Industry’s New Breed of IoT System Integrator

“Having IT expertise without OT (industry) expertise doesn’t work – neither does OT without IT.”  That was the main refrain of Don Rogers, Business Development Manager, Manufacturing Engineering for World Wide Technology. While attending the 2016 Cisco Live! Conference in Las Vegas, this July I was fortunate to be introduced to Rogers and WWT, a company that represents a new breed of system integrators helping companies converge IT and OT.  Don and I sat down to discuss that convergence and its importance throughout multiple industries.

Rogers leads the WWT Manufacturing Industry Practice for solving the real-world business challenges of manufacturers. Founded in 1990, WWT has grown from a small product reseller into a global systems integrator with more than $7 billion in annual revenue and over 4,000 employees. The company serves the technology needs of large public and private organizations, including many of the world’s best-known brands. WWT ranks 51 on Forbes’ Largest Private Companies list and 28 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Question: What is World Wide Technology?

WWT is a consultative solutions provider that collaborates with our technology partners and customers to generate ideas, define business challenges, assess risk and identify gaps in business process or technology capabilities.  We then design, recommend, test and globally implement IT infrastructure, software, analytics and custom applications to deliver the results or business outcomes that we collectively defined.  Relative to our manufacturing customers, we drive improvements in production operations – increased production availability & yield, increased quality, reduced costs, reduced time-to-innovate & time to market – all resulting in significant profitability gains and an improved experience for our customers’ customers.  These are tangible gains, and we develop ROI models that we and our customers can stand behind.

We leverage a combination of consultative, business-led engagements, deep industry expertise and technical acumen to advance the vision, strategic directives and initiatives of our customers.

At our Advanced Technology Center, our engineers and customers work together to build solutions using technology from hundreds of IT equipment manufacturers and software developers creating integrated test environments in the areas of big data, collaboration, compute, cloud, mobility, networking, security and storage.

Customer or partner teams can work on-site or virtually with access to demos, workshops, labs, proofs of concepts, advisory services and training. Our ATC offers access to scalable lab resources that let a team interact with customer and partner environments and collaborate on architectural solutions.

Question: How does World Wide Technology differ from traditional industrial automation system integrators?

We are not an industrial systems integrator, at least not in the traditional sense of the word – where many in this space are involved with industrial design, and building production lines and control systems. Rather, we are integrating with these industrial systems – converging IT and OT – resulting in a resilient infrastructure, built for non-stop operations, that we then extend with sensors, data analytics, software and mobility to yield an overall IoT solution.

WWT combines industry expertise and business acumen with information technology expertise to help customers develop and execute on a vision and strategy that drives their desired outcomes.  Understanding the business of manufacturing is essential to success when applying information technologies to drive operational improvements.  Having IT expertise without OT (industry) expertise doesn’t work – neither does OT without IT.

Question: How do you define an Industrial IoT strategy?

Broadly speaking, an Industrial IoT strategy (i.e.: Connected Factory, Connected Enterprise) involves the convergence of the industrial and technological – with appropriate resiliency, agility and security – and then leveraging that convergence to drive operational improvements through data analytics and operational visualization that provides real-time, actionable insights to the business.

The team we’ve built has the ability to speak the languages of both IT and OT – we understand what’s important to both, we understand what’s at stake for both, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve walked in the shoes of both.  This uniquely positions us to bridge the gap that often exists between these groups within a customer.  We invest a lot of time with customers identifying key stakeholders and working collaboratively across these various groups to ultimately identify a unified path forward that benefits both the business and its customers.

Finally, we should note that while we are partnering with industrial OEM’s, we are not here to replace the trusted partnerships that manufacturers have with their traditional industrial systems integrators.  We frequently work with our customer’s partners to advance the execution of an Industrial IoT strategy and, ultimately, the desired outcomes defined by the customer.

Question: What do you think are the opportunities for manufacturers to leverage information technology?

While we’ve discussed the ultimate outcomes, describing them is not enough.  Specific use cases must be defined that align to those outcomes – use cases that are feasible and truly impactful – within a reasonable time period.

One use case that is clearly a priority for customers is Predictive & Conditions-based Maintenance. Applying data analytics to both identify what causes failure and to predict failures, based upon a combination of past and present conditions, is of significant value to manufacturers.  Downtime is one of the largest hindrances to production profitability, and unplanned downtime comes at a significant cost in many areas including:

  • Significantly higher costs to repair/replace mechanical failures, versus prevention or planned replacement
  • Quality degradation leading up to the failure event
  • Loss of revenues for the duration of the unplanned outage
  • Extended unplanned outages for more mature assets where repair components may not be readily available

WWT has proven that building the right data analytics models, along with leveraging historical and current production and operational data, can re-shape the customer’s maintenance posture from reactive and costly to proactive and profitable.

Additional use cases that we are seeing as priorities for our customers include Automated Quality Inspection, Production KPI measurement and visualization, Plant Systems Virtualization, and Workforce Mobility – placing the right information in the hands of the right people, at the right time, regardless of place.

Question: What should manufacturers be thinking about doing relative to the Internet of Things?

The single biggest piece of advice I could give is to focus on the desired business outcome, and don’t get caught up in thinking of technology first.  Technology is the enabler; often it’s the simpler part of the equation.  Defining an innovative vision and strategy that’s focused on the business and its customers can be challenging as companies often struggle to shrug off the “way we’ve always done it” mindset.

One way we help facilitate the innovation process is through an ideation session that includes a diverse set of stakeholders all aimed at getting to the best ideas that help define what the “Plant of the Future” means to that specific customer.  The ideation format is unique in that it successfully solicits input from all stakeholders, including those that may not be naturally inclined to contribute or those that may often feel “held back” by personalities more dominant in other formats like agenda-driven meetings.  The engagement provides a forum for open contribution of ideas, big and small, from executive leadership to those closest to the action of production.

The message here is don’t get constrained by the way you’ve always done things, and don’t get constrained by what you think technology can or can’t deliver.  Start the innovation process in a business context – define clear objectives and clearly defined outcomes.  Technological limitations are relatively few in number and vision and strategy can be adjusted to accommodate any true limitation that exists.

Question: How should manufacturing companies evaluate investments in IoT technology?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it all starts with well-defined business objectives and desired outcomes.  When starting from that vantage point, evaluating IoT investments is like evaluating any other – balancing the size, type and longevity of investment, with the anticipated magnitude and longevity of return.  Generally speaking, we advocate for customers to begin with the “low hanging fruit” at the early stages of developing an IoT strategy.  Proving the ability to address historical pain points, with modest investments, often results in the confidence to invest more deeply in transformational strategies and the underlying technologies.  Any successful IoT strategy will be iterative in nature – there is no “unbox, plug in, set and forget” solution.  Businesses change and so must the enabling strategies.  Accepting, promoting and actively leveraging technology for the sake of business (and not in spite of) are all key to reaping the significant rewards that an Industrial IoT vision and strategy has to offer.

Thoughts & Observations

There has been a great deal of discussion about the IT and OT silos in manufacturing companies and the solution maybe this new breed of integration companies that works to facilitate strategy and solutions  with companies to leverage IoT technologies.