Managing Digital Transformation Through the Life of the Operations

By Dick Hill

ARC Report Abstract


A plethora of technologies are now available to make "digitalization" a reality in industrial operations.  However, the question remains as to whether related plant operations roll-out plans meet business objectives.  Many companies have not yet assessed their current situation to determine if investments in new digital technologies could provide the desired benefits. 

Selecting the right technologies and suppliers to work with is not a simple matter.  As we learned during a session at the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, assessing the current situation and aligning existing technology with new application roll-out plans can be complex, but must happen before investment begins.  Digitalization projects must be prioritized in light of all the other business opportunities an enterprise must consider investing in.  This task must be executed flawlessly.

Many Factors to Consider in Managing Digital Transformation

All industrial companies strive to improve their business performance.  This journey often involves many challenges; not all of that can be expressed easily in terms of business value.  It’s obvious that many of these challenges will require the company to improve the performance of its industrial assets, current or future.  Striving to maximize asset capability throughout the lifecycle of assets is essential.

Managing Digital Transformation

Industrial companies have to worry about global competition and maintaining production and business agility to meet the customer requirements and standards.  There is a lot of pressure to lower the costs related to raw materials, energy, personnel, and plant assets.  At the same time, plant and personnel safety are always important. 

Aging assets and the aging workforce are additional challenges that must be managed well.  New technologies available may help industrial organizations overcome these challenges as well as improve overall plant and asset performance.  

Digital transformation is not just about replacing old technology, it is also about information flow, business improvement, and always making the best decisions.  

Digital Transformation Needs Consistent Standards and Process

At ARC’s recent Industry Forum, Alan Ray, Operational Technology Architect of Aera Energy in California described his company’s path for new technology adoption.  Over the last five years, this oil and gas company, which is jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, has seen tremendous growth in its use of IoT devices and related technologies. 

Mr. Ray described how the relative abundance of IoT technology and lack of firm guidelines for purchasing and deploying this technology led to what he referred to as “Shadow IT.”  He explained that “Shadow IT is very fast, it's very convenient, it's very inexpensive, and along with that, it is insecure.  Shadow IT is those things that are happening within your company that are outside the IT organization, standards, structures, and policies.”

Aera Energy experienced the deployment of Shadow IT in some field applications where there was no electric power or communication infrastructure in place.  According to Mr. Ray, “The local specialist, or supervisor, or even an operator with a credit card could get a vendor to deploy a device with a solar panel, a battery, and an edge device that will talk to a cloud service.” That edge device vendor would provide that operations group with a cloud service that will collect that data, create a dashboard, and put it right back to their phone and tablet.  Typically, they can get this done in a just a couple of days.


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Keywords: Industrial Operations, Digitalization, Digital Transformation, ARC Industry Forum, Industrial Workforce, Shadow IT, Operational Technology (OT), Information Technology (IT), Secure Deployment, Inductive Automation, ARC Advisory Group.

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