The New Manufacturing IT And OT Team — Using Technology To Drive Business Growth

By connecting people, plant and processes through technology and structural integration, businesses can ensure that their technology investments return full value.

With the arrival of Industrial Internet technology that enables data aggregation and analysis at scale, enterprises are able to better leverage data to optimize operations. Combined with the constant advancement of real-time KPI requirements these changes allow businesses to make critical decisions with the appropriate data to support them. No longer guessing or taking hours or days to collect the right data, organizations are looking for real-time operational data. IT departments in the manufacturing industry are at the epicenter of this efficiency revolution, handling migrations from traditional, on-premises infrastructure to externally managed, off-premises systems founded in the cloud. As IT infrastructure changes, so does the role of IT within the greater business context. Rather than focusing on the latest technology deployments and solving tech problems, IT teams must partner with operations technology (OT) leaders to create new solutions that help drive outcomes important to the overall organization. This collaboration between IT and OT is a fundamental strategic shift needed to enable enterprise efficiency to its full potential.

Companies are seeing tremendous value in deploying converged IT/OT to collect and organize data and then applying out-of-the-box manufacturing analytics to understand production losses, the efficiency of the labor force, and the efficiency of material as it moves through their plants — not just locally but globally. These new business insights will help drive significant increases in overall production capacity for the entire organization.

Yet the convergence of OT and IT teams demands that both parties rethink their traditional roles. When IT and OT leave these roles behind and work together to develop an integrated business strategy, they can circumnavigate the business intelligence blockades that traditionally siloed data create. Working in tandem, IT and OT can open new channels of data communication, identify new business applications and create the conditions for a streamlined operation by applying the lessons of one process to the next, anywhere in the enterprise. But first, both groups need to make the transition to new roles and new ways of thinking.

Role of IT

The function of IT in a modern, connected enterprise needs to be finding, building, and applying tools that help business leaders streamline efficiencies across the entire organization. IT needs to think beyond functionality and focus on driving value. When IT operates in isolation from the OT, the business can’t make informed decisions or fully capitalize upon the tools and information at its disposal, which means that other investments in infrastructure and process consistently fall short of their maximum potential.

With data integration now coming more frequently in the form of cloud-based solutions, IT must take advantage of the added capability to communicate more openly and share more information across the business. To achieve this, IT needs to develop systems and programs that provide the OT team with data-driven insight that applies not only to a single plant, but to every plant in an operation. This allows OT personnel to expand their role beyond infrastructure management and instead focus on using that insight to uncover new patterns that can be used to improve outcomes for the organization and drive revenue.

Role of OT

Market share, new product innovation and revenue are no longer driven merely by traditional sales, but by the business insights that an aggregation of data from the entire operation can provide. As the infrastructure the OT traditionally manages becomes increasingly connected, OT teams gains access to data across the organization’s plants. In order to take advantage of that data and develop meaningful insights that result in improved capacity, faster NPI (New Product Introduction) and revenue-driving change, OT needs to envision their enterprise more broadly, offering high-level perspectives on what answers they need from the data being generated by installed software, production assets, and even their workforce.

They can do this by leveraging the expertise of their IT teams and asset performance data to bring new operations online faster, detect anomalies more quickly and accurately, and find inefficiencies in their supply chain. OT can use data intelligence to improve their decision making, material and asset utilization, reduce waste, and create accurate and timely insights into operations.

To put this in context, a process engineer might traditionally serve multiple plants across a wide geographic area at a given time. In many cases, cloud-based manufacturing execution systems (MES) are no longer deployed piecemeal in the field and no longer require independent software installations, saving around 50 percent in support and rollout costs in most cases. All the services, software and data are hosted in a global data center that allows access to one set of complete, actionable data. Once cloud-based monitoring and analytics solutions become a foundational component of the business model, each plant becomes geographically ubiquitous; engineers can settle into an office location of their choice and remotely monitor and analyze performance in real-time. This scenario is becoming more popular as the security capabilities of cloud services have become more robust.

Modernizing the Business

The emergence of cloud-based analytics creates the conditions for IT and OT to partner and create a business environment in which it is much simpler to develop global benchmarking and where measurement can be performed daily instead of weekly or monthly. Remote engineers are able to use the same tools as those who are on-site, which vastly increases the rate of failure detection and dramatically decreases the time needed to get an asset back to full health.

By connecting people, plant and processes through technology and structural integration, businesses can ensure that their technology investments return full value. While it can be a daunting endeavor, it’s an exciting transformation in which strategic and tactical teams work hand in hand to drive continuous operational performance improvements to compete in a modern, intelligent manufacturing landscape.

Victor Kingery is a Senior Director with GE Digital Industry Solutions.