Survey says: Are plants really ready for IIoT?

Thomas Wilk says many are on the IIoT journey, but few are poised to capitalize.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

This month sees publication of the results from the second of two surveys conducted recently to get a better understanding of certain ground truths inside readers’ plants.

Key findings from the first survey were published in our December issue, and further data will be presented in a Plant Services webinar on workforce challenges this March. For the second survey, Plant Services partnered with ARC Advisory Group to assess the level of organizational readiness among industrial plants to benefit from the promise of Internet of Things (IoT) platforms and technologies.

In many ways, 2015 was a watershed year for the digital transformation of the industrial manufacturing sector, as key market leaders made significant investment in big data platforms: GE launched its Predix cloud-based industrial analytics platform and further refined data modeling techniques to build and test virtual physical plant assets (a.k.a. “digital twins”). Rockwell Automation continued to develop and implement what it terms The Connected Enterprise, a future-proofed architecture for connecting and integrating intelligent devices to help improve asset utilization and reduce downtime. And at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, IBM unveiled its $21 billion investment in “cognitive solutions” – a combination of cloud, analytics, and IoT technologies designed to help companies get their digital strategies off the ground.

Ordinarily I’d say that, if you have not already had conversations about how your facility can drive new value via the Industrial Internet, you soon will. However, data from the two surveys suggest that some companies may never be ready to make the digital leap.

As part of the first survey, we asked respondents how open their facility is to embracing cloud-based, Big Data-centric approaches to maintenance and condition monitoring. The response? More than 50% of respondents indicated that their organization has not embraced these technologies and had no plans to do so. (Interestingly, 57% of respondents indicated that they or their co-workers cite “better opportunities elsewhere” as a key motivator behind moving from one job to another.)

These results are echoed by the ARC survey, which found that 43% of respondents were not actively evaluating the potential of the IIoT for their business. In fact, 17% have no clear sense of what the IIoT is, and 23% report that production decisions at their plant are based on either instinct, intuition, or office politics, or are otherwise made without data.

This mindset represents a very high hurdle for these companies to overcome: Without at least some reliance on data for decision-making, it’s hard to imagine a successful business case to start implementing technologies that generate large data sets. If you’ve never had this kind of conversation, and you like where you work, you may be the one who needs to start it up.