Before signing that purchase order to implement your new Industrial IoT (IIoT) solution, ask the right questions.
Here, Rob and Greg, members of Facteon’s IIoT team break down the questions you must ask prior to an IIoT implementation.
Ask: “How does this solution scale?”
For many manufacturers, additional use cases and opportunities for value add tend to be identified over time. In the way that your manufacturing process has evolved over the years, your business needs regarding IIoT will also evolve. For that reason, it is critical that your facility has an IIoT solution that will grow with your business.
If a solution does not scale well from either a technology or cost perspective, it may limit your opportunities to pursue the breadth of value available to your business through IIoT adoption. Your IIoT implementation may serve you well in the short to medium term. However, the long-term success of your IIoT investment is dictated by its scalability.
We recommend that manufacturers look for a Cloud-based solution. In terms of size, a Cloud-based technology is infinitely scalable. You should also look for a simple license and fees structure which is both transparent and easy to understand.
Stay clear of pay-per-user pricing. You may have a clear plan of your team structure for the coming years. However, this should never be dictated by your IIoT technology suite. This is your tool kit to enable business success. Your IIoT solution should drive this success irrespective of the number of people you have on the shop floor.
It is also critical to watch for on-premise only implementation. This can be costly both at the initial implementation stage and beyond in terms of maintenance. As the events of 2020 showed the world, you need a solution that will empower you and your team to work from anywhere.
When you are early in your IIoT technology journey, it is tempting to select a point solution as it appears tangible and comfortable. While it is logical to focus on solving a particular business challenge, you must step back and look at the bigger picture. Your imagination should be the only limit on future IIoT use cases, not your technology.
Scalability also relates to the level of information you are expecting to gather from the system. Prior to implementation, it is important to establish exactly what level of information you are wanting to extract from your machinery. For some manufacturers, data instrumentation is enough. For others, they are looking for a level of decision making to occur based on the data. Here, scalability is key as you can advance your usage of the system as your team becomes more comfortable.
Ask: “Who will own and have access to my data?”
You must protect your manufacturing data in the same way that all other business data is protected. In terms of an IIoT solution, protecting your data against third party access is critical to ensuring business security. A solution may come at a lower price point if your data ownership is passed to the technology provider. We always advise manufacturers to avoid a situation in which their data could be used, published or resold to other parties.
Data ownership is also relevant to vendor lock-in. If you rely on your provider to gain access to your own data, you may struggle to switch providers later in your IIoT journey. With the speed at which technology is evolving, it is critical to avoid vendor lock in now to provide your business with flexibility in the future.
Manufacturers should expect to retain secure access rights and ownership of their data perpetually. You should also be able to recover and retrieve your data with relative ease in an industry standard format. The “industry standard” part is important as that will allow you to easily migrate your data to another system or access it for other purposes like due diligence or analytics outside the IoT platform in the future, if required.
Any data ownership loss or sharing of rights should be a red light. As a manufacturer, your production process is a significant source of competitive advantage. So, protect it.
Ask: “What design principles and processes were adopted when developing the solution?”
Many software and technology solutions are developed based on a highly theoretical understanding of apparent best practice. Often, a ‘by the book’ approach restricts the real-world applicability and useability of a IIoT solution on the manufacturing floor.
Before investing, speak with industry sector and subject matter experts. The ability to provide references is key to developing the best business and operational software user experience. The IIoT vendor you are engaging should be providing proof points throughout the design and development process. This is a key indicator that the solution has been developed specifically for manufacturing and not purely adapted on a superficial level.
The IIoT solution should have been designed with user experience at the core. It is easy to make a product look fantastic in a demo environment. Make sure you feel confident that, with training, your key staff will adopt the new IIoT solution with confidence – usability is an important element here.
Ask: “Are there any restrictions around software and hardware interoperability?”
A common motive behind an IIoT technology implementation is to support intelligence gathering and insights across a business’s operations. So, your IIoT solution should break down data silos, not create another. It is important to establish that the solution provides open standards data integration. This avoids the costly proprietary data lock in and lock out. This means that you can easily correlate data from across your business. Manufacturers should avoid falling into the trap of introducing yet another point solution to what should be an enterprise-wide source of intelligence.
Implementing an IIoT solution should be an opportunity to augment existing automation and machinery as much as enhance and optimise new lines. Interoperability with existing assets and all data sources, such as sensors, is central to realising the full value of IIoT.
Ask yourself: "How ready is our culture for this technology?"
While we have focused on this guide has focused on questions to ask the IIoT implementer, it is also critical to look inwards to ask yourself whether your organisational culture is prepared to adopt a new IIoT solution.
The ability of your human workforce to embrace the solution will dictate its success. Rather than implementing the solution and asking your employees to adopt it, work to understand what key challenges they are facing within their roles. Then, you can select a solution and communicate its value to those employees by demonstrating the value it adds for them on a day-to-day basis.
The beauty of an IIoT solution is that it often adds value at every level of your organisation, from the factory floor to the board.
By asking these questions before you sign that purchase order, you can have confidence in your brand new IIoT solution.