Five Key Steps To Building A Successful Strategy For The Industrial Internet Of Things

Peter Zornio, Chief Technology Officer, Emerson Automation Solutions
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The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is buzz worthy for its sheer potential to optimize operations and enhance profitability, but too many manufacturers are struggling to develop business plans for Industrial IoT and other digitization initiatives.

A recent Emerson-sponsored survey of manufacturing executives highlighted the challenge: 60 percent of respondents said they were exploring or investing in Industrial IoT pilot projects, but only 5 percent were investing against a clear business case for how to best implement the technology. This challenge is amplified by the fact that Industrial IoT projects often don’t have a clear functional “owner” within the business. Among survey respondents, 28 percent cited operations as leaders in Industrial IoT in their organizations, followed by IT and engineering at 24 percent each.

The wide-ranging potential of Industrial IoT is both exciting and daunting. It’s no surprise that many businesses are struggling to get the ball rolling. Where to start? Who’s in charge?

Emerson has helped manufacturers use automation technologies to optimize their operations for decades. Our focus now is helping them achieve Top Quartile performance, leveraging Industrial IoT technologies, data analysis and insights and expert consulting. While every manufacturer’s needs and goals are unique, we’ve seen a consistent path to successful business planning and execution by following five key steps:

1. Focus on business opportunity first, not technology. Industrial IoT is a means to an end, not a solution in and of itself. Successful business plans first require leaders to step back from technology discussions and determine what they need to accomplish to deliver value to the business. It might be reduced facility downtime, less maintenance expense or improved energy efficiency, for example.

2. Build an integrated team. Whether it’s IT or operations and engineering leading an initiative, a business plan is unlikely to be successful without IT-OT (Operational Technology) collaboration. Each organization brings valuable perspective to business plan development, execution, and measurement against business objectives. IT personnel may know the technology, but OT staff knows how it should be applied and what the business results will be.

  The greatest benefits of Industrial IoT are realized when worker skills are enhanced and work processes are updated to take advantage of new technology  

3. Focus and start small. Industrial IoT is well-suited for small-scale trial applications, such as monitoring equipment health or energy consumption within a facility. These smaller initial projects address clear business needs in a measurable way, while also giving manufacturers the opportunity to evaluate broader applications and deployment as they gain expertise. Too often, the temptation is to start by investing in large-scale technology infrastructure before best-use cases and their requirements have been established.

4. Digitally transform employees as well as processes. The greatest benefits of Industrial IoT are realized when worker skills are enhanced and work processes are updated to take advantage of new technology. Conversely, simply buying new technologies but retaining outdated work practices will delay realization of benefits. As operations become more dependent on advanced digital technologies, it is important to actively evolve the workforce. Collaboration with local educational institutions to ensure that future workers are being trained on the latest technologies can be a wise longer-term investment. Employees can then find new opportunities on their own. For example, we helped customer Denka Singapore monitor steam traps to help improve energy efficiency. Maintenance staff quickly discovered they could evolve their maintenance practices from fixing equipment after it failed, to predicting and preventing equipment from failing in the first place.

5. Pick the right supplier partners. Industrial IoT is a rapidly evolving space and not many companies have a lot of in-house expertise. Suppliers have the advantage of dedicated Industrial IoT personnel with a broader view across an industry. Suppliers should also represent diverse capabilities—IT and OT—and understand how to make the most of existing infrastructure. Defining business cases, building a roadmap, helping with implementation and security, delivering cloud applications, and even providing turnkey, outcome-based solutions are some of the areas where suppliers can help.

With these considerations top of mind, businesses will be well-positioned to get significant returns on their Industrial IoT investments. And with strategic business plans guiding these investments, they will also gain experience and expertise that will drive broader adoption of Industrial IoT and other advanced digital technologies for operational improvements.

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