Why Many IIoT Projects Fail

I recently read an LNS research article entitled “Why OEE and Plant Visualization Projects Keep Failing” and it made me to think about what are the ingredients of a successful project in IIoT (I use IIoT as a general term. Pick your other buzzword – Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation, et al). I think there were valid points made in this article.

Here were the basics, or “must haves” from their use cases involving three studied companies/projects:
  • Created new hybrid Manufacturing IT organizations.
  • Manufacturing IT is now led by an individual that has been cross-trained and possess a deep understanding of both IT and OT.
  • Manufacturing IT has implemented a coherent set of technology management processes to ensure a more consistent technology architecture across IT and OT.
One statement made in the article was (emphasis mine):

“The result: Manufacturing IT organizations end up pursuing OEE and Plant Visualization projects with little understanding of how these technologies will support the broader Operational Excellence vision over time. Invariably, these projects end up facing the same challenges that have always been faced when business isn’t bought into technology projects – no sense of ownership, adoption challenges, and under-performance.”

However, to truly be successful, these two points were noted:
  • Creating cross-functional executive leadership councils that meet on a monthly or quarterly basis.
  • Holding yearly or bi-yearly Operational Excellence and Operational Architecture workshops with both business and technology leaders fully engaged.

I would like to address several of these points. What I highlighted in bold above is something I have seen and experienced, which makes my job of running a consulting/integration company that much more difficult. So, part of my job is to educate and engage both IT and the business/operations/engineering teams at my client sites so that they can learn to understand each other.

When I started working for OSIsoft over 4 years ago, I really thought I would be dealing with operational and business leaders, but what I found is that I was dealing with IT organizations that were managing the PI System. They were managing the systems, not the beneficiaries of the system. The disconnect was simple: the IT people more times than not really didn’t have training and experience in how the companies’ products were made (as they admitted), and the business and operational leaders didn’t know what was possible with the new tools I was selling at the time (and often told me that IT people didn’t seem to understand their needs), so it was often difficult to drive adoption. One of my customers recognized this and this gentleman, Larry Shutzberg, helped bring the IT and OT organizations together at Evergreen Packaging. 

So, creating a hybrid manufacturing IT organization and having someone cross trained in both IT and in the manufacturing process is critical to success in adopting an IIoT/digital transformation/Industry 4.0 strategy. I have found even in the role I play, that if a company doesn’t have that, it is really difficult to get things done because there seems to be some distrust or just lack of connection between IT and the business side of the house.

I have also found that if both operational and IT leadership aren’t actively engaged in the process and driving their people to bridge the gaps they have, then projects tend to languish.

The reality is that the operations side the house is the typical money maker for a company and the IT organization is there to support the business. The IT side of the house almost always wants to help and make a difference, but they often don’t know or understand the objectives of the operations side of the business. Someone has to be the “translator” between these two sides of the business. Even if a company hires a firm like mine, I can still struggle to get the two sides together because I don’t know all of the systems and/or politics in place. I have found that a cross-trained IT/OT person in the companies I work with are nearly indispensable to my success and to my client companies’ success.

However, if this cross-trained person (or people) don’t have the full support of knowledgeable (knowing what is possible from a technology perspective and WHY the technology should be used) people on both the IT and the OT sides of the company, then IIoT adoption will be a struggle, as will value gained. How do people become knowledgeable? Continuing education on what has been accomplished, including benefits tracking (cost savings and other metrics), and what is possible from a technology perspective is critical. If business leaders understand the benefits they are gaining, then they are more likely to endorse continuing with these types of projects. If the IT leaders have a better understanding of how they are benefiting the company, then they get more engaged. I haven’t met anyone yet who deep down didn’t want to make a difference in their company.

So, regular meetings of the minds on the goals and the “art of the possible” by leadership is a key driver in keeping IIoT projects from failing, as is keeping track of benefits gained. If people understand WHAT is possible, WHY they should be after what’s possible, and WHAT the benefits they have gained are, they are much more likely to have success.

UPDATE 03/21/2019: I spoke with a customer yesterday that is working on a truly transformational effort with data in their organization. He told me that they have formed an all new team that is on the manufacturing/operations side of their business which has manufacturing/operations, engineering, and IT people on the team to lead the transformational change. This is not a traditional IT team, nor is it a traditional operations team. It is a hybrid team that understands all sides of the challenges. This is a KEY metric to their success in his opinion.

One of the other big items that he stressed to me is that change management is CRITICAL to success. You can bring the greatest set of tools to the masses, but if they never adopt and use them, then the effort and money is wasted. Manufacturing and Operations management has to drive the changes, or they will be ineffective.

This blog was originally published by Jim Gavigan of Industrial Insight on June 20, 2017. You can see the original article and other writings and videos on IIoT, Digital Transformation, and Industry 4.0 here.


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