Effective process change management tips for the IIoT

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has made some major strides for the last few years, but making it viable and easy to use on the plant floor requires a lot of planning and some culture change for companies.

By Chris Vavra September 22, 2017

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has gone from being theoretical to real for some companies, but the conversation still remains: Is it viable and what can be done to make it efficient on the plant floor?

The answer, said Chris LeBeau, global IT director for Advanced Technology Services (ATS), is not an easy one because the answer is different depending on the company. Each plant has a unique challenge that makes IIoT implementation difficult. A more mature plant with older technology will have different questions and answers as opposed to a start-up.

"IIoT is the next big thing," LeBeau said at his presentation: "The Path to IIoT: Effective Change Management Tips" at Process Expo in Chicago. And with potentially 50 billion connected devices by 2020, there is no shortage of data that can help companies be more efficient and productive. The question, LeBeau said, becomes: "What do we do with all this information? What are the tools we use to analyze it?"

That’s not easy because there are many different companies offering their own unique solutions. The lack of standards and uniformity allows each company to carve their own little niche into an immature marketplace.

The problem, LeBeau said, is they might not be viable in five years. "There are a lot of proprietary solutions that don’t work with one another," LeBeau said. "A lot of money is being wasted on technology that is not standards-based. Cities and companies that invest in this technology need to make smart decisions." 

Seven IoT pitfalls

The IIoT has a lot of potential, but there are many pitfalls that companies either fail to acknowledge or don’t consider because they’re caught up in what it could do for their company.

1. Insufficient investment in project management.

2. Failure to get buy-in across the organization.

3. Not being able to update or replace IoT components. LeBeau said this is particularly prevalent due to the lack of IoT standards.

4. Underestimating vendor risk.

5. Not having a plan B or any kind of exit strategy ready in case things don’t go according to plan.

6. Downplaying security and privacy threats. This, again, goes back to the lack of standards. With everything going to the cloud, it’s a lot easier for cybersecurity threats to slip through.

7. Focusing on technology over business. Technology, LeBeau said, has to be about being efficient and improving business rather than just being about technology for technology’s sake. 

Leveraging IIoT technologies to improve or expand value

Companies that want to focus on improving their company through the IIoT need to address the why, what, and how in their plan before they do anything.

The why is a broad concept and is about what it could do for the company in both the short- and long-term. The what, which feeds into the why, will mutate and change the answer as companies focus on the concept and the business strategy and case for implementing IIoT. These questions also need to answer what value it will bring to the business. The questions that need to be answered on this side include: 

  • What is the opportunity for meaningful change or innovation?
  • Can the concept be a catalyst for major transformation?
  • Can it provide new ways to engage customers?
  • Will it enable new business models?
  • How does the evolution of the innovation support the strategy?

The planning and conceptualization is a continuous process and will lead to many different roads before any solution is found, but at the end an answer will be reached. If done properly, it will be a solution that will benefit the company in the short- and long-term. 

Getting OT, IT to work together

All this planning at the business stage is great, but it remains a team effort. The biggest stumbling block on that front is getting people from information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) to work together. "It’s two very different worlds," LeBeau said. "Both sides need to realize the benefits and combining the art and science of the two worlds will make it easier."

While that’s easier said than done, LeBeau believes that the conversation will get easier as time passes. "It will get easier," he said, "but that divide is going to be there for a long time." Technology, inevitably, will bring the two sides together as their worlds become more ingrained. 

Taking IIoT mainstream

That remains in the distance for many industries, though. IIoT remains a niche concept, by and large. Even in manufacturing it remains opaque and unclear to smaller companies. Larger companies are taking advantage of it because they have the resources, but the smaller companies either don’t think it will save them money or it remains a foreign concept that is impossible to understand.

LeBeau believes that IIoT acceptance will reach mainstream acceptance in the consumer world before the industrial world. The trick, he said, is it has to be easier to use. Mainstreaming standards will help lower the barriers and create a more common language, but it will also depend on companies creating an interface that is easy for any user.

"Look at Uber," LeBeau said. "They took all this information that existed in different forms with the cab driver and the passenger locations and they elegantly put it together in a way that was easy for anyone to use. And that’s what needs to happen with IIoT acceptance.

Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.