‘Race To The Edge’ To Ensure Effective Business Continuity

By Michael Kurniawan, Schneider Electric Secure Power Business Vice President for Singapore, Malaysia & Brunei

2021 will be a true test of resiliency for many organisations. In this current economic state, adapting to the new normal is necessary for business continuity. Commercial companies are changing the way they operate and conduct their business to meet evolving customer demands and purchasing behaviours. The more fortunate ones are accelerating their efforts to expand their capacities to meet a surge in demand. On the flipside, industrial businesses are faced with their own set of challenges — from managing operations remotely to disruptions in the supply chain. The real winners are companies that have already embarked on their digitisation journey. Industrial players who have adopted Industry 4.0 technologies such as automation and predictive maintenance can focus on improving productivity and growth instead. Similarly, commercial companies can focus on staying relevant during the pandemic.

No matter where the company sits currently in the adoption curve, it is imperative that they look forward and focus on ensuring business resiliency and continuity. It is time to start future proofing the business, and more importantly doing it effectively. While many decision makers are shoulder-deep in strategising for business continuity, some companies are well on their way embracing what advanced technologies have to offer, especially up-and-coming trends like Edge Computing. The 2020 Tech Research Asia survey revealed 65 percent of respondents in Malaysia are aware of edge computing as key in the integration of operational technology (OT) and IT for their business, from which 38 percent have started familiarising with the concept while 27 percent already have multiple edge computing sites deployed.

This study shows that businesses are beginning to embrace change and are steadily stepping up their efforts in adopting newer tech trends. In their digitisation journey, companies, whether industrial or commercial in nature, will face several hurdles that can be mitigated through the effective integration of OT and IT.

Hurdle 1#: Managing Data Explosion 

According to a KPMG research, enterprises will spend $232bn on the technologies in 2025, compared with $12.4bn in 2018. Companies that are spending on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies will see explosive growth over the next few years, with about half of enterprises using the technologies at scale by 2025. With growth and greater adoption of technology comes an explosion of data. IDC predicts that there will be 80 billion connected devices in 2025, which will generate 180 trillion gigabytes of new data that year alone. All machines that produce millions of data must be collected, aggregated, and analysed in real-time so that companies can derive value from it. The ability to fully harness information from physical assets and use it to drive informed decisions is important to the full realisation of Industry 4.0. With the proliferation of connected devices and as their capabilities expand, there is a need for real-time decision making and data to be processed instantly untethered from cloud computing’s latency. This environment of computational capacity out of the cloud – close to the source is where devices and platforms can do analytics in real-time without first sending data to the cloud. This environment is also known as the Edge. Gartner reveals that 75% of all data will be processed at the edge by 2025.

Hurdle 2#: Achieving Seamless Integration between OT & IT

Driven by the accelerated rise of smart technologies, industries are bringing together Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), connected machines, robots, sensors, smart devices, and real-time data analytics to integrate and automate various tasks of the manufacturing system. However, integration of OT and IT, are often disconnected and managed in silos. The combination of Edge computing and industrial IoT devices will make it easier to streamline industrial processes, optimise supply chains, and create the “smart” factory.

Hurdle 3#: Having Greater Visibility of the Data you Generate, at Speed

All machines in an industrial or manufacturing facility that generate data need to be controlled and managed effectively so that it brings value to the operations. The process starts when sensors collect data from the environment. They feed data into the OT system that then digitises them. These digitised data then crossed over to IT side for processing before they head to the data centers. This is where Edge IT systems, which perform more analysis, come into play.

Edge IT processing systems generally sit in the facility or location that is the closest to the sensors. While it is possible to process the data at the data center, it does, however, take a longer time. IIoT implementation’s actual ROI value is realised through actionable insights derived from the collected IoT data, in real time. This could only be possible with the help of a high-performance analytics platform and infrastructure at the source at the Edge.

Commercial and industrial companies are driven by the need to transform and embrace digitalisation to keep up with the demands of the marketplace, to stay relevant, and maintain resilience. The low latency, high bandwidth, and trusted computing that comes with industrial edge can power an ‘always on’ ecosystem within any facility and is no doubt the solution for effective business continuity.

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