SMEs need System Integrators who can provide end-to-end solutions
Published on : Friday 08-10-2021
Sunil David, Regional Director (IoT), AT&T India.
Today, most industry stakeholders are aware of the many benefits of IIoT, yet are wary of joining the revolution. What could be the reasons?
There are a number of reasons that can be attributed as to why the industry stakeholders and specifically many manufacturing organisations, especially the MSME sector have not joined the I4.0 revolution.
Many Indian companies prefer to wait and watch other organisations adopt any new technologies and assess their feedback before they jump onto the bandwagon. The ability to take risks associated with any new investment and making required changes within the organisation is limited and hence they tend to be followers rather than leaders of a change.
Implementing Industry 4.0 within a manufacturing organisation is not just about Technology but also about People and Process and seamlessly integrating People, Process and Technology. In many organisations you need Strong Leadership to build a Digital culture that permeates through the entire organisation so that all stakeholders are aligned towards the Digital vision of the company. This unfortunately is prevalent in only a few organisations where you have a Leader who is digitally savvy and understands the benefits of I4.0.
Change Management and Job loss fears – In order for Manufacturers to adopt I4.0, the people within the organisation should be willing to accept changes with respect to how they work, process changes, etc. Many are reluctant to change and there is the lurking fear that by using I4.0 technology, especially by deploying many manufacturing automation tools and processes, their jobs may be under threat.
Low awareness – Especially within the MSME sector, which contributes significantly to the manufacturing output, exports and overall employment, the awareness of I4.0 tech is low. They are not exposed to many IIoT use cases and hence they don't take the first step of problem statement identification and starting a small PoC.
Compelling RoI – Manufacturers must understand that digital transformation is always going to be a journey and never an end state and hence must be willing to be patient to see the returns on their investments and not have the expectation of getting a very quick RoI. Due to a short investment horizon and lack of funding, I4.0 projects do not take off.
Those who eventually take the plunge and start their I4.0 journey many times get stuck in the Pilot purgatory where a test case, which they implement continues for months and doesn't ever scale. When you implement Digital technologies, the mantra is clear – Thing Big, Start Small and Scale Fast. The real value and benefit can be realised when the projects scale and unfortunately many pilots/PoCs in India are not scaling.
Lack of Adequate Skills within an organisation – To successfully implement I4.0 you need people who have a good blend of having a good manufacturing process and domain knowledge as well as digital skills. We have a huge shortage of such skills in India.
What are the challenges manufacturers face in adopting IIoT solutions?
There are various other challenges as well in addition to what is mentioned above. Many large and small manufacturing companies have a lot of legacy industrial infrastructure which they do not want to discard. Plugging into these old machines and extracting data is a challenge by retrofitting them with external sensors. There is cost involved in building such IoT devices customised to connect to these old machinery and this becomes a constraint. IoT devices with the required sensors, micro controllers and network modules are still on the higher side and hence this becomes a deterrent.
Security threats are a big concern – The fear that connecting industrial assets to the internet exposes them to cyber threats is a huge challenge especially given the recent instances of cyber-attacks on a number of industrial installations.
Complexity of the solution – When you implement I4.0, you need to have a seamless device to cloud connectivity and integration with the back end enterprise applications. There are many solution providers who can offer the entire end to end solution and enable the whole service to work. The need is for solution providers to have good domain knowledge and come up with problem statement and translate them into a solution architecture and build the right IoT stack including the device with the right sensors, choose the right connectivity solution, seamless connectivity to cloud irrespective of which protocol is used, choosing the right IoT platform to ingest, aggregate, visualise and manage and orchestrate data with the Enterprise applications hosted on the Cloud or within an on -premise data centre and finally ensure implementing a holistic security solution covering the Devices, Networks and the Applications and Data.
For the I4.0 solution to work well and especially in many tier 2, 3 and 4 cities and towns in India where many of the factories are located, the telecom infrastructure is not very robust and connectivity is patchy leading to frequent network outages. Unless we improve the digital infrastructure in such places, it will be a challenge for manufacturers to have a robust I4.0 solution in place.
Is the manufacturing sector, especially the SMEs, constrained by the paucity of system integrators?
Yes, this is a challenge. SMEs need System Integrators who can provide end-to-end solutions and implement this at a low cost. In any I4.0 implementation, one first needs to understand what the business challenges are and then come up with a list of Key Performance Indicators that they wish to achieve. Hence it is paramount that organisations have a clear vision, solid I4.0 strategy and framework, identifying the right technologies (IoT, AI, etc.), and build a technology roadmap, identify a Digital Champion within the organisation that can work with all functions, manage the implementation and eventually lifecycle management of the entire project. SMEs do not have the propensity to pay the SIs for the consulting and building of the strategy and framework piece. The smaller SIs may not have the breadth of expertise to be able to deliver the whole scope.
This calls for the SMEs to understand the business value of the solution and be willing to budget for such consulting exercises. Short term myopic views will not help them and hence the need to think of the long term benefits. The SMEs should also have the realisation that implementing I4.0 is necessary today for survival and growth and to build a competitive advantage by leveraging the power of digital technologies.
Experts believe lack of skills is one of the main reasons for low adoption. How true is this?
Yes, this is a challenge. Within the manufacturing industry, lack of skills is a huge factor and this becomes a big obstacle in ensuring success of the I4.0 solutions.
Data is a strategic asset for all organisations including manufacturers and hence it is important to highlight the Data Skills issue. We have a huge shortage of skills in Data Sciences and Analytics and AI. Many manufacturers have huge amounts of data that reside in silos and hence do not have an integrated view of data. One needs to have data scientists who can work with complex data sets, identify patterns and derive insights, use the right AI algorithms and eventually ensure the right decisions are made and predictions can be accurate be it predictive maintenance of machines, predictive quality, etc. Hiring talent with AI skills will come at a huge cost given the lack of adequate supply today and this definitely is one of the barriers when it comes to low adoption.
In the Indian context, IIoT should actually resonate more with the solutions for brownfield plants, yet the response is slow.
The response is slow because of the fact that many manufacturers, especially those in the MSME segment, are not wanting to do away with the legacy industrial infrastructure. As outlined above in the first response, extracting data and information from older infrastructure isn't easy even though you retrofit with sensors. The complexity is more and the cost of doing it is higher.
How can the manufacturing sector overcome these hurdles and arrive at a holistic approach?
There are a number of ways by which we can attempt to overcome these hurdles:
• Successful I4.0 adoption in India within manufacturing requires a coordinated effort and close interaction between the government, industry including startups, industry bodies and academia.
• A complete curriculum revamp needed in the education sector, especially in engineering courses, where students get exposed to I4.0/digital technologies early on so that they are industry ready when they finish their courses. Exposure to I4.0 projects in the 3rd or final year of college will go a long way in building relevant skills that are industry oriented.
• There are many good technology startups in India in the IoT, AI space who need market access and opportunities to showcase their solutions. MSMEs can leverage solutions from startups who are far more nimble, flexible and cost effective. This is a win-win for both – the MSMEs get a cost effective solution and the startups get access to market opportunities. However the need to have a System Integrator who can enable and manage the whole end to end piece will still be needed.
• Industry bodies can continue with what they have been doing in the past – building awareness through events, creating a forum where MSMEs can connect with startups and I4.0 solution providers so that problem statements can be shared and startups/solution providers can attempt to build solutions.
• Government owned manufacturing PSUs – relax rules so that startups can get a chance to bid and implement I4.0 solutions.
• Ensure I4.0 use cases within India are publicised and shared with all stakeholders on social media and other means. The more successful use cases one gets to access it also opens the mind to the realm of possibilities as far as the benefit of I4.0 is concerned.
Sunil David has 27 years of experience in the IT and Telecom industry and is the Regional Director (IoT) for AT&T India, based in Chennai. He is responsible for building the IoT strategy for the India and the ASEAN regions and working with various internal stakeholders to ensure successful execution, working on building a robust partner ecosystem for AT&T in the entire IoT value chain. He is also working on a number of marketing initiatives to help enhance the AT&T brand in the IoT space.
In August 2021, Sunil was awarded as ‘India’s Fastest Growing Digital Evangelist’ for FY 20-21 by a large media conglomerate Asia One Magazine at the 14th Asia Africa Business and Social Forum. The same month he was also conferred with the ‘CXO Excellence Award 2021’ by CXOTV part of TechPlus Media Group and joining the league of League of Outstanding Technology Leaders of India. This award was given on the basis of peer recommendations from the Industry.