Today, we can freely communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the world from wherever we are, whether it’s the office, a bar or walking between the two. This connectivity is a product of the internet, but it’s facilitated by our smartphones, which are a prime example of technologies converging. Here, George Walker, managing director of Novotek UK and Ireland, explains how similar convergent technologies are benefitting industrial businesses.
The average smartphone is 5.5 inches in height, weighs 150g and is the product of hundreds of years of technological advancement and convergence. Combining computing, telecommunications, connectivity and content, it exemplifies something now commonplace in the tech sphere: an overlapping of previously unrelated, or loosely related, domains.
Convergence is not something limited to technological design. It’s also influencing the industrial sector, as connected technology becomes more prevalent on the factory floor and blurs the line between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).
Historically, IT and OT have operated in silos, with very little direct communication between the two. But with more advanced OT like SCADA systems and manufacturing execution systems (MESs) comes the capability of connecting the plant technology with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems of the IT department.
Individually, these departments contribute to improved business performance, so connecting the two and embracing IT/OT convergence seems like it would be a recipe for greater success. But what are the benefits of using modern OT systems, like GE Digital’s Predix suite, to bridge the gap between IT and OT?
Better performance management
Ultimately, all departments of a business want to achieve success for the wider company. The only thing that differs between departments is how they measure and view success. By bringing together IT and OT, businesses can simplify the process of setting and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).
For example, plant managers might measure against a KPI of X number of units produced, while IT teams might measure against business profitability projections. The two are interlinked but measured differently. If the MES can provide accurate, real-time production data to the ERP system, it makes projections more accurate. It also means senior executives only need look at one system for a comprehensive overview of performance, making reporting to key stakeholders a streamlined process.
It’s not just the performance of the company that the combined systems can measure. It can also be used to provide a link between sales and production, which in turn can make a business more responsive to market demands.
For example, if sales data shows that product A is proving less popular — and thereby less profitable — than product B, but larger volumes of product A are being manufactured, then the operation is not viable. If that data is readily available, plant managers can use it to determine the production volumes for different product variants and ranges.
This allows businesses to stay up to speed with the wants and needs of the market, improving overall performance.
With all the data shared between IT and OT, departments will have the insight to align themselves and focus on achieving the same or complementary goals. Even better, this is done in real-time, so the two can immediately begin to see the benefits, particularly in terms of cost saving.
If the IT department identifies that production costs have been rising in recent weeks, they can communicate with plant managers and work to find the root cause. In more digitally mature plants that have edge computing systems like Predix Machine, the process of identifying the cause becomes simpler as both departments have access to granular data from the plant floor. From there, the problem can be directly addressed.
IT/OT convergence is the logical next step for industrial business computing, bringing information together in a way that is mutually beneficial and strategically valuable. With the right systems in place and support in ensuring secure and reliable connectivity, industrial businesses around the world can reap the benefits of technological convergence.