Information Technology (IT) gets a lot of respect. Historically most large businesses have an established annual budget for the IT Department. This is often because the business view of IT is really a catch-all for several activities.
IT is responsible for internal communications within a company. Mid- to large size companies rely on the IT to keep remote offices connected to the corporate office. IT is responsible for external communications with customer. Voice Over Internet Phone and direct data links come under the IT budget. Freight traffic can be updated through gateways provided from the shipper to the company’s IT system. Corporate management derives all of its reporting and business information from IT. So the IT department is generally considered a high priority. Money gets spent.
Manufacturing information technology is different from traditional IT. Much of the hardware is similar as industrial PCs continue their migration into traditional PLC territory. But the plant floor manufacturing activity is about making products using dedicated machinery. The language of manufacturing is not binary, it’s ladder logic, state machine, flowchart or some other language that is not simple computer code.
Due to the often “mission critical” nature of some equipment, plant floor production has grown up from the hardwired relay operated controls of the 1960’s through dedicated machine controls. In recent years all of the plant floor manufacturing systems have been required to export production information to the business systems of the company.
So if you want to connect plant floor controllers to the business systems, or add another intelligent device to the plant network, the maintenance department would have to ask someone in IT to install it and verify it for operational use. In many companies this situation creates total chaos. IT has more important things to do, manufacturing has a short dead line they need to meet, back and forth.
What happens when all the communications infrastructure can be outsourced to a third party with a giant server farm and super data security? Actually, if you were really paranoid about your manufacturing data, having a remote third party hosting it might be even more secure. After all, if someone is looking at your plant, how are they going to know where the data is? If the monthly cost is actually cheaper, and you don’t have a huge department to staff, why would do this any other way?
So is the future of IT the Cloud?