Industrial project management has always been challenging, but the game-changing industrial internet of things adds a brand-new level of complexity. Fresh platforms, software, technologies, and security woes are keeping IIoT project managers on their toes as they also field concerns from skittish and/or skeptical team members. Following are components critical to succeeding in plant-connectivity projects, according to professionals who have navigated their way to early IIoT wins.
Kimberly Bass, industry and solutions manager at Accenture, says it’s vital not only to give innovative teams the green light, but also to provide the leadership support and resources needed to deliver desired outcomes.
Bass advises organizations and teams that face resistance to change because of uncertainties about proposed changes’ lasting impact (or lack thereof) to “seek out information early to identify the opportunities that are worth addressing, find ways to investigate and eliminate associated uncertainties, and be willing to proceed with risks by acknowledging and managing them as you move forward.”
Leading a team responsible for delivering IIoT solutions is the fastest way to be reminded of just how important collaboration is for any implementation to be successful, says Elvira Wallis, senior vice president for IoT Smart Connected Business at SAP. “We must be constantly in sync – both metaphorically and literally – in order to distill the signal from the noise,” Wallis says.
SAP aims to build solutions for customers based on synthesis of a customer’s pain points, she says – and that requires active engagement with stakeholders. “Innovation only matters if it can scale, and that scale happens when the best and the brightest are working together in concert,” Wallis adds.
Managing automation and IIoT projects to drive business value is the goal of Erin Delorme, a 25-year energy industry veteran.
She says building information modeling (BIM) and smart design tools allow the entire design/build process to be managed with a robust, integrated strategy. “Owner-operators are now able to participate in early-gate stages of the design process to provide specific requirements for engineering information needed at the handover to operations,” explains Delorme. “This in turn enables and maintains the flow of information across the asset’s entire life cycle, which is critical to keeping the cap ex and op ex connected.”
For Yanling Wu, senior principal engineer for consulting and analytics at Honeywell Connected Plant, the IIoT and data analytics are “empowering us to solve operational problems that were believed to be unsolvable and are changing the way our customers operate and manage their plants.”
In her experience, the two most-high-demand application areas are real-time process monitoring and preventive maintenance.
“In the digital analytics transformation journey, subject-matter experts and domain expertise are important in giving data context,” adds Wu. “So don’t forget to include your SMEs in your plans.”
Liberty Lake, WA-based Itron has a small team overseeing smart-city startup projects. Itron Idea Labs’ communications platform, leveraging open standards, looks to take advantage of the IIoT to help customers create “disruptive innovation.”
“Every discovery becomes a building block for what could be the next big thing” says Angie Klee, entrepreneur in residence with Itron Idea Labs. Team members collaborate with customers and partners on the ideation, development, validation, and potential commercialization of new technology solutions. “We don’t have a hit in every business we evaluate or every product we build or test, but the lessons gained from failures are also a win for us,” adds Klee.
Spotlight on security
The big challenge for IIoT today is building security into the entire system from the beginning, says Kathy Applebaum, senior software developer at Inductive Automation.
“Security is too often an afterthought, but if it’s built in from the start, it is much easier to design a secure system that doesn’t interfere with legitimate users,” she says.
Even simple measures such as defining permissions based on network zones and user roles can not only make the system more secure, but it can also prevent operator errors, Applebaum explains.
Kristen Nash, account manager for IoT platforms at Telit, observes that semiconductor industry IoT projects are focused on providing secure, configurable, end-to-end remote access across equipment, geographies, and separate enterprises – and this includes coordinating access with multiple original equipment manufactuers (OEMs). However, in the “broader IIoT segment encompassing all verticals, this ‘outside the walls’ approach isn’t common…yet,” she notes.
With new IIoT services controlling access to systems and data while allowing an industrial facility to protect its intellectual property, Nash believes that one day, achieving cybersecurity via air gaps (physically isolating networks) will be “a relic of the past.”