By Steve Jennis, SVP, PrismTech
Higher-level insights, cross-domain integration and global-scale data access via the IIoT can enhance tactical OT and IT systems to provide new revenue opportunities, lower costs and additional environmental benefits.
Corporate IT systems have increasingly embraced the web, the cloud and mobility over the past decade. And SCADA, M2M, DCS, CIM, and other distributed operational technology (OT) systems have been connecting "things" into islands-of-automation for even longer. The IIoT, however, can enhance, integrate and scale these systems to provide completely new levels of business value.
As I discussed in my recent blog, "How Does the Industrial Internet Differ from M2M and SCADA?" the IIoT is all about the potential to extract valuable new business insights from data in ways never before possible. But let's start by recognizing that OT and IT systems obviously add value to enterprises and have provided good application solutions in areas from process control to SCADA to ERP to corporate payroll for decades. These tactical applications provide a good ROI and solve real operational problems, but they also tend to be domain specific, often utilize proprietary technologies and store their data in "vertical stovepipes".
As such they do a good job in a limited way, but they do not fully exploit the potential of the data they generate, since they do not liberate that data for sharing and analysis wherever in the enterprise new insights and value can be generated. They do not support distributed analytics, cross-domain integration or global-scale data access.
As literally billions of new connected devices (new data sources) are deployed in enterprises during the next few years this problem (of underexploited valuable data) will become dramatically worse unless a new data-connectivity approach is taken.
So the IIoT is not about replacing existing tactical systems. It is about improving them both within their domain boundaries (e.g. higher performance, lower latency, less proprietary, new connected devices) and in providing completely new levels of actionable insight (control, analytics and optimization) through data-connectivity between and above these previously-bounded systems. As such, the IIoT promises several key advantages and benefits over traditional OT and IT systems by:
- Improving the functionality and performance of existing systems through the deployment of the latest technologies, standards and new connected edge-devices, e.g. connect-ready sensors, data-connectivity platforms for system-wide real-time data-sharing, availability of ubiquitous wireless connection, cloud-based services, etc. In short, improving legacy system capabilities while liberating their data from stovepipes.
- Providing new opportunities for OT/IT integration through inter-operability gateways (e.g. Apache Camel-based bridges), standards-based data protocols (e.g. DDS and MQTT) and WAN (e.g. TCP/IP, UDP) technologies. In short, making operational data available to IT systems and vice versa.
- Enabling new levels of value-add across the boundaries of tactical systems, as connectivity between domains provides new levels of insight for efficiency improvements (e.g. OT/IT alignment and optimization, distributed analytics, inter-factory automation, supply-chain integration, mobile connected employees, global corporate connectivity). In short, progress towards a digital enterprise.
- And, where appropriate, offering the opportunity for new business models based on new levels of data availability, analysis and insights and thus the potential to offer new services to users/customers (e.g. real-time machine, production and product data). In short, adding service offerings to product offerings by OEMs and systems integrators.
So, it's all about the data...?
Yes, the essential value-add of the IIoT (over traditional OT and IT systems) is all about enabling widespread data access and the new insights that can be gained from that ubiquitous real-time data availability.
Of course security is a key requirement, but with data-centric designs (those that allow intelligent, real-time, content-based manipulation of data -- not just black-box messaging) data access and security are not mutually exclusive. (For more information on data-centricity, click here).
So, with the application of IIoT technologies, vendors can deliver data-based services as well as products and end-users can better exploit the data produced by their OT and IT systems.
Yes again, generating valuable data is good, but it's only the raw material. New value and insights are only gained from the interoperability, control, optimization and new services enabled by delivering the right data, to the right place, at the right time, every time. Fortunately platforms are now available (e.g. www.prismtech.com/vortex) that provide standards-based data-connectivity solutions for OT, IT and new IIoT systems from tiny sensors to phones/tablets to enterprise servers to cloud services, and with gateways to access data from pre-existing systems. On-demand data access is now achievable virtually anywhere... a real-time Twitter for things, if you will.
So, in summary, IIoT technologies can:
- Improve existing OT and IT systems and the new connected devices they will incorporate
- Connect OT and IT systems so they can share data and inter-operate
- Deliver OT, IT and other data to where it can best add business value
- Provide distributed analytics to reap new insights from that data
- Provide global and mobile access to those insights through cloud services
Fundamental to this is a new technology called an Intelligent Data-Connectivity Platform. We read much about new Things (intelligent, connected edge-devices) and much about cloud services. But the real key to unlocking the value of the IIoT is on-demand data-delivery system-wide, to create new insights and thus opportunities for enhanced control, process optimization and people productivity. In turn that will result in new service offerings, lower costs and less waste.
If data is the new oil, then IIoT platforms are the new real-time pipelines and tankers. Before long we'll regard siloed enterprise OT and IT data the way we regard a signal-less cell phone today.