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As we propel into 2024, one thing is certain: the manufacturing industry is ripe for a revolution. Bold, digitized innovations are putting us on the precipice of a major progression in how we manufacture, but this doesn't come without a cyclone of disruptions in how and with whom we work. 

Surviving this shift is one thing; facing it head-on and coming out on top is another. WWT's manufacturing and distribution practice works with hundreds of global industrial customers to help them tackle the most difficult of business challenges and arm them with the right tools and strategies for modernizing the factory and thriving in this rapidly evolving industry. 

As we close out the 2023 and begin to lay the foundation for a prosperous new year, here are some key factors to consider:

Top industry challenges 

  • Visibility across IT/OT environments, including data visibility and the ability to improve digital experiences.
  • Securing the plant (both IT/OT), including cybersecurity, product/machine security and safety and the physical safety of employees.
  • Developing cost-effective technology investment strategies that align with manufacturing priorities.
  • Always-on infrastructure, limited upgrade windows and acceptance that the scale of upgrades may require generational improvements and investment to achieve.

Market insights

  • Companies need a partner to bridge the gap between IT and OT with leadership who can speak both technical and operational language.
  • Plant leaders' top priorities are producing higher quality products more quickly and cost-effectively, while maximizing product integrity and employee safety.
  • Procurement decisions in manufacturing are often decentralized (corporate IT vs. plant leaders) often creating difficulty in enacting big ideas.
  • Data best practices can be challenged, creating a huge industry-wide lag in data collection, storage, insight extraction and management capabilities.

Notable statistics 

  • By 2025, Gartner predicts the top 50 consumer goods manufacturers will have invested in:
    • A brand app using AI.
    • Embedded technology in their product(s).
    • Videos as digital assets.
    • Integrated innovation with IT and R&D teams.
  • By 2025, Gartner predicts three out of five smart factory initiatives will stall due to a lack of supply chain integration.
  • The manufacturing sector contributes $2.3 Trillion to US GDP (i.e., 11% of total GDP).

In addition to market research that supports our practice, we have an ear to the ground and foot on the pedal, deploying the latest technologies, not only to the information technology (IT) side of our clients' business, but also for operational technology (OT) of the manufacturing plants. With deep expertise in designing and delivering comprehensive global manufacturing solutions, we've set apart six trends that will help drive the manufacturing industry into a promising future. 

Trend #1: IT and OT convergence

This is number one for a reason. The convergence of IT (the business) and OT (the factory) is the overarching trend that should be factored into most technology decisions moving forward, with primary drivers being:

  • Digitization – to enable digital processes on a plant line, facilities must embrace the latest in connectivity, compute and data flow; this requires best in class technologies and process.
  • Modernization – at some point, manufacturing plants must be upgraded to leverage the latest solutions from software companies, machine builders and employees; to do this, facilities must become interconnected, cloud-enabled and secure, which takes cooperation from both IT and OT.
  • Cloud, edge and premise architecture – not all workloads and applications are suitable for the cloud; discovery of existing systems, processes and operational requirements are essential for developing an appropriate hybrid computing and data strategy.

Achieving IT and OT integration can be facilitated by the alignment of processes, people and technology; more specifically:

  • The adoption and roll-out of information technology solutions (platforms and software) that are being utilized on the IT/business side of the house into the plants.
  • The adoption of processes from IT to OT (e.g., technology platform rollouts, platform management, capture of data, automation of upgrades, etc.).
  • Reorientation of organizational structure and people:
    • The build out of IT resources who are being embedded at each manufacturing plant as part of the operational technology team.
    • IT platforms being created and managed by the IT teams and then presented to OT teams as a foundational set of services for plants to utilize (e.g., delivering a next generational network and firewall to the plants for connectivity with the rest of the business).
    • Creation of new positions, like Chief Digital Officers who have both the IT and OT teams reporting directly to them.

Trend #2: Operational Technology (OT) cybersecurity

Manufacturing has become the top target for cyber criminals over the past few years. The reason is that by disabling industrial production, the propensity for a company to pay the ransom is high, as loss in production can run between $50,000 to $1,000,000 per hour depending on the industry (that's an average of $260,000 per hour!) If that wasn't reason enough, when it comes to OT security, global manufacturers have to contend with:

  • Criminal liability – board of directors and executives at companies are being held liable for cyber-breaches.
  • Insurance – insurance companies are requiring their customers to prove viable cyber strategy and programs; non-compliance increasingly results in significant premiums or denial of coverage altogether.
  • Customers – customers of manufacturers are also demanding a thorough understanding of the security posture and protection of proprietary data.

Critical to any IT/OT cyber strategy is visibility, as it creates a comprehensive understanding of connected assets, communication channels and vulnerability detection. A solid approach is to use existing IT security tools, leveraging OT modules or ancillary products, that are coordinated with physical documentation of OT assets to build a thorough architecture and map of the environment and its assets. 

A visibility-first approach enables proper OT network segmentation for secure access, and integrating a deployment model that accounts for people, processes and technology will help to secure all operations across the entire business. 

Trend #3: Modern connectivity to power data acquisition and ML/AI

WWT supports manufacturing customers on their digital transformation journeys and deployments of industry X.0 solutions, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. Many, if not most, strategies require secure, cloud-enabled, high-speed connectivity, including wired, wireless and private cellular technologies. To enable this, WWT promotes network assessments and mapping of the active layer, and the communication attributes that ensure secure data acquisition. 

Supporting this approach is the needed for patch management, device firm-ware upgrades, end-point monitoring, trouble shooting, problem identification and resolution. WWT will also focus on DevOps solutions, which help to automate these functions.

Trend #4: Industrial DataOperations (DataOps)

DataOps technology provides data standardization and contextualization, and solves data architecture and integration challenges for enterprise-wide use. Industrial DataOps solutions are an efficient way to leverage the value of industrial digital information by efficiently performing data conditioning while providing a secure data flow to the various consuming applications running at the edge, in on-premise data centers and in the cloud. More succinct benefits include:

  • More informed decisions.
  • Automated processes.
  • Reduced waste and increased yield.
  • Assurance data is reliable and consistent across all applications.
  • Freed up resources to focus on more strategic tasks.

DataOps stems from DevOps, which is defined as set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high quality.

DevOps is focused on software development and deployment, and DataOps‌ is focused on data processing and analytics. But your DevOps and DataOps teams shouldn't avoid the continuous testing phase of the workflows to achieve desired results from these effective methodologies. Other essential success criteria include:

  • A cross-functional team with expertise in data science, engineering, operations, and security.
  • Positive attitude toward innovation and an organizational culture that prioritizes innovation.
  • Clear processes for setting goals, securing leadership commitment and supporting and training the teams for necessary skills and abilities.

Trend #5: Edge to cloud and everything in between

It's important for manufacturers to incorporate edge solutions into their overall compute platform strategy. Whether deploying industrial data centers, remote applications, or data, IoT and machine vision solutions, edge computing enables local workloads to perform in real-time, while also serving as a conduit for secure remote access and transmission of rich data sets to public and private cloud platforms.

Although manufacturing applications require near-real-time processing, the feature rich data sets acquired from industrial applications and control can then be stored in a cloud environment for analysis, which supports critical manufacturing performance goals, including Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), predictive maintenance, vulnerability detection and more.

Trend #6: Application rationalization and modernization

Manufacturers are embarking on an application rationalization effort to reduce applications, optimize underlying infrastructure and minimize cost and complexity. Doubling down on application standards and application intake processes that drive business value and minimize ad-hoc spend in operations is a critical component of an effective go-forward strategy. While there is expected overlap from supply chain, commercial and corporate applications, the goal is to identify the context of all applications and then develop a "lowest common denominator" strategy that ensures that the fewest number of the right applications are leveraged to meet business, technical and operational objectives.

That's a wrap

For manufacturers, 2024 should be an exciting time of IT/OT convergence, driving new efficiencies and fostering innovation. With a little bit of adaptability and resilience, and the help of WWT's seasoned manufacturing and distribution experts, it's possible to harness the power of these trends to shape a successful future. 

We are ready to help you along the path of immersive innovation and progress. Let the future of manufacturing be less about surviving the digital shift and more about leveraging it to thrive for many years to come. 

With WWT by your side, the future is yours.

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