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Integration Issues Impede Industrial IoT Initiatives: Software AG Survey

'Partners are critically important because they typically know what sources of information they'll need to gather to put through a platform to achieve the results customers want. Understanding that upfront and walking them through that is critical,' one solution provider tells CRN.

A majority of manufacturers are seeking to expand revenue through industrial Internet of Things initiatives, but integration issues are holding them back, according to a new survey by Software AG, underscoring the important role solution providers play in the ecosystem.

Out of the more than 125 North American manufacturers in the survey, released Tuesday by German IIoT software vendor Software AG, over 55 percent stated integration as a key inhibitor to achieving full value and scale with IIoT deployments. More heavy industrial companies reported having integration issues than automotive manufacturers, the survey found.

[Related: Mitsubishi Leads $7M Series A For IIoT Startup Litmus Automation]

"There are some good reasons for that, and it's because of the diversity of product, the diversity of protocols, the diversity of environments as well as connections," Sean T. Riley, global industry director of manufacturing and transportation at Software AG, said in an interview with CRN. "And then of course, you have two groups working together that the traditionally might not have worked with each other: the IT and the [operational technology] groups."

Ray Miciek, executive vice president of sales at Aquitas Solutions, a Roswell, Ga.-based systems integrator that works with PTC's ThingWorx IoT platform, said solution providers like his company play a critical role in helping companies navigate through integration issues, starting with connecting OT systems to new platforms and building applications that ingest the system data.

"Partners are critically important because they typically know what sources of information they'll need to gather to put through a platform to achieve the results customers want. Understanding that upfront and walking them through that is critical," he told CRN.

For most manufacturers cited in the survey, IIoT is seen as an imperative part of their business. Some 80 percent said they believe connecting processes using IIoT data is the new basis for competition, and many of them believe their competitors are already there.

Using IIoT to expand revenue was rated as significantly important by 84 percent of respondents. Most manufacturers said using IIoT to create products-as-a-service was the top priority, followed by optimized operations, optimized maintenance and the development of new products.

But there are other challenges faced by manufactures who are trying to get there.

Another major hurdle cited by Software AG's survey respondents is setting up condition-based monitoring, which Riley said was the survey's "most shocking finding." On average, the surveyed manufacturers stated that defining rule-based thresholds for condition-based monitoring was nearly as difficult as implementing predictive analytics.

"That was shocking because condition-based rules are simple," Riley said. "They should be fast, and they don't provide nearly as much value as a predictive model, but they also give you the ability to move forward with a connected product offering or to begin looking at 'when do I need to perform maintenance on equipment.'"

They survey also found that 72 percent of respondents are not effectively connecting IIoT platforms to their supply chains, which Riley said points to an opportunity for manufacturers.

From those findings and interviews with select respondents, Software AG devised a set of recommendations manufacturers can follow to overcome integration problems and other issues. They start with creating a unified set of terms between different stakeholders, such as IT and OT groups, setting clear, time-bound objectives, planning for rapid experimentation and determining from the outset how deployments will scale once things start clicking.

From there, Riley said it's important manufacturers choose a single software platform that allows multiple stakeholders, including business users and partners, to build applications from.

"Having a single platform that enables all of those use cases as well as all those partners allows for a better outcome," he said.

Software AG points to its Cumulocity IoT platform as one integration platform that can enable key technologies like streaming analytics, machine learning and predictive maintenance. But Miciek, the executive at Aquitas, said PTC's ThingWorx platform is also up for the job.

"Just about everything a customer has thrown at it, we go, 'yeah, we can handle it,'" he said.

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