Smart Connected Operations: Building the Infrastructure for Digital Transformation

Digital_Transformation_framework_version_2.jpgToday I will address some of the first steps in making Digital Transformation possible. My colleague Dan Miklovic has been writing an excellent series of posts on Enterprise Architecture (EA) and Digital Transformation. LNS has developed a framework to help manufacturers to move in a practical way from today’s traditional enterprise, sometimes fully automated, sometimes not, to an operationally excellent digital manufacturing environment. In this blog I will take a look at the first step – Smart Connected Operations (SCO).

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The SCO phase of Digital Transformation is the act of readying your organization technically for the steps to come. The first consideration when a manufacturer is undertaking such a huge transformation is where to start. Start with a small scale SCO.

Components of SCO

We can break SCO down into a number of essential component parts that make up a platform that will enable the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the transformation that IIoT will bring to your enterprise and beyond. These components are:

While cloud and connectivity have been around a long time, the rules change somewhat in our new SCO. Cloud computing has become almost the norm in many IT departments. Advantages of cost, ease of upgrade, multi-site support and not having to worry about infrastructure to the same extent have all contributed to a love of Cloud. However, in a recent LNS survey, 63% of respondents said their current ERP was on premise – there is still a long way to go. When we go down to shop floor systems such as MES and data historians, these have been almost exclusively in the plant. SCO will help to bring some of the benefits of cloud computing to manufacturing companies; many, but not all, functions that currently run in the plant could easily be ported to a cloud environment if suitable data, security and connectivity are available. This is just what SCO will deliver!

Connectivity will also expand in a SCO world: manufacturers have typically stuck to a strict hierarchy of control systems from sensors on the shop floor to controllers, MES systems, and finally up to business systems such as ERP. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and SCO, we see a rapid deployment of sensors (and other “things”) that have built in intelligence and communication capabilities. We call these Smart Connected Assets (SCA). Connectivity directly from any system to a SCA will greatly enhance data availability and will allow that data to be delivered to whomever or whatever needs it.

Data – It Is All About the Data

Everyone has read the stories of vast amounts of data that can be produced by modern intelligent deices, whether it be thermostats in your house or a jet engine flying across the world. We are told to expect to handle exabytes of information across the internet in the coming years. This can be daunting when we are considering our first steps into the IoT and a platform to support it. However, scalability is something we are seeing that IoT platform providers are addressing urgently and, on the whole, successfully.  We can start small with the expectation that we can scale: We can try it, pilot it and then scale it, all with expert providers’ helpBig_Data_New.png.

Data in SCO is important because it is going to open up new opportunities for manufacturers. In the past we have tended to do all our analytics using only manufacturing data; enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) systems have become popular over the last few years, but they tend to be limited to manufacturing and a little bit of business information. SCO systems offer combined access to time series, structured and unstructured data from multiple sources, allowing Big Data Analytics to be used on all the data.

Getting Started

As I said above, scaling is a big task but lots of companies are doing it. In order to build a successful SCO strategy, and hence make it possible to implement Digital Transformation, you need first to try it. I would suggest that the first place to play is in Big Data Analytics (but not too big). That requires you to connect and collect data, hopefully from all three types of data mentioned, try analytics tools from a variety of vendors and deploy small scale cloud infrastructure. The choice of small data analytics companies is huge – choose carefully.

Once you have some results from trying, decisions about the larger Digital Transformation program can be made. You can go ahead and select a partner with whom to deploy your IIoT platform and, which to implement smart connected operations.

The prospects are daunting but the rewards cannot yet be imagined. The speed at which companies are deploying IoT technologies and business processes would strongly suggest that those that want to lead should be engaging today in the first steps. During this year, LNS will be introducing ever more detail into the SCO framework – hopefully today we have whetted your appetite.

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All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

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