Why Industrial IoT platform is best hope for IT and OT convergence
With my engineering background, I was always fascinated with SCADAs and PLCs. These are small devices and associated monitoring frameworks that give voices to machines and critical infrastructure. For years, these devices, along with sensors, actuators and relays, have been gathering data that is confined to what is traditionally called the Operation Technology (OT). OT was typically restricted to four walls of the plant or, on a protected network, on an electric grid. The data was locked in proprietary formats, had very specific limited use and was primarily used for reactive purpose.
In a parallel universe, Information Technology (IT) has been embracing modern breakthroughs such as cloud computing, mobility and the power of analytics. Some of us who have been fortunate to lead IT-driven digital business transformations have been amazed at the lack of seamless interaction between the two worlds. The missing link has been a robust Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) platform. The principles and decades of learnings from OT can be applied to other emerging IoT areas, such as connected vehicles, smart cities and smart buildings that rely on the perception (sense and respond) layer.
IoT is much more than connected devices or things. It is about mind set change, partnerships, and collaboration. Winners can no longer rely on efficiency and productivity improvements, they need to have a collaborative after-sales service differentiation. It is about a vision where an aircraft engine manufacturer intends to transforms from selling engines one at a time to selling thrust hours perpetually.
A lot of building blocks have to be in place to make this vision a reality. Sensors are needed to constantly measure turbine gas temperature and shaft speeds, and a chip detector would be needed to trap any debris in the oil system. Vibration sensors are required to provide information on the condition of rotating components, and other sensors would be required to assess the health of the cooling air system, fuel system and oil system. And the list goes on. Now an IoT-enabled sensor network can tell a jet engine manufacturer when and how often to wash a jet engine to keep it fuel efficient and optimize the downtime and washing costs.
Core product companies, such as automotive, industrial equipment manufacturers, had limited opportunities to engage customers in recurring revenue streams. Industrial IoT changes that, and now ThyssenKrupp can sell a predictive maintenance package with each elevator sale. It now has an opportunity to be a part of Smart Building initiative and generate a constant services-and-support-based revenue stream like software makers.
It is all about the platform. Remember, just a few years back doing a video conference was such a chore. Only big companies could afford it, and there was dedicated IT infrastructure, equipment and personnel. Fast forward, and now we can do a video conference from our smart phones instantly. This is in part due to platform support. Companies no longer need to invest in dedicated infrastructure. The ubiquitous standard high speed Internet connectivity, equipment standardization, drivers support and built-in support in iOS, Android, Windows and Linux makes it easier to adopt technologies for masses.
Another analogy could be thinking of an airport as a platform. If each airline had to provide their own traffic controllers, security personnel and baggage handlers they would never achieve any meaningful scale and level of customer service. By leveraging the platform, airlines can focus on keeping the planes in the air longer. The platform can be enriched to provide additional services such as food, shopping and currency exchange and thereby provide additional revenue sharing opportunities for various stakeholders.
Something similar needs to happen in the Industrial IoT space. If every company needs to invest in talking to sensors in a secure way, figuring out the protocol proliferation, dealing with large volumes of data, and creating machine learning algorithms, they will never get to the business side of the IoT solution. The platform has to be a given where vertical domain specific problems can be dropped in. The GE Predix platform is a step in the right direction. A modern Industrial IoT platform needs to provide the following at a minimum:
The Industrial IoT intends to enhance our lives with smart connected things that can securely sense, contextualize, integrate, react and predict meaningful aspects of physical world. A successful IoT platform will enable enterprises to bring their solutions with reduced time to market, increased security and scale, lower cost and increased flexibility to address changing customer needs.
As a hands-on IT leader and business process architect with experience in both IT and OT, I feel that the right framework and business drivers now exist for making IT and OT convergence a reality. The convergence that is part technology and part culture would yield enhanced services and new revenue models for the enterprise. This is the desired end state for most progressive enterprises where seamless, integrated information flow that leverages best of both worlds in terms of scalability, security and analytics would provide new monetizing opportunities.