Architecting an interconnected enterprise

Automation, the conventional pinnacle of productivity, increasingly requires multi-platform connectivity to stakeholders across the enterprise to realize the advantages of smart manufacturing in the Industrie 4.0 era. How? Look at platforms, people, processes, and products.

By Amit Chadha October 17, 2017

The pinnacle of productivity has conventionally been touted as automation. With the advent of Industrie 4.0, it is becoming clearer that a fundamental building block for smart manufacturing is connectivity. Some organizations are quick to jump on the trend bandwagon, and others adopt a wait-and-watch approach. With trends like interconnected enterprises, the modus operandi might lie somewhere between these two extremes. For example, in a recent interaction with a beer manufacturer, the customer revealed interest in augmented reality (AR) smart glasses (Microsoft Hololens) that will help identify faulty, leaking valves in the facility.

Things are moving fast. In fact, the industry mindset itself has shifted a little. From connected devices, leaders now are talking about connected enterprises with flipped architectures that are dynamic and integrated rather than siloed. Those with an interconnection-first strategy can connect their customers, partners, and other key stakeholders to anything, anywhere, on any platform.

In view of these benefits, Equinix’s Jeremy Deutsch said last year that the number of interconnected enterprises would double from 38% to 84% by 2017. The prediction comes with the expectation of a booming digital universe, forecasted to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020.

The concept of connected enterprises questions the notion that organizational productivity peaks with automation. It offers new avenues to increase output, establish differentiation, and boost growth by releasing real-time information across departments. For instance, these enterprises can accelerate new product development, facilitate supply chain collaboration, streamline operations, and improve machine reliability, which currently averages 78.3%, much below the ideal 100%.

While real-time data typically emanates from operational technologies (OT), transactional information on logistics, inventory, quality, and financial health come from information technologies (IT). In connected enterprises, IT and OT converge to form the basis of competitive advantage and productivity.

Digital infonomics (assigning economic value to digital information) is a crucial part of this process. It is slated to serve as the framework for data-driven decision making on a massive scale. Although the concept appeals to many enterprises, it has not been exploited fully yet due to the absence of a foolproof implementation plan, an enterprise-wide approach that rests on four operational pillars: platform, people, process, and product. 

Building connected enterprises

A good connected-enterprise starting point is to embrace digital engineering. This involves the use of advanced technologies that collect real-time intelligence related to product variations, defects, and overall productivity. While it supports safe, compliant, and dependable operations, digital engineering also introduces new connection points. As a result, risk exposure for the manufacturing environment increases, creating the need for secure networking infrastructure that leverages the Ethernet.

With the average consolidated cost of a data breach standing at $4 million, security issues must be preempted and addressed upfront. Blockchain and security-as-a-service are some options to protect connected enterprises at the people, process, device, and data levels. In public cloud environments, data security governance programs are another possibility, which approximately 20% of organizations are likely to resort to, in 2018. 

Interconnections: 4 layers

Eventually, implementing an interconnection-oriented architecture (IOA) approach will become the preferred path to building connected enterprises. Not only does this ensure the secure interconnection of employees, partners, clouds, locations, and devices, but also it lays the groundwork for data exchange and digital commerce.

To graduate to IOA, enterprises will have to create four layers: network, security, data, and application. Once the topology of the network is streamlined, it should be followed up with the development of security guard rails. Finally, applications will need to be integrated with various touch points like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and manufacturing execution systems (MES).

Digital edge operations

IOA is all about preparing technology for the digital edge, where the virtual and physical worlds converge. Moreover, it calls for the adoption of the edge model by migrating applications, data and data centers to the edge with the support of colocation data centers. This model shortens the distance between enterprises, users, and partners, creating one marketplace.

With such a clear roadmap in place, 76% of companies in Hong Kong are looking to pursue interconnection by 2017, while 84% will implement multi-cloud interconnection over the next few years. In Singapore, 84% of organizations will embark on the interconnection journey in 2017, partly because the strategy has yielded more than $10 million in revenues and cost savings.

But, nowhere has interconnection been better received than in the Americas. From less than 50% adoption in 2015, uptake in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil is estimated to hit 92% this year.

It is not all rosy, and the concerns around return on investment (ROI) on interconnected ecosystems often crop up in technology summits and board meetings across the globe. What remains is a resonating hope that this wave of technology will take us a few steps ahead of where the last wave promised us.

Amit Chadha is president, sales and business development, and member of the board, L&T Technology Services Ltd., a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS Industrie 4.0, smart manufacturing

Using an interconnection-oriented architecture (IOA) will build connected enterprises.

Connections increase output, establish differentiation, and boost growth by releasing real-time information across departments.

IOA will ensure the secure interconnection of employees, partners, clouds, locations, and devices, and lay the groundwork for data exchange and digital commerce. 

Consider this

Are you using these strategies to increase interconnections, information flow, and make smarter decisions?

Back to Basics

A zettabyte (larger than a petabyte and exabyte, but smaller than a yottabyte) is the seventh power of 1,000, 1021, one followed by 21 zeros, 1 sextillion bytes, or 1 trillion gigabytes. 

ONLINE extra

References for this article, longer online, follow.

Data Center News, Predictions for the connected enterprise: Digital edge, interconnection, evolution

Technology Decisions, Rise of the interconnected era

Rockwell Automation, Getting More for Less: The Connected Enterprise Delivers Productivity

Equinix, Gartner: Why Interconnection Is the Glue for Digital Business 

Cognizant, Increasing Business Productivity in Connected Enterprises and an Always-On Digital World 

Security Intelligence, 2016 Ponemon Institute Cost of a Data Breach Study

Equinix, Nearly Half of the Enterprises in the Americas are Interconnected

Equinix, IOA Playbook, Architecting the Digital Edge

Equinix, Rise of the Digital Edge – 2017 Connected Enterprise Prediction #2

SMB World Asia, The enterprise of the future in Hong Kong: Unleashing the interconnected enterprise

Author Bio: Amit Chadha is president and executive director, L&T Technology Services Ltd.