September 2019

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Digital Refinery Q&A: Digital transformation essentials for the plant and the edge

Digital transformation is a hot topic in many industries as new technologies promise improved performance and reduced downtime.

Fryer, J., Stratus Technologies

Digital transformation is a hot topic in many industries as new technologies promise improved performance and reduced downtime. However, before businesses embark on their digital transformation journeys, they must determine what technologies fit their strategy and how to prepare for a successful implementation.

Recently, the author sat down with Craig Resnick, Vice President of Consulting at ARC Advisory Group, to discuss how businesses can make the most of their digital transformation journeys. During the conversation, it became clear that edge computing is one key driver of digital transformation that improves essential services indicators for all businesses.

John Fryer (JF): What do you think is the biggest driver in moving toward digital transformation, especially
in the industrial sector?

Craig Resnick (CR): There are many benefits to modernizing industrial environments through digital transformation, including improving service indicators such as reduced downtime, performance improvement, service cost reductions and service innovation. For industrial automation, specifically, the most important aspect to driving digital transformation is the return on investment (ROI) from technologies and solutions that are ultimately deployed and implemented. Now that these technologies have evolved, we are able to gather and analyze data in a meaningful way, offering additional ROI with the ability to identify pain points and improve on these issues. With today’s new and emerging technologies, it is a great time for industrial organizations to consider embarking on a digital transformation journey.

JF: In today’s landscape, what has changed about digital transformation?

CR: The era of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has changed the traditional digital transformation journey for most companies. Advanced connectivity has made way for new solutions that offer more visibility into the functionalities of businesses. This new ecosystem of service applications is evolving and becoming more advanced each day. As a result of this, additional capabilities and high connectivity levels are necessary for digital transformation technologies in all industries.

JF: Where does edge computing technology fit into this?

CR: From our market research at ARC Advisory Group, the edge is one of the fastest-growing segments of the digital transformation marketplace. We define the edge as the ability to embed technology at the site where data are collected. Edge devices are embedded with various sensors, and act as a gateway located at the edge of the network for additional devices. We can analyze the data collected at these locations to see meaningful business information that ultimately improves business line management and operations.

The added benefit of edge computing also comes with its ability to be implemented in remote locations where IT skills are not always available. Small, accessible and packaged solutions are a great solution for operational technology (OT) teams that are working in remote and rugged locations.

JF: How can edge computing help digital transformation technologies?

CR: This goes back to the drivers that are influencing digital transformation. To achieve real ROI, businesses must properly measure asset performance and failure detection. It is within this monitoring that businesses can identify problem areas and make the crucial changes that will drastically improve operations. The edge is where this important data capture occurs. In addition to real-time analysis of this data, edge technology also enables greater visibility into operations and a sense of transparency for all aspects of a business, from the actual edge of operations all the way to the cloud.

JF: What advice can you give to companies that are about to embark on a digital transformation?

CR: No matter how much money a company invests in new technologies, the implementation will not be successful unless every team member is on board. Businesses must ensure that their entire workforce remains involved and empowered throughout their digital transformation. New technologies often imply a new way of running a business—some people may feel left out, or even pushed out, of the process. It is crucial to remember that digital transformation is not just a business change; it is a cultural change among the workforce. Without the buy-in of both IT and OT teams, the right business processes cannot be developed. The traditional wall between IT and OT teams must be broken down. All digital transformation solutions must be implemented in a way that is compatible for both groups. HP

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