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Digitalization, IIoT, Cloud — That

Digitalization, IIoT, Cloud — That's the Answer, But What's the Question?

Make Sure You’re Setting out to Solve the Right Problem

The principal job for information technology (IT) staff is to provide the infrastructure to enable us to work: networks, printers, servers and business applications, gateways, firewalls, and now access to cloud applications — although cloud is a sensitive area for IT, since it may replace much of IT's core business.

 

Now I hear the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and digitalization present a whole new set of IT opportunities. Many times in the past working with large petrochemical companies, I have heard the IT department declare with great excitement the next wave of IT business investments that must be made. Maybe you remember this: “We need a data warehouse; we need to be doing business intelligence!” There were proclamations of technologies to be deployed, missing any concern about the absolute business problem to be solved.

 

A great technology that is a must? My response was always, “That’s the answer, but what’s the question?”

 

Today, I respond the same way about cloud, digitalization and IIoT. That’s not because I do not believe there are very substantial opportunities therein, but there’s a danger in an outlay of millions and millions of dollars on a “platform” without a clear understanding of the business problem to be solved. The platform hype is deafening. Let’s build a special mousetrap, then all we need is to find special mice!

 

 

What Are We Solving?

 

In manufacturing, we have been embroiled in digital since the introduction of the distributed control system in 1975. The cloud is “a computer somewhere else,” and IIoT is all about collecting data for analysis to uncover actionable information. It seems we have seen them all before. So what’s different? Frankly put, it’s more and cheaper: sensors, sensor networks, smart machines, smarter analytics and larger, more diverse data combinations.

 

But let’s not forget the business in our zeal to deploy the next big thing. The real question is, “What will we do differently to extract new value from cloud, digitalization and IIoT?” Asking that question will lead to the business issues and opportunities that will save costs and uncover more revenue.

 

Don’t do cloud platforms just because you can, but rather do them because it provides a way to gather data from multiple, disparate sources that can expose a new and different business prospect. The same applies to an emerging concept: edge computing. Ask, what is to be solved, and why should it be done at the edge? And what advantages does the edge bring?

 

 

The Big Opportunity in Manufacturing

 

Let’s consider an example. Currently, the No. 1 issue causing profit losses in manufacturing is equipment breakdowns. The National Association of Manufacturers suggests worldwide manufacturing is a $14T business and that 10 percent is lost to breakdowns. That’s a $1.4T opportunity that has not gone unrecognized by old and new vendors proposing solutions. Consequently, the big push is to reduce and eliminate unplanned maintenance, thereby improving equipment availability and net product output.

 

Leading-edge machine learning algorithms, neural networks and big data are deployed to exercise complex analytics to provide early warnings of failure patterns so that decisive action can fix small service and repair problems before they become expensive breakdowns. Why should this be solved in the cloud? For a single manufacturer, there’s no compelling reason. After all, the computational power can be located within the site, inside the firewall, thereby reducing potential data security concerns.

 

So why do it in the cloud? The cloud provides the capability to bring the data together from multiple sites for a single company, allowing the amalgamation of data streams from multiple machines at the same time. Such data aggregation can offer new insights across many machines, assuring higher levels of protection across pools and fleets of equipment. As financial institutions discovered, sharing credit card fraud information across companies ultimately brought benefits to all, especially the larger companies. My prediction is that the conservative manufacturing industry will eventually come to the same conclusion about sharing machine degradation and failure data.

 

Of course, there are other operations and supply chain management opportunities that can be addressed with digitalization/IIoT technologies, in local or cloud solutions, but it takes the appropriate levels of questioning to expose where and how the solutions should reside and operate.

 

So, instead of jumping headlong into building a multimillion-dollar data lake to gather data streams in the cloud, ask penetrating questions about the problem to be solved, and then arrange the data the correct way to solve it. Make the platform as big as it needs to be — no bigger — and place it where it needs to be, but ensure it is extensible when, and only when, you uncover more profit opportunities.

 

Instead of “That’s the answer, but what’s the question?” remember to ask the right questions to get to the answer.

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Comments

  • one month ago

    Great article. Thanks for clarifying the importance of the cloud.

  • one month ago

    Very well said, few words, wise, clear, and enticing article.

  • one month ago

    Well written Mike.

  • one month ago

    Great article!

  • one month ago

    Very interesting article!

  • one month ago

    EXCELLENT!

  • one month ago

    Excellent information on the blog.

  • one month ago

    Great article.

  • one month ago

    Great Article Mike. Thanks

  • one month ago

    Excellent article Mike!

  • one month ago

    Great Article Mike. Closing statement says it all.

  • one month ago

    well done Mike. This helps put perspective around all the buzz

  • one month ago

    Very good and clear article.

  • 2 months ago

    Nice blog. I really appreciated the closing statement. Thank you.

  • 2 months ago

    Very informative article.

  • 2 months ago

    Great course

  • 2 months ago

    Very informative... thank you for explaining the cloud process.

  • 2 months ago

    Good thoughts! First we have to know what is the question (what problem do we have to resolve), so apply the solution! Crazy jump on any technology will not resolve manufacturing issues! For a good result, we have to have it in place, but where it need to be!

  • 2 months ago

    This is a great read!

  • 2 months ago

    Now i understand more about how cloud works.

  • 2 months ago

    Very true Mike - look for problem before finding the solution. And the challenge is convincing the people that the problem exists, as many have learnt to live with it in the manufacturing sector.

  • 2 months ago

    Excellent Blog!

  • 2 months ago

    Impressed that ” Make the platform as big as it needs to be — no bigger — and place it where it needs to be” Sometimes Could technology is considered as a magic then plan the huge environment. No focus plan is diverged.

  • 2 months ago

    Very good article Mike: focus on the problem and the value of solving that problem before defining the solution.

  • 2 months ago

    The cloud provides the capability to bring the data together from multiple sites for a single company, allowing the amalgamation of data streams from multiple machines at the same time. Such data aggregation can offer new insights across many machines, assuring higher levels of protection across pools and fleets of equipment. As financial institutions discovered, sharing credit card fraud information across companies ultimately brought benefits to all, especially the larger companies. My prediction is that the conservative manufacturing industry will eventually come to the same conclusion about sharing machine degradation and failure data. It is very interesting.

  • 2 months ago

    I always think some leading tech should be applied without asking why.....It's an advanced tech after all. But now I'd like to find the question for the answer. Great idea!

  • 2 months ago

    Thanks for framing a complex issue in simple terms everyone can understand.

  • 2 months ago

    I believe in combination with cloud computing at large companies, there needs to be some more methodology on how to share common needs or pains and their solutions... what is the software for this...

  • 2 months ago

    It is a interesting point for cloud

  • 2 months ago

    It is interesting explanation

  • 2 months ago

    I learned a lot about cloud.

  • 2 months ago

    Very interesting.

  • 2 months ago

    Cloud computing reduces the dependence on hardware and improves the convenience of using data.

  • 2 months ago

    Mike, I enjoyed your article. Thank you.