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IIoT's greatest challenge? Unlocking the right data

The Internet of Things is on the verge of a major breakthrough in the industrial world. The Industrial IoT or IIoT is bringing the digital interconnectivity we know as private consumers to the workplace: a place where the risks may be greater, but so are the rewards. 'According to Gartner, companies that introduce IIoT in the workplace are able to achieve excellent results in terms of operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. With the coronavirus pandemic in mind, there is also the invaluable advantage of being able to monitor operations remotely,' Herbert Vanhove explains.

Vanhove leads a team of Industry 4.0 specialists at Cegeka. 'IIoT is a crucial part of the industrial revolution that we’re currently witnessing. Industry 4.0 simply doesn’t exist without IIoT. But like any new technology, IIoT presents tough challenges along with incredible benefits. Challenges such as integrating with back-end systems and securing all endpoints, and especially unlocking the plethora of data from old and new devices in the workplace. It's a complex task and many companies are struggling with it.'

Herbert Vanhove explains!

Your team is focusing strongly on the transition from Industry 3.0 to 4.0. Can you define those terms more specifically?

Herbert Vanhove: 'In a nutshell, Industry 3.0 represents the automation of intellectual and physical tasks performed by humans. Industry 4.0 adds two layers on top of that. The first layer is smartness. Suppose you have machines that filter sand, and a technician regularly comes to take a look at them. He checks whether the filter is saturated, and when this is the case, he cleans it. Industry 4.0 says: attach a smart camera that sends an alert when the filter is full. That's a double win, because the technician only shows up when he's needed, and you avoid loss of quality if the filters fill up faster than expected.'

'The second layer is autonomy. What if you decide to let a robot do the manual work, instead of a human? The machinery would control everything and your employees could concentrate on operational tasks with higher added value. Although this sounds exciting, it's still mostly in the future: full autonomy exists and the early adopters are taking clear steps, but rolling it out on a large scale at an affordable price and with reliable performance, well that's a completely different story.'

'We firmly believe in the power of IIoT for any type of business, whether small or large. However, the promise of Industry 4.0 requires a long-term roadmap that builds smartly on existing Industry 3.0 investments, and includes a clear, achievable and proactive vision for integrating new technologies.'

The promise of Industry 4.0 requires a long-term roadmap that builds smartly on existing Industry 3.0 investments, and includes a clear, achievable and proactive vision for integrating new technologies.

Herbert Vanhove - Industry 4.0

What is the number one challenge when it comes to Industrial IoT? What are companies most struggling with?

Vanhove: 'The rocket fuel behind Industry 4.0 is data, lots of data. You can only collect this data by using IIoT. And that's currently the biggest challenge: unlocking the right data. An effective IIoT solution ensures that data from existing brownfield devices from different manufacturers can be correlated and enriched with new data points from greenfield IIoT devices. And that's quite a challenge.'

'Once the data has been unlocked, it needs to be processed. In many cases, processing must be done under tight real-time conditions with a direct impact on operational performance. This in turn raises questions about how IIoT infrastructure should be built: which IT workloads should we run locally to guarantee maximum reliability and real-time performance? When should we move to EDGE, private data centres or the public cloud? And particularly: how do we connect all the IIoT endpoints in a reliable and cost-efficient way?'

'According to GlobalData, the number of IoT connections in Belgium will triple by 2024. This makes things more complex: as companies activate IoT devices from multiple vendors, the focus on multi-vendor IoT device management, data quality and, of course, cybersecurity grows. If you want to get all that done right, you need to have an overarching business strategy, but not all companies do.'

'Cegeka unburdens its customers during the entire process, including when it comes to strategic thinking. My team addresses this delicate issue right from the start: the safe unlocking and collection of data from the ever-growing number of different IoT devices. It's the first crucial link in a complete IIoT chain.'

According to globaldata, the number of IoT connections in Belgium will triple by 2024. This makes things more complex: as companies activate IoT devices from multiple vendors, the focus on multi-vendor IoT device management, data quality and, of course, cybersecurity grows.

So what does a complete IIoT chain look like?

Vanhove: ‘Well there’s three steps. In a nutshell: step one is unlocking the data, as I mentioned earlier. This also means that the things we are talking about must be connected, preferably to a central IoT Centre from which the devices and the data are monitored for accuracy and security. This connection can be wired or wireless. With the arrival of 4G and soon 5G-powered Mobile Private Networks (MPNs), physical wiring to all IIoT sensors will no longer be necessary. The advantage of wireless is that you can move your IIoT devices more easily when you decide to re-organize your offices, which saves costs. For the roll-out of MPNs, we are working closely with our subsidiary Citymesh, as it’s part of their core business.'

Herbert Vanhove - IIoT

'Step two is about gaining insights from the data – through analysis, injection with Artificial Intelligence etc. And in the third and final step, we focus on integrating the insights and decisions with back-end systems – such as ERP, EAM, WMS, portals, etc. – to trigger actions automatically. I’m convinced that IIOT project deployments benefit greatly from working with an IT integrator who takes final responsibility for the whole project. That's where Cegeka shines: serving clients throughout the entire journey, from start to finish. Each step is a profession in itself, so we have dedicated teams of experts for each stage of the journey.'

IoT solutions are still often seen as too expensive, or as a solution that’s only really appropriate for large companies. Is this correct?

Vanhove: 'Today, this is largely the case, but things are changing fast. According to Gartner, the adoption of IIoT platforms will increase fivefold by 2025. IIoT solutions will increasingly become commonplace in the average application landscape, in the same way that ERP and WMS systems are today. And, yes, this will involve an investment, but one that can be written off over multiple IIoT use cases as part of a company's larger Industry 4.0 strategy. Those who want to start small, however, or don't have a big budget, can also start working with IIoT by purchasing certain functionalities as-a-service, for example.'

IIoT solutions will increasingly become commonplace in the average application landscape, in the same way that ERP and WMS systems are today.

What can customers expect from Cegeka in an IIoT project?

Vanhove: ‘For customized IIoT solutions, we take on the role of systems integrator. This means we are responsible for the entire chain or one or more links in the chain. Depending on the customer's requirements, we build on existing platforms or integrate our own solutions. Last but not least: we also take care of end-to-end security. Everyone knows that endpoints are potential entry points for hackers. The alignment between IT and OT/IIoT leaves workplaces very vulnerable. So we have to secure those endpoints as best we can.'

'Customers who want to purchase services in an 'as-a-service' model are actually buying a SaaS model and get all the benefits that come with it in terms of scalability, cost, maintenance, security and so on. They are turnkey cloud services that are ideal for companies that want to start small and then scale up. When you purchase these services, you pay a fixed amount per IoT sensor or device, and we take care of building and running the IIoT service. In addition to the sensors, customers also have access to a dashboard to monitor and manage everything. There is a growing demand for these affordable and rapidly deployable IIoT services based on the SaaS model. We already offer one of those services today, and have several more coming soon.'

There is a growing demand for affordable and rapidly deployable IIoT services based on the SaaS model. We already offer one today, and have several more coming soon.

Your team also offers IIoT Discovery Workshops. What do these workshops entail and who are they aimed at?

Vanhove: 'It's right there in the title: During short, dedicated sessions with IT and OT staff at our customers’ premises, we identify potential business challenges that can be solved using IIOT. We want to present the solution as concretely and tangibly as possible for the customer, so we don't spend too much time on the theory. Instead, we head to the workplace as quickly as possible to choose a concrete case so its success can be verified quickly. We try to keep the costs low to keep these services accessible for many companies. And to answer your question about who should attend them, they aren’t really for people who just want to get to know the technology and play around with it, but rather for those who use it in a very specific way. Anyone with pressing operational questions will usually see their questions answered.'

More details about the IIoT Discovery workshops

Webinar: IoT Effect - Smart Wins and How to Spot Them