The first three steps are always the hardest

Accelerate the value of an IIoT strategy for enterprise assets.

By Kim Custeau December 29, 2016

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) presents an opportunity for industrial companies to leverage existing data to improve operational excellence. Per Gartner, companies are responding—two-thirds of the respondents in a recent survey have either implemented or plan to implement an IIoT strategy. However, enterprises still face hurdles on how to adopt it. Concerns range from overcoming interoperability, avoiding high-cost implementations, and negotiating the risk of not achieving promised ROI.

Fortunately, new best-practices are emerging that can help overcome these challenges, accelerate tangible benefits, and lay a foundation that will yield benefits for many years into the future. I have had the benefit of working with a few Schneider Electric software clients and have seen these deployments firsthand. Based on that experience, I found there are three cornerstones to an IIoT strategy that can help you to achieve success and usher in a new realm of innovation.

To summarize, start small and work big-there are many tactical deployments of IIoT strategies that can be completed in a relatively short period. These may be tied to a specific component of your business—say a single line or machine that has been causing challenges. Pick a first project to demonstrate what options exist when ready access to the right data can be quickly attained, helping to make on-the-fly decisions to improve uptime, reduce loss, or improve quality. These micro projects can then demonstrate to senior management the viability of your IIoT project, which unlocks more funding and greater scope.

The best long-term strategy is to envision an asset management program that covers all operations, across all sites. But executing that strategy can be a daunting task—hence a phased or tiered implementation program is ideal. The goal is an Enterprise Asset Performance Management (APM) solution-one that can integrate enterprise data collection, predictive analytics, comprehensive EAM and integrated workflow, among other capabilities, in a comprehensive open-ended package. Those companies that embark on their IIoT journey can leverage their Enterprise APM solution to deliver concrete business results, resulting in the highest economic return on investment.

Let’s first look at how to get started. Here are three steps you can take today: 

1. Build on existing investments

The best way to start your journey is to leverage as much existing infrastructure as possible. When researching what future Enterprise APM solution you want to end up with, ensure it has an open architecture so it will operate seamlessly with your existing equipment, control layer, and data collection protocols. No one has a "pure," single manufacturer equipment environment, so an open architecture is key. In fact, this realization simplifies what you decide to implement today, as it removes constraints imposed when limited to only choosing specific vendor solutions. And, given an operating environment is likely multi-vendor, it also makes implementing the foundation for future Enterprise APM simpler, as it does not require adoption of new equipment or sensors, letting you build on existing infrastructure.

Users adopting Enterprise APM can see benefits no matter how simple or complex their current plant infrastructure. An organization without enterprisewide data collection capabilities will benefit from installing a data-management foundation to collect and contextualize information across their company. Those with an existing data-management foundation can readily add predictive analytics, unlocking further gains in their ability to foresee problems before they occur. Wherever your organization is in terms of your maintenance management maturity, plugging in value-added solutions to enhance the ROI of existing investments makes a lot of sense. 

2. Leverage existing data for decision support

An average plant can have over 8,000 data points from smart sensors on plant turbines, pumps, condensers, and other pieces of critical equipment. A modern utility may have more than two million data points across their generation fleet. But, without applying context or meaning to this data, it doesn’t do you any good, as it is just "white noise" in a loud environment.

Here, the winning strategy is to pick a few pilot projects where you know great information is hidden but are not leveraging it to your best ability. Simplifying the access route through user interfaces that point quickly to next steps can be a powerful way to empower employees, increase efficiency, and improve overall team performance.

By implementing the data collection layer that will become part of your Enterprise APM solution, an organization can give engineers, supervisors, and executives key information quickly—and with greater accuracy and quality—which they can then have at their fingerprints to make better, faster, and more informed decisions.

Plugging advanced analytic applications into the data-management foundation (by means of IoT-based connectivity) enables users to make sense of the increasing amount of data and discover actionable insights. Tata Power—one of the largest power companies in India—installed fleet-wide predictive analytics and saved $270,000 through early detection and identification of a circulation water pump blockage. [

3: Demonstrate Real Business Value and Results

Adopting an IIoT strategy—executed through the implementation of an Enterprise APM solution—can have an immediate positive impact on the bottom line of your business. Unlocking immediate access to mission-critical information lets organizations better predict issues before they occur. With this knowledge, it becomes possible to more effectively perform work order scheduling, optimize resource planning, and leverage existing operational data to maximize asset performance.

Keep an eye on how you can bridge the information technology/operations technology (IT/OT) gap to implement closed-loop business solutions. Improving the collaboration between your IT and operations team can have dramatic results. Using real-time data can then result in greater collaboration and continuous process improvement. This can lead to maintenance cost reduction, extended asset life, and ultimately, maximum economic return on assets. Carson City achieved a 15% reduction in staff hours by implementing mobile reporting in their water/wastewater infrastructure, optimizing operational visibility and readiness.

Companies that have adhered to these three strategic objectives as part of their IIoT strategy—achieved in part, through an adoption of a Schneider Electric Enterprise APM platform—have gone on to experience significant business value, as validated through the following benefits:

  • 30% reduction in maintenance costs
  • 30% improvement in asset utilization
  • 25% reduction in unplanned downtime
  • 25% improvement in labor utilization
  • 20% increase in asset availability.

While the concepts associated with IIoT may seem unfamiliar at first, there are real benefits that can be captured early on in your journey to becoming an IIoT-based organization. These advantages are available today, for industrial organizations that have the vision to first lay a foundation, and then build upon that vision through a journey to IIoT maturity made possible by harnessing these new capabilities. Leveraging an Enterprise APM strategy, companies can build on existing infrastructure, transform data into insights, and drive real business results.

Kim Custeau is director of asset management at Schneider Electric.

This article appears in the IIoT for Engineers supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

– See other articles from the supplement below.


To start your journey leverage as much existing infrastructure as possible. No one facility has a “pure,” single manufacturer equipment environment, so an open architecture is key.

The concepts associated with IIoT may seem unfamiliar, but real benefits have been demonstrated.

One often-cited goal of IIoT efforts is enterprise asset-performance management solution–one that can integrate enterprise data collection, predictive analytics, comprehensive EAM, and integrated workflow, among other capabilities, in a comprehensive open-ended package.