For a few years now, industry players have been touting the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT). Want to streamline processes? Look into IoT. Want to create new service revenue streams? A job for IoT. Want to dramatically reduce downtime? IoT to the rescue. It is easy to see how manufacturers may be daunted since they are getting bombarded by messages on this supposedly game-changing technology. Throw in the perceived increased security risk, and organizations can start looking at IoT as something not worth the trouble.
IoT can be overwhelming, largely because organizations don’t know how or where to start. When talking about digitizing manufacturing operations, it sounds like a huge project that needs to be done all at once. However, with IoT this is rarely the case. Organizations can determine what will add value to your business, and then take baby steps that start qualifying savings, capturing ROI and help fulfill a broader vision for a digital future.
So where to start? My advice to manufacturing organizations is to think of an end state — what does your organization’s digital operation look like. Then break it down. This end state likely has multiple use cases and implementation steps that need to come together in order to reach it. Some organizations look at the most urgent use case, or the easiest to deploy, or the one with immediate cost savings without having a broader vision. This can lead to a collection of deployments that doesn’t get you closer to your end goal, and makes it even more difficult to do security effectively.
For instance, you may want to have remote operations of your facilities and capabilities. But to do that, you need to upgrade, modify or change your machines. This surely isn’t the quickest or easiest use case when trying to get value out of IoT, but one that has a very clear long-term benefit. Not only does the benefit make strategic sense, it also has very clear steps that must be undertaken to reach it. First, you have to make sure your machines are connected securely. For a large percentage of machines, this steps means an add on device to convert from analog signals to digital signals so the information can even be moved onto a network. Then, and only then, can you worry about network connectivity. Once this basic connection is set up you can add start to add the business transformation capabilities such as remote access and even capabilities such as predictive maintenance. To do that, the data generated by the connected machine needs to be transformed into something that adds intelligence. This is not on the machine but at another point where the analysis can occur. By going through these steps, manufacturers create architectures, and have the foundational elements to easily add use cases, like remote access. This architecture, in turn, makes security a much more manageable task from a technology perspective, but there are additional considerations.
One of these key considerations is around security. The perception of security in manufacturing needs to change. It is clear why security causes such headaches — security is never ‘done.’ Security is constantly evolving with new technology and methods to help organizations stay ahead, but when done well, is invisible. Security projects, particularly in manufacturing, are often seen as a hindrance, as they slow down processes. For example, with deep packet inspection, data takes more time to move across the network, making transportation times much slower. The value isn’t clearly evident to the user, which is why security can often take a backseat. This time lag has been improved with current technology.
With IoT, security is no longer that choke point slowing down operations. In fact, IoT allows security to add business value. Take, for example, a manufacturer who is changing out some components on the factory floor. What security can allow this manufacturer to do is recognize what components are being added and authorize them without having to manage or maintain a separate software layer — aggregating the security and management layers. This benefit becomes clear to the business and actually speeds up process, not slow it down.
Ultimately, this requires a mental change on the part of the business. Before, changes were made in silos to address specific problems — see a problem, buy something to fix it. A new problem pops up six months later, so you buy something else to fix it. This is all changing with IoT. Smart IoT deployments don’t solve single problems, but enable a business to take a more holistic view of their operations.
To fast-track your project and achieve success in IoT, I give three pieces of advice for those considering a deployment:
- Know where you are headed. This vision won’t be perfect or unchanging, but needs to provide a direction of where you want to go. Create a business-specific vision for your own IoT story.
- Don’t go it alone. Your manufacturing organization isn’t alone in facing these problems. Best practices, validated architectures and information is broadly available. Be an active participant in the broader community, and learn from other organizations’ successes (and failures).
- Start somewhere — don’t wait for ‘perfect.’ I know striving for perfect, risk-free solutions is human nature, but it can also hold you back needlessly. Get out of pilot and concept mode and get into operations. Move forward. Good luck!
Douglas Bellin is Senior Manager of Global Private Sector Industries at Cisco.