How the Industrial Internet of Things Requires Thinking Differently

Industrial Internet of Things

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) may be the biggest disruption to industry since the assembly line transformed manufacturing. Just like continuous production, the IIoT is fundamentally changing how things are done.

For companies that adopt it, the IIoT offers many benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Greater efficiency
  • Real-time data tracking and analysis
  • Predictive abilities (e.g., for maintenance)
  • Cost savings through automation
  • Increased revenue (a happy consequence of the previous items on this list)

To realize these benefits, companies are making major investments in IIoT technologies. GE expects that the IIoT market could hit $225 billion by 2020, with $60 trillion of investment in the next 15 years.

But, the IIoT isn’t like a new machine. It isn’t a piece of equipment or technology that you can just slip into an existing process. The IIoT changes the processes themselves. As such, it requires not just a capital investment, but an entirely new way of thinking.

Here are three ways the Industrial Internet of Things challenges companies to think differently.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration

The IIoT connects things. One might say that its ultimate goal is to connect all the industrial things, which includes not just sensors on equipment, but processes and people as well.

This new era of “connected everything” requires a new level of cross-discipline collaboration.

For example, it’s no longer sufficient for the engineers designing a process to be isolated from the field and electrical engineers who are implementing that process. They need to share data and expertise, to collaborate from the beginning of a project right on through to the end.

Achieving cross-disciplinary collaboration requires a commitment to communication and openness that can be an especial challenge for organizations that have traditionally been siloed. But companies that embrace this approach will be the ones best positioned to benefit from the Industrial Internet of Things.

Attitudes toward mistakes

Application consulting engineer Ryan Nabozniak hit a nerve a few months ago with his article How to Prevent Mistakes So You Can Stop Playing the Blame Game. In that article, he identified a major problem facing engineering departments today:

“[We deal with mistakes by] denying they exist. If they do come to light, because of a disaster, for example, often the response is for the people involved in a project start pointing fingers.

No individual or firm wants to be held responsible for a mistake. Admitting wrongdoing would destroy the firm’s reputation and open it up to legal ramifications. So, many organizations choose to bury their heads in the sand.”

By enabling predictive analytics and digital modeling, the IIoT provides the opportunity for companies to try things out and test hypotheses in virtual space before implementing them in physical space. This will allow them to identify mistakes before a disaster occurs, learn from those mistakes, and use that knowledge to find better solutions.

First, however, the organizational mindset needs to shift to one where people aren’t afraid to make — or admit to — their mistakes.

Successful companies will take a page from GE product manager Rich Carpenter’s book. Speaking at the 2016 Global Automation and Manufacturing Summit, Carpenter said: “We want that culture of ‘try, fail fast, and learn.’”

Thinking bigger

Finally, the ultimate benefit of the IIoT will be a more holistic view of everything that’s happening — in a manufacturing plant, a process, and so on. This big picture perspective will allow companies to move beyond “what” to exploring “how,” “who,” and “why.”

Babette Ten Haken, a business coach who works with manufacturing, IT, and engineering firms, wrote about this shift in an article exploring the type of talent companies will require to leverage the IIoT. She noted a lack of strategic thinking in how companies approach the IIoT. In particular, she cites research showing that many business leaders “[focus] on operational efficiency as the endpoint of their IIoT strategy,” but don’t “capitalize on these efficiencies as catalysts for product and revenue development opportunities nor in the creation of new business models.”

Ultimately, the companies that succeed will be the ones that use the capabilities of the IIoT not just to improve existing processes, but to create something entirely new.

Aucotec helps companies prepare for and embrace the hyperconnected world of the IIoT by providing software that connects engineers and engineering processes across organizations. Learn more.

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