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What Today's Industrial Operator Needs to Know about Adopting IIoT

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On a very basic level, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enables the data captured by operational systems to be combined with analytics to optimize operations, streamline efficiency and increase profitability. By connecting processes, industrial automation (IA) becomes more deeply integrated into the overall structure of a business, strengthening links between automation, analytics, ERP systems and more. So why aren’t more industrial operators introducing IIoT systems into their operations? A variety of misconceptions about what’s involved in embracing IIoT and what we get out of it may be the culprit. IIoT doesn’t come without hurdles to overcome, but putting the systems in place to combat our challenges can change the way we work.

The Issues Facing Industrial Operators

Most operational technologists have heard of IIoT, but are just unsure of how it can benefit their particular operation. The world of industrial automation is made up of a large set of niche companies, so until operators are convinced its right for them, their team and their processes, they’ll remain skeptical and slow to adopt.

One common issue is that many automation engineers believe their operation is too small to benefit from IIoT, in that it is only meant for the goliaths of the industry. Think about a wastewater facility in a single small town – their greatest concern may just be keeping their pumps and motors from failing (during an outage, it could be weeks or months before they return to full operation). But even applying low-cost sensors to monitor things like temperature and vibration, when paired with the application of IIoT analytics, could help protect them before an outage occurs. Whether it’s insight gleaned from access to a larger set of behavioral data or access to more resources for responding quickly to problems on-site, there are benefits of IIoT for operations of any size.

The Main Misconceptions of IIoT

As more industries begin sharing more data and moving applications to the cloud, there is a persistent fear of security lapses and breaches as operations open up their networks. Operators want the control they’ve had for years and don’t yet trust that newer, connected systems can provide the same security or protect them from new entry points for attacks. The truth is there are many ways to protect these new networks, from building and firewalling private clouds to looking at cybersecurity controls for detecting attacks on IA protocols.

Separately, even if operational technologists know they stand to benefit greatly from IIoT, at times they choose to delay embracing it out of fear that they’ll have to relinquish some of the control they’re used to with their IT departments. With the convergence of OT and IT, these two groups need to understand the critical role they each play in an operation.

  • IA engineers drive many of the most complex parts of the business and have unique needs that IT teams need to recognize are different from other groups.
  • Conversely, OT needs to understand how integration into the overall systems maintained by IT will affect the exact operational, financial and security efficiencies they’re looking to drive with IIoT technology.

The Greatest Challenges of IIoT

When considering something as new and broad as IIoT, it can be difficult to fully understand what is involved in putting these systems in place and what the payback timeline may look like. There are, however, steps companies can take early on to realize IIoT’s rewards without having to have the full picture figured out. Several keys to increasing ROA early on are eliminating unplanned downtime, improving OEE and mitigating the risk of data loss. Continuous availability has long been a key tenet of safe and efficient automation systems, for even a momentary lapse in availability can have a great effect on revenue, production and more (think of the material, production, reputational and human cost of one hour of downtime for a small compressor, let alone a large turbine).

IIoT has already begun to positively impact industrial plant operations – that much is undeniable when we look at industrial environments that were ahead of the curve in outfitting their systems to get ahead of IIoT. The success stories we’re seeing in industries across the board are a testament to the fact that IIoT technologies are beginning to change how people approach their industrial operations. However, the next wave of IIoT – widespread mainstream adoption – will be a bigger hurdle to overcome with the misconceptions about IIoT that still exists today. As we continue to break these down, we’ll see more and more people make the leap head-on into IIoT and the future of their operations.

About the Author: John Fryer is Senior Director of Product Management & Marketing, Platform Line of Business at Stratus Technologies, where he is responsible for go-to-market strategies and industry initiatives across all the company’s product lines. He has over 25 years of experience with systems and software products in a variety of engineering, marketing and executive roles at successful startups and major companies, including Motorola, Emerson Network Power and Oracle. 




Edited by Ken Briodagh


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