Different clients are at different points of their journey along the road of data convergence between the shop floor and the carpeted space. Some end-users are “getting it” when you talk about why information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) convergence is vital now and in the future. It quickly makes sense when we focus on the destination at the end of the client’s journey. What we see being more of a challenge is grasping the how, like, “how do you get to a point where you are ready for what’s coming?” We advise clients that they need specialists involved who understand both the IT and the OT sides.
An important component to success, is the customer also having alignment between IT and OT within their organization. Often, digital transformation initiatives start on the enterprise side of the house with a specific business case, and IT is typically challenged by their leadership to take more ownership of the connected “things” on the industrial side. This, however, can be perceived as a threat to manufacturing operations, and for good reason. Operations is all about uptime and system availability when it comes to manufacturing. Historically, OT has tried to keep IT at bay when it comes to involvement in their systems to avoid costly system outages that may arise from a lack of understanding the intricacies of the industrial equipment. We see this as an opportunity for the system integrator. We have developed great relationships with IT departments and have even tailored workshops that are specifically targeted towards IT professionals to help them better understand the OT world. We find that we gain credibility by having our top-tier network and security specialists alongside process and data experts to make sure to not only plan a path for convergence, but also show what it will do for their business. Helping bridge that gap between IT and OT professionals is the biggest area where a system Integrator can help ease anxieties when it comes to IT/OT convergence. It’s more about the people than the technology.
Most clients have heard the buzz phrase “Digital Transformation”. And a sector of those clients struggle to understand what good digital transformation will do for their company. A knowledgeable and experienced system integrator will sit down with those clients and demonstrate to them the art of the possible. In our engagements, Malisko explains to these clients where and how digital transformation can positively impact their own unique business operations; aggregating data from segments—such as manufacturing, market analysis, suppliers, and logistics—then performing business analytics. These clients become more engaged in the dialogue as they better see the business value of ‘the possible.’
At this point the system integrator would be helping the client understand where they are now; what capabilities their current manufacturing automation platforms have; and what they’ll need to support the long-term data aggregation and analytics. In our engagements, Malisko helps them create their roadmap including planning, remediation, designing, deploying, support, and costs. Client and system integrator jointly see better acceptance of ‘the possible’ when the system integrator helps the client better understand their starting point for their journey along digital transformation.
For the clients who have started down the road of digital transformation in their manufacturing we are seeing edge-computing as major enabler for other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies. Specifically, since many digital initiatives come from the IT side, we’ve had to figure out a way to bring IIoT technology to the plant floor in the least disruptive way possible. One area where clients are seeing success is deploying network infrastructure with edge-computing technology embedded at the network switch layer; for example, Cisco IOx running micro-services and containerizing applications. This compute capability at the edge allows connectivity to controllers and other endpoints to harvest data without having to touch the process control’s main supervisory control and data acquisition system. We are also seeing more wireless sensing systems with their own gateways that need to be connected. Aggregating data at the edge from wireless sensing systems along with other key controller tag data helps create the foundation of an IIoT connectivity layer. Typical applications we’re seeing as well as involved with deploying include system health monitoring, preventative maintenance (with vibration monitoring, current sensing, and control valve operation degradation), power monitoring, and other business analytics.
system integrators of manufacturing automation can play a vital role in helping clients navigate IIoT as the industry continues to undergo a metamorphosis. Traditionally, the system integrator merely implemented control and data systems in the manufacturing space specified by clients. The industry continues to experience client resources rapidly dwindling in numbers thus causing clients to rely more on outside professional resources. In numerous instances, the client lacks the in-house resources to support complex control systems, virtualized computer systems, multi-layer network architectures with intricate security methods. In these scenarios many times the client’s in-house resources become more of a facilitator instead of Subject Matter Experts. This is where the role, and value, of a system integrator makes a paradigm shift to provide more technical support and guidance for the client along with taking on a greater responsibility to better understand the business needs and challenges of their client. The role of the system integrator becomes more incumbent on the system integrator to understand the client’s business objectives so the system integrator can provide relevant guidance to the client on the “art of the possible” through digital transformation.
Daniel C. Malyszko is director of operations and forward thinker at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.