Over 55% of respondents in the Software AG IIoT Implementation Survey find that integrating IIoT into their environments is challenging, and that this is a key inhibitor to value realization and scalability.
The survey was completed in Q2 2019 by the company and an independent third-party research house. It queried nearly 200 respondents made up of both business and IT users at the director level and below at large manufacturing companies across automotive, heavy industry, high-technology, electronics, pharmaceutical and medical device industries.
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The main IT/OT integration barriers that need to be addressed include communications protocols, diverse OT systems, security and uptime requirements, and effective change management. Sean Riley, senior global industry director at Software AG, doesn’t see any surprise in the finding that integration is challenging, “That’s a topic around IT that’s traditionally been classified as pretty tough. But there are different levels of integration. Let’s say we want to integrate the IT/OT platform into operational technology, there are a couple different ways. The way that typically makes the most sense is creating Docker containers that house microservices. This is a perfect environment for a developer to focus on as opposed to, ‘I want to take that information coming off of my platform and automate the creation of either a field service ticket, or automate the creation of a ticket in my maintenance management system.’”
He suggests that’s not necessarily something that developers should have to do, especially if those two applications are cloud-based. Instead, it should be easy drag and drop, wire diagrams that business users can use to create customized actions for themselves.
A couple of surprising findings show that manufacturing respondents are having difficulties using basic threshold-based rules, as well as predictive analytics. Those were ranked as being very or extremely difficult. However, when comparing those combinations, leveraging predictive analytics was only 2% more difficult than leveraging condition-based rules.
Riley says, “What that really got me thinking about from a development standpoint, is that it shouldn’t be that way. What I mean by that is developers shouldn’t have to configure condition-based rules for the business. Again, that’s easy, that’s simple, it should be completely graphical drag and drop. Developers come in, they put in the platform. Perhaps they provide some tailoring services to fit it to specific business needs and then they allow the business to again monitor thresholds, and direct alerts as they see fit. Developers come into play when they want to work on predictive analytics.”
What the survey data appears to mean is that developers are needed for both of the steps. He sees it as the barometer for both of these tasks being difficult because either way business users have to turn to IT to get them completed.
Platform selection strategy
The data collected in the survey informs platform selection. When deciding on an IoT platform, developers need to be mindful of what type of platform their company needs. On the one hand, Riley says teams can choose a “developer’s paradise,” or on the other, a platform that can leveraged by developers but is also just as easy to use by the business so developers are able to focus on the aspects of the business that a casual business user simply doesn’t have enough technical knowledge to complete. “To me there’s a fine line from what a developer would call low code, and let’s say it’s scripting four, five lines of code to bridge a gap; to business users that’s a completely foreign language. Whereas for that to work, it really has to be a no-code platform that also allows developers to code and tailor as needed.”
Teams leaning toward a developer’s paradise type of platform must first make sure the various components of the platform are well integrated together. He says, “The reason for that is if they’re not, developers can do great work but the platform will always be brittle no matter what happens. Secondly, make sure that the platform is providing rich SDKs for developers to leverage to either bring on custom devices, bring on legacy equipment that the platform might not necessarily have an outer box adapter for. Then also make sure that the platform can support multiple different methods to work with the data and also get data out of the platform, whether that’s through API or whether that’s through a big data off-loader service to get it into a database so that developers can work with longer-term data as they fill out their apps.”
Make haste slowly
The best way to bring IIoT into your organization is to ease into it. “I would say to begin using the starter packs that are available,” Riley says. Use the trial free for 30 or 60 days to understand functionality, how the platform works on its own without further tailoring, and then be able to discuss that with the business.
Riley is clear. “The survey data shows the number one area where developers should be focusing their efforts is on that integration aspect. After, of course, onboarding the platform. The IT/OT integration issue is not simple, it’s not easy, and it’s something that does require the skills of a good developer.”