When it comes to IoT adoption in the industrial space, I’ve often found that operators worry about how they’re going to run before they can even walk. What this means is industrial operators let certain barriers to entry — primarily security and availability — keep them from even starting on their path to IIoT. In reality, there are certain key steps that industrial companies need to take well before they even attempt that transition. By getting this right, industrial operators can prepare their companies for a successful IIoT transition down the road.
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So what is step one? It is guaranteeing serviceability above all else. And this is for a few reasons:
- Legacy systems can be inherently unsafe and insecure. This is because they were built for a different era and not designed for the more complex uses needed for IIoT;
- Most industrial operators are running a patchwork of old desktop hardware and software that is no longer supported or maintained with patches and updates. Integrating them into an IIoT-type ecosystem would introduce unnecessary vulnerabilities; and
- Assets that are easy to service and manage remotely need to become a priority. This is because as the networks of automated and connected systems expand outward, they will reach areas that likely will not have the same level of on-site IT support as more centralized locations.
So how can operations and IT managers overcome these infrastructure challenges to ensure serviceability? And once they do, how do they prepare for what lies ahead? Below are three critical steps they must consider as they make their IIoT investment decisions:
1. Modernizing legacy systems
Truly minimizing vulnerabilities and moving away from a “set it and forget it” mentality requires removing legacy equipment. Infrastructure must be updated for connectivity, reliability and simplicity and layered with virtualization of OT systems. IIoT implementations need to be built on properly serviceable pieces of equipment or an operation will be opening itself up to complications down the line as legacy technologies eventually meet their end of life.
2. Connecting devices and systems
Legacy environments often consist of isolated system “islands.” When implementing IIoT, however, data feeds become its lifeblood and connectivity becomes core to what industrial operators hope to achieve with IIoT. And beyond allowing data to flow uninterrupted throughout an entire operation, it becomes key to implement systems that support secure connectivity between industrial control systems and IT resources, including data warehouses, analytics engines and ERP systems.
3. Get IT and OT on the same page
With true connectivity, industrial operators then need to be looking at the personnel resources they have at their disposal (or need to hire) and make definitive decisions about who owns, manages and polices these various new sets of data and information. This trove of resources needs ownership, between either or both IT and OT, and managers must continually evaluate if they have personnel with the right skillsets to manage an optimized IIoT operation. This is absolutely essential as the next major leap is leveraging this information to make real-time decisions as operators begin implementing more advanced IIoT technologies using the assets and infrastructure they’ve just modernized and connected.
A long-term view of the goals of your industrial operation is certainly a necessity for strategic planning. However, operators should catch themselves before they allow that to keep them from taking steps today that can set them up for an IIoT future. Many operators may feel more comfortable making IIoT investments once various industry standards and security protocols have been finalized, but that could take years. It would be a mistake to allow that to keep them from taking initial steps now to prepare their company for an IIoT future. Serviceability needs to be this first step. This ensures that as infrastructure becomes more connected, industrial companies will know that they’re building on simple, reliable equipment that’s designed for these next-generation industrial environments.
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