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Dan Miklovic

Quality Insider

Why the Internet of Things Will Engage Everyone

People, machines, and the environment can no longer be compartmentalized

Published: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 11:30

The Internet of things (IoT), is dominating the media these days. Some say IoT itself is probably a misnomer. For instance, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil says it really ought to be called the “Internet of everything” (IoE). Whenever we hear IoT, the first thing many start talking about is M2M or machine-to-machine communication, enabling us to get ever-expanding amounts of data, but what about the other things involved?

Google certainly gets that these data will need parsing, contextualizing, and analysis to turn it into usable information. That is one of the reasons the company is investing heavily in the manufacturing sector. The end-user of that information is intended to be us—people. So it is as much about allowing us to benefit from expanding connectivity as it is about the connectivity itself, hence the idea behind the Internet of everything.

Regardless of whether you think of it as IoT or IoE or some other acronym, the concepts behind the technology are all converging to focus on the interconnectivity of people, machines, and the environment. During the past several weeks, Mark Davidson, my colleague at LNS Research, has been working on a series covering the major challenges and roadblocks for accelerating the IoT’s prevalence and utility in the manufacturing sector. His first two posts were on protocols and cyber-security (read the first here and the second here).

Below, however, I’m going to take a slightly different angle and talk about the organizational implications of IoT.

Organizational issues may pose a major threat to IoT

What is becoming obvious as we talk to both end-users and vendors in the manufacturing space is that there is both excitement about the potential of IoT and concern about how to deal with its implications. Many debates are springing up about who is going to control and own all these data in companies. Should it be IT? The “business?” What about operations? Where does engineering fit in? These are all questions our clients ask us frequently.

At an event we attended recently, one client spent some time with us discussing his company’s architecture and how coverage was segmented between business-IT and operations groups. He wanted to know if we thought the company had done this correctly. Interestingly, one of its competitors was at the same event and engaged us in the same discussion.

Although they both considered their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems as IT and said that process control was owned and managed by operations, ownership of the other systems, such as manufacturing operations management (MOM) and enterprise asset management (EAM) varied between the two companies. One claimed EAM was IT’s responsibility while the other insisted it was operational technology, and therefore belonged to the plant and the engineering groups. Both wanted validation that they were correct.

Collaboration, not compartmentalization

The answer for both of these companies is that they should spend less time trying to compartmentalize ownership and responsibility, and more time enabling the various elements of their organization to work seamlessly together. It doesn’t make any more sense to try and turn plant-floor electricians into network engineers than it does to teach IT staff relay ladder logic programming.

What is needed is less time spent on defining who owns and controls what assets and more time spent on how to optimize the performance of those assets so the business benefits. Obviously, an automation and controls vendor knows the process control environment, and an ERP vendor knows the financial environment, but they both have valuable contributions to make when it comes to MOM, EAM, and other plant-level technology.

World-class manufacturers understand that the IoT changes the game going forward. Information technology is operational technology, and operational technology should be thought of as part of the information value chain.

Taking the first step

Invoking organizational change is never easy, but one of the first steps a manufacturer should take is to start crafting the big picture. That is, companies need to start educating everyone in the business about how quality, asset performance, energy, and production are all interlinked. Empowering employees with this information is a critical first step to evolving toward an IoT-capable enterprise.

Once people begin to understand the interrelationships of these functional areas and the technology that is used to support them, they can better understand how to ensure that technology is delivering on its promise. This will be vital for taking advantage of IoT. As we at LNS Research have been describing, there may be some hurdles along the way, but many more use cases for the IoT in manufacturing are on the horizon.

For more information on how manufacturers are approaching the IoT landscape today, download LNS Research’s free ebook, 2013–2014 Manufacturing Metrics That Matter.

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About The Author

Dan Miklovic’s picture

Dan Miklovic

Dan Miklovic joined LNS Research in May of 2014 and is now a Principal Analyst with his primary focus being research and development in the Asset and Energy Management practices. Dan has over 40 years of experience in manufacturing IT, R&D, engineering, and sales across several industries.