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By Gregory Hale
A connected enterprise is the direction manufacturers and suppliers are going toward and while the idea of what that will look like may still be a ways off, by allowing connectivity to and from the plant floor means security will play a major element.

“Global trends in the automation industry are driving today’s competitive industrial environment,” said Blake Moret, president and chief executive at Rockwell Automation during his Tuesday keynote address at the Automation Perspectives conference at Automation Fair in Atlanta, GA. “The rise of the middle class in emerging economies means we must compete in markets by building first-rate consumer manufacturing plants. There is a growing need for the aging workforce to be replaced with talent that is technology savvy. Globalization is driving increased demand for productivity.”

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Moret said the connected enterprise provides value for manufacturers in four ways: It helps companies bring products to market faster, it lowers the total cost of ownership, it hikes the use of assets by reducing unplanned downtime, and manage their enterprise risk in complying with regulations.

“We have a vision of a connected enterprise that makes these ideas a reality,” Moret said.

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A connected enterprise also means a commitment to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) which allows for more connectivity and a stronger commitment to IT-OT convergence.

The lower cost of connectivity has led to the rapid increase of smart devices on the factory floor.

Robert Sternfels, senior partner at McKinsey & Co., agreed IT-OT convergence was a vital factor in the growing IIoT movement.

In one survey, they found most people agree IIoT will be effective for their business, but only 36 percent are doing anything about it, Sternfels said.

“Manufacturers are held back by implementation barriers,” he said.

The top five barriers are:
• Difficult to coordinate
• Lack of courage
• Lack of talent
• Cybersecurity
• Lack of clear business case

Communication going from the plant floor up to the enterprise is leading to a stronger form of IT-OT convergence, but that means manufacturers need to securely connect plants to the enterprise.

Convergence, though, does play off each other’s strengths.

“IT knows how to sift through a large amount of data, but we know where to look,” Moret said. “We are not in a plug and play world on the plant floor yet. That means we can help with domain expertise.”

That domain expertise means there is more to the future connectivity than just technology, it also has to focus those working behind the computers.

“This isn’t just about technology,” Moret said, “it is about the people as well – and that is a competitive edge.”

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