The Internet of Things (IoT) has been one of the richest and most exciting growth areas for the technology industry in recent years. From start-ups developing brand new connected products, to established hardware or software businesses expanding their horizons into this brave new world, the IoT has generated some incredible success stories.
Nevertheless, thriving in the IoT space is not easy. What differentiates the successes from the failures? How can new businesses dipping their toes in the IoT water best navigate this complex and dynamic landscape?
One approach is to break things down and to consider the technology that actually supports and drives the IoT. Is it really just about imbuing existing devices and products with internet connectivity? Or can we think about it in terms of unifying two existing aspects of enterprise technology, so as to create something new?
Understanding IT and OT
Information technology (IT), as most of us know, is a catch-all term for the computer-driven architectures that underpin almost every business today. It’s about storing, analysing, transmitting and harnessing digital data.
Operational technology (OT), is slightly more specific. Gartner provides a neat definition: ‘hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise’. OT, then, is specifically associated with industrial and manufacturing environments: factory floors, power stations and so on.
What happens when you add them together? Suddenly all of the individual actions and operational controls that take place within an OT system can become part of an organisation’s overall IT architecture – and become subject to mass data analysis, trend forecasting, strategizing and so on.
What happens then?
Visibility, efficiency, automation
The first, most obvious benefit is that the physical processes underpinning industrial environments can suddenly be brought into the same sphere of visibility as the rest of the organisation’s data. For the first time, industrial organisations can have a single pane of glass view of all their technology. Performance and resource allocation become far quicker and easier to identify, and analyse.
In turn, this generates massive efficiencies. First, a huge amount of data can be collected without sending individual engineers around the industrial environment to carry out manual checks. Second, broad trend analysis and bottleneck alerts mean that it is far faster for managers to make decisions that improve performance. Small problems with machinery can be identified and repaired before they escalate – in short, businesses can sweat their assets.
Finally, this process is the key to unlocking increased automation in industrial and manufacturing settings. If alerts are set up in the IT architecture to ascertain when, for example, machinery in the production line is operating at a speed that will cause bottlenecks further along, then an automated instruction can be sent back to the equipment further along that production line. A far smoother response to fluctuating demand is achieved.
Of course, what we’re getting at here is the importance of connectivity between factory floor and head office, between IT and OT systems. Integrating IT and OT is nothing more than an industrial application of IoT principles – connecting previously disparate physical parts to a powerful analytical engine. Yet because it can drive such a range of tangible benefits, it is often a formula for real success in a complex landscape.