The IoT is a transformative trend in the world of industrial IT – from multiple perspectives. It can easily seem like connected devices are infiltrating every corner of industrial and manufacturing ecosystems. From the sharp end of product development and creating brand new revenue streams, right through to ‘softer’ questions of analytics, asset sweating and enhancing process efficiency.
Today, we’re thinking about one specific aspect of those ecosystems, and considering how the IoT is enabling an entirely new breed of systems integrator.
At the most fundamental level, the job of a systems integrator is to smoothly unite disparate components in a process or environment.
So far, so…general.
In industrial settings, this was for many years about connecting to the various programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in situ and exchanging data between them. In turn, logical workflows and production lines could be set up. Industrial machines from different manufacturers could be made to ‘talk’ to one another. Systems integrators would also cover sensor/actor device integration, device networks, logic/process control, controller networks, supervisory control and HMI, data gathering, manufacturing execution systems and ‘a degree of business system integration (albeit limited). But it’s fair to say that systems integrators in industrial settings were primarily focused on operational technology (OT).
The development of the so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – the introduction of smart, connected devices to manufacturing floors and other industrial settings – is making the systems integrator landscape far more complex – because it brings information technology (IT) into the mix.
On one level, the number of ‘disparate components’ that systems integrators now have to work with has dramatically increased. From the individual smart sensors that measure the temperature of an environment or the level of oil left in a machine, to the security tools and processes that protect against malicious cyber criminals, there are far, far more connected parts to an IIoT environment than in the factory floors of old.
Furthermore, in most IIoT settings, those multiple connected parts are probably not available from a single manufacturer or vendor. There’s a clear risk, with this kind of procurement, of creating silos of information, and failing to reap the biggest benefits of the Internet of Things, which come from gaining a single holistic, data-driven view of operations.
Data, after all, is at the heart of why organisations embrace IoT technology in the first place. Every one of those smart sensors and connected devices is collecting, storing and transmitting information – information that needs to be analysed and fed into other processes, decisions and strategies for it to be worthwhile to collect it in the first place. After all, there’s no point in knowing how much wear and tear a particular machine is suffering from if you can’t use that information to inform an effective maintenance and repair programme.
As such, the challenge for systems integrators in the IoT era is not merely to connect systems and devices to each other in the most efficient way, but also to bring information analysis into the mix, to make sense of the vast amount of data being produced and to use those learnings to optimise operations.
This, then, is the new breed of systems integrator – enabled and empowered by the connected technology of the Internet of Things. This new breed bridges multiple gaps at once – not just between multiple pieces of hardware or even between mechanical and electrical machinery, but between software and hardware, OT and IT. The very best systems integrators for the IoT era are built around powerful analytics engines that can consolidate digital information from disparate corners of the business, analyse that information in real-time, and, crucially, translate that analysis into tangible actions to improve business processes. Whether it’s suggesting the most appropriate time to repair a piece of equipment, or improving collaboration across a remote, mobile workforce, the best systems integrators today drive measurable business improvements based on real data.
It is this holistic ethos that underpins the ThingWorx platform – a powerful, purpose-build development engine that enables connectivity with all sensors, devices, systems, software and edge devices throughout your entire IoT ecosystem. Learn more about ThingWorx, and why InVMA truly is the new breed of systems integrator.
In their second Harvard Business Review article, How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies, co-authors Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School and Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC, examine the impact of the Internet of Things on companies' operations and organisational structure.