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Information is the new currency

The primary resource of a modern society is knowledge. Data, when contextualized and combined with human insight, can be elevated to highly valuable, actionable information.

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Schneider Electric Industrial Automation

Information is the new currency

The primary resource of a modern society is knowledge. Data, when contextualized and combined with human insight, can be elevated to highly valuable, actionable information. Information is now the currency of global enterprises.

Industry 4.0 promises to transform industrial operations by leveraging the massive amount of data generated in an industrial environment with the industrial internet of things (IIoT). But data in its raw form is not intrinsically useful. It is only when data is shown in both historical and structural contexts that it turns into advantageous information. And when processed into actionable insights and placed in the hands of decision makers, it can spark true insight to improve how industries work.

In this era of remote everything, we have seen multiple years’ worth of digital transformation compressed into a few months. McKinsey & Company estimates that the pandemic has expedited the adoption of digital technologies by several decades.

Businesses established in the digital age, often referred to as “born-digital”—like Airbnb, Netflix, and Wecash—have proven that not only does digital create more profitable customer relationships but it also knocks out analog competition. They understand that today’s now economy (“I want it now”) places high value on convenience and customer experience.

Digital transformation, deployed through software applications powered by artificial intelligence (AI), are already driving dramatic gains in customer engagement, productivity, sustainability, and cost savings in asset-intensive industries such as manufacturing, utilities, and logistics.

Organizations that share data, applications, and operations with their industry ecosystem will realize a revenue increase three percentage points higher than nonparticipants. IDC

TIP: Software makes the invisible visible. One of the most critical factors that manufacturers need to consider when it comes to competitive success is how fluidly they react to—and even anticipate—dynamic market conditions. The increasing power of industrial software allows us to quickly align products and business practices to ever-changing customer and ecosystem requirements.

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Despite the potential of digital tools to improve productivity and efficiency, there are still some key challenges that manufacturers need to consider when it comes to adopting new technology. One of these is the relationship between machines and humans.

Employees discussing in office

Digital transformation is more about people than technology. Technology and software exist to augment and enhance human capabilities and safety. They fundamentally improve the way we work and the kind of work we do.

As the next-generation workforce brings with it an engrained digital skillset, proprietary expertise is gradually being replaced by open software, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems that learn and improve over time. The next wave of the workforce will be data engineers responsible for generating positive business outcomes and performance by controlling processes with digital tools. They will also help identify or invent potential new technologies to improve efficiency and create new business opportunities. This kind of industrial ecosystem, with data sharing at its core, is the foundation of the connected industrial economy, and it’s starting to transform how industries work.

Today’s digital natives bring the technical and advanced skills needed to work seamlessly in connected teams using shared data. And they expect automated processes, workflows, and digital tools. Soon, everyone from the top floor to the shop floor will have the necessary digital fluency to make informed decisions and improve company performance.

TIP: Industrial automation and software exist to augment and enhance human capabilities and safety. Advanced technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, or mixed realities allow users to “see” the information needed to optimize the operation and maintenance of a plant—easily and safely.

A healthy digital backbone

Graphic in form of spiral

“… end users are moving into the era of the digital enterprise where all product design, manufacturing processes, services and support, and customer experiences are connected by a digital thread that merges the virtual and physical worlds.” ARC

In the automation world, information technology (IT), operational technology (OT), and engineering technology (ET) are converging. Soon, almost everything will be connected, enabled by 5G, IIoT, and the cloud. As the number of data points continues to balloon, additional inputs can be fed into high quality analytics to generate even more precise predictions for engineering, operational, maintenance, and strategic planning.

Modern industrial software gives us access to data from all along the lifecycle, across domains, and even from external sources. This broader, deeper data can be aggregated, consolidated, and fed into analytic applications to provide teams with more complete, accurate, and insightful information so that they can make quicker, data-driven decisions across the full value chain, including procurement, planning, scheduling, production, and distribution.

A company’s digital backbone establishes data integrity, continuity, and consistency across the full lifecycle and provides a single source of truth—the lifeline for accelerating outcome-driven ways to capture IIoT business value.

Reliable data is the basis of an organization’s ability to deliver high-quality business outcomes. Since data comes from disparate parts of an organization (e.g., lines of business, customer service, and production assets), clear data governance is necessary to create vibrant, validated, and always reliable analytics.

So, how do we bring all this data together? Whereas legacy operations have traditionally used data in silos, federated data creates an integrated data thread across all program areas, enabling individual departments, groups, or partners to maintain diversity and uniqueness while also providing interoperability across domains.

By 2026, on average, 30% of Global 2000 company revenue will derive from industry ecosystem shared data, applications, and operations initiatives with partners, industry entities, and business networks. IDC

TIP: Establishing data continuity, quality, and provenance; validating data reliability; and adopting a secure data management approach for your digital backbone are essential elements for tracking and explaining data. The goal is to know what, when, and why something happens in both real time and future states at any given moment.

Flexible, scalable cloud and SaaS

Traditional OT software is run locally on premises, with limited opportunity for collaboration in a shared environment. This makes it costly and difficult to scale as demand grows or shrinks.

Many industrial companies have started to leverage the power and scale of the cloud to unlock the next level of efficiency, collaboration, and growth for their businesses. A simple first step is to augment existing on-premises systems with cloud solutions to unlock additional business value through cloud-based analytics and data sharing.

Industrial cloud platforms are purpose built for industrial use. By removing organizational silos and replacing them with a shared environment for real-time collaboration and transparent information, industrial cloud platforms create unmatched levels of workforce and operational efficiency.

Using an industrial cloud platform also provides a central location to access software-as-a-service (SaaS). Sometimes called “software on demand,” SaaS is quickly becoming the licensing and delivery method of choice around the world. SaaS applications are delivered over the internet via a highly cost-effective subscription model that provides easy and fast updates, scaling as needed, high availability and accessibility, and advanced security. By moving to SaaS, time to value is almost immediate. Companies make a much smaller initial outlay and can immediately access the benefits.

Software storage and access

  • On-premises software is installed on a company’s in-house privately-owned computers and servers.
  • Cloud software is hosted on a vendor’s servers and accessed via a web browser.
  • Software can also be stored in a hybrid cloud, which may include a combination of public and private clouds, and a mix of in-house resources and cloud services.

TIP: Perpetual license software often requires a big investment up front and additional budget for maintenance and upgrades. The costs of pay-as-you-go SaaS models are flexible and predictable and provide faster returns on investment.

Cybersecurity is everyone’s business

Most companies have business continuity plans in place to help them prepare for and overcome a crisis. But with nearly 40 billion devices online globally, almost everyone and everything is connected. Not making cybersecurity a critical, integral part of business planning jeopardizes a company’s ability to respond to rapidly changing business dynamics.

This is particularly true when a global crisis wreaks havoc on communities, supply chains, and entire industries and economies. Cybercriminals are quick to take advantage of global events, exploiting vulnerabilities and gaps wherever they can be found and leaving companies exposed.

Our new digital ecosystem empowers us to be more productive and efficient. However, that ecosystem is only effective if we have trust in it. But where to begin?

The first step is to ensure cybersecurity is at the foundation of your overall risk management and risk assessment strategies and matrix. By understanding your risk threshold, you can develop a holistic strategy that addresses the dynamics of your unique environment.

Security is everyone’s business, but some companies find they simply do not yet have either the expertise or the resources to fully take on cybersecurity by themselves. Because the stakes are so high, it is best to find a partner who has the expertise to help you design and implement a program that works for you. In most cases, you will need monitoring, maintenance, and training services. In addition, you’ll need technical expertise to help integrate your existing technology, especially if it is from multiple vendors.

The goal is a holistic, dynamic program that will continually identify, assess, and minimize your risks and threats. Then you will have the people, processes, and technology in place to reduce the potential impact that a cyber incident could have on your business performance.

TIP: Cybersecurity risks related to systemic events are dynamic; they change every day. Therefore, the best approach to reducing and even eliminating current and future risks is to establish a strong cybersecurity foundation that includes your people, processes, and technology.

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