To make the transformation to Industry 4.0, Quebec manufacturers need to reinvest in their information technology (IT) departments and rethink the way they operate. From security issues to equipment and network obsolescence, the challenges are many but the investment is well worth it.

“If a manufacturing company is faced with the choice of either investing $1 million in an assembly line that will produce 500,000 new products a month, or spending the same amount to set up an automated invoicing system, it will undoubtedly choose the assembly line.” 
Éric Cothenet, Director of Technology Solutions at NOVIPRO, uses this example to illustrate how challenging it can be for manufacturers to invest in their IT infrastructure. “It’s understandable,” he adds. “After all, the core focus of a manufacturing company isn’t its IT, but the products it wants to sell.” 

But the emergence of Industry 4.0 has radically changed the picture. For example, companies are now using IT systems to support operational technology (OT) so that they can adjust production in real time. These new demands make upgrading existing IT services necessary. And to do this, the first step is to catalogue all your current IT components and carry out a SWOT analysis on them (SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

The initial assessment

When carrying out this first step, many companies quickly realize that their IT infrastructure is obsolete. “A lot of companies find that they’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Cothenet says. “Some systems are obsolete, running at overcapacity or in need of major investment. Others are used ineffectively due to a lack of IT resources.”

Often, staff also lack the required skills. “IT departments, particularly in small or medium-sized businesses, are generally staffed by generalists—people who handle equipment, manage servers and ensure backups,” Cothenet explains. “They’re not trained to do things like maintaining connectivity, managing data and protecting systems against cyberattacks.” 
Finally, IT and OT professionals need to learn to communicate clearly and effectively. “One of the biggest weaknesses in IT people is that they don’t always understand the reality of their company’s industry and the demands placed on operational technology,” Cothenet continues. “They must embrace these challenges and learn how to process data more effectively: for example, by developing a shared terminology.” 

Connectivity, big data and security

IT professionals also have some important strengths that can be leveraged to support OT, including in the areas of connectivity and data processing. “Data capture and processing are important issues in connected factories,” stresses Cothenet.  “IT teams can be very helpful with data standardization, since they’ve already been doing it for a long time. They’re used to it and their expertise in the area is very mature,” he adds. 

IT security is another strength. “People often forget that security is an issue in Industry 4.0. But it’s important to remember that once a machine is connected, its data is exposed to the outside world. IT departments are used to this reality and know how to handle the risk of cyberattacks.” 

The cloud as a backup solution

Some companies may find that despite all their efforts, they still need to turn to an external partner to help with their transformation.

If your company is running on obsolete IT infrastructure, it’s worth considering a cloud solution. “The advantage is that you can invest in it gradually,” explains Aurélien Debec, a business cloud computing specialist at E-SPACE. “Instead of renewing your entire infrastructure and IT systems in one go, you can pick and choose the services you need.” 

This option makes sense from a financial standpoint, as the money spent is considered an operating expenditure rather than capital expenditure. Cloud solutions leave room for growth, because you don’t have to invest an astronomic sum on day 1. This is a significant advantage for companies with limited IT budgets.

Once the IT department begins its transformation, it start supporting the OT team in their transition to Industry 4.0.

Read the next article from our 4.0 transformation Series: A new role for IT professionals in connected factories.