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The IIoT needs IT composers

Published: · Last updated: · 9 min reading time

Efficiency, sustainability, innovative strength – companies are achieving their major strategic goals through smart production. The prerequisite for this being digital solutions that can be modularly composed into individual architectures. This composability factor has many advantages. First and foremost being that companies can achieve their transformation goals at their own pace.

Market requirements are changing, customer wishes are becoming more individualized, and production cycles are increasingly shorter: To remain competitive, companies are pursuing three major goals in production.

First, is increasing efficiency to ensure profitability and value creation. Second, are the relevance importance of sustainability and CO2 reduction issues – organizations need to produce in a climate-friendly manner and comply with political requirements. Third, companies are training their innovative strength in order to react flexibly to innovations in customer and technology markets.

For all three goals, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) era offers a toolbox of many digital technologies. The complexity of IIoT opportunities is growing. To keep track, it is advisable to take the digital transformation journey in small steps. A smart master plan for technology and roadmap is needed.


The concept of composability

What might such a master plan look like? The analyst firm Gartner proposes the management concept of “composability” as a lesson learned from the Corona pandemic. “Composable business means creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks. The modular setup enables a business to rearrange and reorient as needed depending on external (or internal) factors like a shift in customer values or sudden change in supply chain or materials.”
Source: The Future of Business Is Composable – Gartner Keynote

The three building blocks for this, according to Gartner, are:

  • Composable thinking based on the principles of modularity, autonomy, orchestration and discovery
  • Composable business architecture to be faster, more agile, stronger in leadership and more resilient
  • Composable technologies are the tools for today and tomorrow

Composability needs modularity and openness

Gartner continues: “Composable business requires a foundational change in business thinking, architecture and technology.” At the same time, composable technologies are fundamentally nothing new to CIOs, according to Gartner, but exist “in familiar technology, from APIs to containers”. Nevertheless, composability of technology needs systematic management.

The two key elements of a composable IT architecture are modularity and interoperability of solutions, and openness to free data flows. To put it in an image: An orchestra also only plays together successfully if everyone has agreed on an artistic work and a key and everyone can hear each other.

IT composers are needed to fully exploit the possibilities of the industrial IoT: They help themselves to a pool of modular solutions that allow free data exchange among themselves in a wide variety of deployment scenarios such as on-premise, edge, and cloud.

Three technological stages can be identified along this concept, which technology must be able to master in the era of the IIoT:

Digitally connect all machines – existing equipment as well as new ones

Every manufacturing company has its own starting conditions: Machines from a wide variety of manufacturers of different ages with different control systems are in use in every production facility. The digital connection of such heterogeneous machine parks is considered the central challenge. This is especially true for global manufacturing companies with international production networks.

The supreme discipline of any successful IIoT strategy is therefore connectivity. “Nothing works in the digital space without connectivity,” states the McKinsey study “Industrial IoT and leading technologies as drivers of digital transformation in production.”

2. Harmonize data – convert signals into Smart Data and use them

Digitizations should not however be the sole target. Rather, it represents a powerful toolbox that companies can use to best achieve their strategic goals, such as efficient and sustainable production, integrating manufacturing processes into global supply and service chains, and establishing new business models.

The generation and use of unified data – smart data – is crucial. After all, one of the core requirements of Industry 4.0 is to generate information digitally at the machine level and make it available in a user-friendly way at all levels – on the shop floor and on the top floor. The aim is to close the gap between IT and OT, between information and operational technology.

Operationally, this means: After the foundation – the comprehensive digital networking of all factory equipment – the collected machine and sensor signals must be converted by the software into relevant and usable information. The goal is the digital twin of production, which maps all processes in real time in all desired systems. In this way, waste and errors can be analyzed virtually in real time and optimized in real terms.

3. Compose IT solutions – and ensure seamless interaction

The age of learning IT systems has begun. In this context, manufacturing companies face an apparent dilemma: On the one hand, they want to be able to use innovative solutions such as predictive, machine learning and AI apps in the future. At the same time, they own existing assets and IT systems worth many millions or billions of euros, which should still be able to run for years and continue to operate undisturbed by IT innovations to increase efficiency.

Companies need stability in production with simultaneous flexibility in order and capacity planning. Such flexibility in production can be enabled by modular IT platform solutions that, through open interfaces and connectors, enable a step-by-step digital transformation of a company’s own production IT – and, in the longer term, the path to a global world of digital supply and service chains.

Connect, harmonize, compose – bringing all three steps under one hat

If companies also take the concept of composability into account at the technological level, they have three key advantages: They ensure that

  • IT innovations can be integrated at their individual speed – step-by-step instead of big bang,
  • IT innovations can be tested successively in pilot projects, while main production continues undisturbed
  • a later rollout of IT innovations or scaling can take place seamlessly.

The best solution for this is a central and powerful IIoT platform solution that offers connectivity, the digital twin, and the composability of software systems: the connection of all machines, smart data and digital twin, all common interfaces for data use in all desired apps and systems, and in different hybrid cloud/edge infrastructures.

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