When debating our strategy to address the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) we inevitably end up in the details – a discussion about platforms moves very quickly into Ethernet and before you know it a bunch of engineers are debating how ISA95 and the Purdue Model apply today. Until someone interupts the pontificating and says: “You know, the only reason the automation industry exists is to improve the business performance of our customers’ operations in a safe and environmentally sustainable way.”
Well, Peter, you’re right! The technology is neat, but the only reason we’re doing it is to drive value for our customers.
And those customers are saying the same thing. In speaking with a customer in the life sciences industry at a recent conference in the US, he expressed concern that much of the discussion around IIoT/Industry 4.0 is too technology based and too academic. He says he’s looking for real-world, value-generating solutions to meet his actual challenge – which he identified as deploying the necessary technology in the most effective manner in order to maximize operational profitability.
Yes, technology is an element of the discussion around IIoT, as I’ve previously written about in a blog. IIoT can allow us to drive to flatter automation architectures. But just because we can create flat architectures does that mean flat architectures are the right thing to do? In other words, there is a general assumption everything connected to everything else is a good idea. For some industries yes, but for others, like heavy process industries and some batch industries, maybe no.
If you look at an industrial organization, forgetting the technology and forgetting the fact that we need automation systems, every industrial organization including our own is not a flat architecture. It’s a hierarchical organizational architecture. And when you look at industrial plants and their hierarchical equipment architectures you’ve got equipment combining into units, combining into areas, combining into plants, combining into fleets, combining into enterprises, combining into value chains.
I believe the value IIoT can bring us going forward is the ability to literally design architectures aligned with the architectures of our customers – which may or may not be flat. If the customer’s architecture is flat then our technology architecture should match it. This is what IIoT enables – natural architectures that are aligned to our customers’ problems, not architectures aligned to technology constraints.
This is the tipping point to which IIoT has brought us. If someone was to ask me in an elevator what do IIoT, Industry 4.0 and all these things really mean, my response would be that the technology underpinning automation has reached the point where it is no longer a constraint on how we solve customer problems. Applying real time controls to asset performance, people performance, safety and environmental performance is what’s going to drive the bottom line results that force customers to invest in IIoT. The technology is not stopping us anymore it’s now about the functions that drive greater business value.
How are you putting IIoT to good use?