This is still more followup from Emerson Global Users Exchange relative to sessions on Projects Pilot Purgatory. I thought I had already written this, but just discovered it languishing in my drafts folder. While in Nashville, I ran into Jonas Berge, senior director, applied technology for Plantweb at Emerson Automation. He has been a source for technology updates for years. We followed up a brief conversation with a flurry of emails where he updated me on some presentations.

One important topic centered on IoT projects—actually applicable to other types of projects as well. He told me the secret sauce is to start small. “A World Economic Forum white paper on the fourth industrial revolution in collaboration with McKinsey suggests that to avoid getting stuck in prolonged “pilot purgatory” plants shall start small with multiple projects – just like we spoke about at EGUE and just like Denka and Chevron Oronite and others have done,” he told me.

“I personally believe the problem is when plants get advice to take a ‘big bang’ approach starting by spending years and millions on an additional ‘single software platform’ or data lake and hiring a data science team even before the first use case is tackled,” said Berge. “My blog post explains this approach to avoiding pilot purgatory in greater detail.”

I recommend visiting Berge’s blog for more detail, but I’ll provide some teaser ideas here.

First he recommends

  • Think Big
  • Start Small
  • Scale Fast

Scale Fast

Plants must scale digital transformation across the entire site to fully enjoy the safety benefits like fewer incidents, faster incident response time, reduced instances of non-compliance, as well as reliability benefits such as greater availability, reduced maintenance cost, extend equipment life, greater integrity (fewer instances of loss of containment), shorter turnarounds, and longer between turnarounds. The same holds true for energy benefits like lower energy consumption, cost, and reduced emissions and carbon footprint, as well as production benefits like reduced off-spec product (higher quality/yield), greater throughput, greater flexibility (feedstock use, and products/grades), reduced operations cost, and shorter lead-time.

Start Small

The organization can only absorb so much change at any one time. If too many changes are introduced in one go, the digitalization will stall:

  • Too many technologies at once
  • Too many data aggregation layers
  • Too many custom applications
  • Too many new roles
  • Too many vendors

Multiple Phased Projects

McKinsey research shows plants successfully scaling digital transformation instead run smaller digitalization projects; multiple small projects across the functional areas. This matches what I have personally seen in projects I have worked on.

From what I can tell it is plants that attempt a big bang approach with many digital technologies at once that struggle to scale. There are forces that encourage companies to try to achieve sweeping changes to go digital, which can lead to counterproductive overreaching. 

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests a disciplined phased approach rather than attempting to boil the ocean. I have seen plants focus on a technology that can digitally transform and help multiple functional areas with common infrastructure. A good example is wireless sensor networks. Deploying wireless sensor networks in turn enables many small projects that help many departments digitally transform the way they work. The infrastructure for one technology can be deployed relatively quickly after which many small projects are executed in phases.

Small projects are low-risk. A small trial of a solution in one plant unit finishes fast. After a quick success, then scale it to the full plant area, and then scale to the entire plant. Then the team can move on to start the next pilot project. This way plants move from PoC to full-scale plant-wide implementation at speed. For large organization with multiple plants, innovations often emerge at an individual plant, then gets replicated at other sites, rolled out nation-wide and globally.

Use Existing Platform

I have also seen big bang approach where plant pours a lot of money and resources into an additional “single software platform” layer for data aggregation before the first use-case even gets started. This new data aggregation platform layer is meant to be added above the ERP with the intention to collect data from the ERP and plant historian before making it available to analytics through proprietary API requiring custom programming. 

Instead, successful plants start small projects using the existing data aggregation platform; the plant historian. The historian can be scaled with additional tags as needed. This way a project can be implemented within two weeks, with the pilot running an additional three months, at low-risk. 

Think Big
I personally like to add you must also think of the bigger vision. A plant cannot run multiple small projects in isolation resulting in siloed solutions. Plants successful with digital transformation early on establish a vision of what the end goal looks like. Based on this they can select the technologies and architecture to build the infrastructure that supports this end goal.
NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA)
The system architecture for the digital operational infrastructure (DOI) is important. The wrong architecture leads to delays and inability to scale. NAMUR (User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries) has defined the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) to enable Industry 4.0. I have found that plants that have deployed digital operational infrastructure (DOI) modelled on the same principles as NOA are able to pilot and scale very fast. Flying StartThe I&C department in plants can accelerate digital transformation to achieve operational excellence and top quartile performance by remembering Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast. These translate into a few simple design principles:

  • Phased approach
  • Architecture modeled on the NAMUR Open Architecture
  • Ready-made apps
  • East-to-use software
  • Digital ecosystem
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