The benefits of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are becoming well known: enhanced productivity, increased efficiency (including energy efficiency), faster decision-making, greater asset and supply chain visibility, decreased downtime. And more and more companies are looking to take the advantage by implementing advanced data-driven solutions.
But not every company is in a position to make this transition, potentially putting them at risk of losing market share as their respective sectors reinvent themselves. There are several challenges that companies will need to confront and overcome if they are to successfully implement digital, connected systems.
Adopting IIoT systems requires an expansion of network entry points, leaving them vulnerable to severe financial and operational damage. As organisations create connections from their facilities straight into online cloud services to gain access to capabilities like remote monitoring and analytics, many process control systems are not as secure as they could be up against an array of online threats. IIoT devices can be poorly installed, or installed without an understanding of the potential vulnerabilities, leading to higher risk of a network being compromised.
Denial of service (DoS) attacks, for instance, can disrupt a process control system and lead to unplanned downtime, which could can be costly. Even more serious is the threat posed by remote hackers and malware. Not only can asset data and other intellectual property be compromised, a malicious hack or malware infection could impact on the performance of critical systems of an industrial plant, with serious consequences for safety of workers, property, and the environment.
For these reasons, companies need to be wary when implementing IIoT solutions. To effectively manage the risk posed by cyber threats, companies need to address security measures from the outset when implementing systems that collect, monitor, process, and store data. Being vigilant about the security of networks and systems and having effective strategies in place can lower the possibility of a network of system being compromised. For instance, it is important that an industrial environment has more than one layer of defence. Segmentation of the network – running connected devices on a separate network to other IT systems, for instance – and managing and maintaining security and privileged access control within particular network environments are some ways to strengthen cyber security defences.
IIoT involves the monitoring of processes and systems in real-time to ensure they are performing at an optimal level of productivity. To carry out effective data transfers and provide consistent system visibility with IIoT requires the maintenance of reliable, uninterrupted connectivity across system networks. Internet outages, power blackouts, and manual or technical errors can lead to interruptions in operation and costly downtime. And even if connection does not go down unexpectedly, networks can be suspended for maintenance. Further, in sectors such as mining and oil and gas in particular, where operations are frequently remote and spread out over large distances, lack of reliable connectivity can also hamper effective implementation of digital systems.
For companies that have carried out such an implementation, data loss that occurs during unplanned network outages is a serious problem that needs to be met with effective planning. Outages can and do happen, and companies that plan to implement IIoT solutions need to make sure that their systems are set up with the right type of network for the geographical and logistical situation of their operations and be prepared with effective contingencies for outages. For instance, installing proper cabling can be one method to ensure that there is no data loss during times of low or no connectivity.
IIoT involves automating processes using connected devices with a capacity to gather, receive and send information across networks. The successful implementation of IIoT systems can frequently be hampered by lack of integration and communication between an enterprise’s operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) departments. OT experts often have little to no expertise in IT. If IIoT-enabled devices are enabled without effective IT resources, for example, it can lay them open to cyber vulnerabilities. With more devices becoming two-way points of data transfer and communication, it will become more and more necessary for companies to bridge the gap between OT and IT networks. Integrating IT with OT is required to share data and information among all levels to enable systems to be effectively monitored and to ensure that performance is maintained in digitally-connected systems.
The challenges of integration can also be observed in the case of legacy equipment and systems. Connecting your legacy systems and machines with IIoT can open the door to advanced data analytics and actionable metrics, paving the way for process improvements.
However, not all legacy systems are equally ready to come online. A company will have to assess the state of their existing systems and whether they will be able to be brought online and effectively integrate with new IIoT data-driven solutions. Legacy systems will need to satisfy two requirements: they must be able to connect to a network and they must speak a protocol that IIoT monitoring software can understand.