based DCS included:

  • Reduced IT cost
  • Improved scalability
  • Greater business continuity
  • Enhanced data processing and management process

There is a strong acceptance amongst digital enterprises around smart technology. By migrating to the latest DCS, organizations will enable the longevity of your continuous applications. So, when it comes to challenges organizations face, Schneider Electric makes sure that digital transformation towards remote and autonomous operations is not a journey you take alone.

Partnering with experts ensures resilient and secure systems. Schneider has thousands of experts on hand to develop digital transformation projects, with scale in mind, and are fully equipped to support your team with training services, migration roadmap sessions, and other solutions for a smooth transition. This way, your applications and workforce are empowered for the transition to digital applications. And it’s a migration that can happen almost simultaneously.

Operational technology managers are familiar with “hot cutovers.” Essentially, it involves having parallel systems running congruently while still operating a plant with two independent systems. A hot cutover minimizes the downtime of putting in a new system. Many respondents in our survey were concerned about a shutdown or not being equipped to deploy digital transformation activities effectively.

A rip-and-replace approach that involves bulldozing systems can take weeks and months to get operations back on track. However, a faster and more efficient solution is to maintain an organization’s field wiring by mapping their cards in place one to one with our card-based solution. That’s an efficient cutover – a risk-proof migration for your DCS. If you’re considering upgrading an obsolete DCS, read my blog on the 5 questions you should ask yourself to be prepared.

There are other solutions that help manage any required downtime with the least financial impact or operational upset. Another method to adopt for improved operational performance is by creating a digital twin. We can model real-time optimization of operational performance of any industrial asset, demonstrating real value before carrying out a migration.

Digitalization with end objectives in mind

Identifying key issues and challenges within a legacy DCS system is critical in supporting future digitalization initiatives such as incorporating artificial intelligence for a fully autonomous, self-optimizing system. But in order to take advantage of the opportunities these smart technologies promise, legacy systems have to be prepared for the future, especially since many approach the end of their lifecycles.

To help mitigate cost concerns, it’s best to shift investment focus beyond digitalization’s proof of concept and instead emphasize project plans with the end objectives and scale at the forefront. As suggested in Omdia analysis of OT industries considering digitalization: “This should include an assessment of partner capabilities, a review of available technologies and capabilities, as well as cost.”

It’s also important to get stakeholders involved with the cultural buy-in of using smart technology to identify inefficiencies in legacy DCS systems. Through digitalization, these challenges can be optimized to drive efficiency and profitability. Additionally, operational managers can better protect their organization’s critical infrastructure and IP with the latest in cybersecurity – protection that’s increasingly difficult and at risk to cyber-attacks with obsolete systems.

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a journey you take alone. Schneider Electric is a vendor that shares your goals for advancing and maintaining your business uptime. Through solutions like EcoStruxure™ Virtual Engineering, we can replicate, train, and test a production system on a global level in a fully supported private cloud.

We work with the existing workforce, augmenting the user experience, to move towards effective productivity and more motivation. This way college graduates can level up their contribution instead of doing today’s equivalent of manually mapping DCS system I/O points.

Learn more by downloading the report, “Taking Control of Industrial Digital Transformation.”

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