Engineering a System of Systems (SoS)

a System of Systems

“Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That’s why I say a business is a system … any action will reverberate throughout the entire company.”
– John Woods (Work in Progress)

The evolution of an enterprise resembles the evolution of any other type of organism. Processes become more complex as the enterprise grows; job requirements become more compartmentalized. Over time, complex and varied systems are developed or implemented to help personnel perform their very specific sets of tasks. Many enterprises today are composed of many of these separate silos of activity that do not share information with each other – and when they do it is not in real time.

This organizational model has served us well, generally helping to improve operational efficiency, increasing productivity, and providing better tools for people to do their jobs. Now, as we enter the era of connected devices and the IoT (Internet of Things), it is becoming more apparent that these old models that were designed to make things more efficient are actually serving as obstacles to taking the next step.

Before now, these separate silos of activity allowed people to focus more specifically on the task at hand without worrying about any other tasks. Today’s reality is that an enterprise truly operates as more of a continuum. All of these separate systems must work in concert to ensure the health of the organism as a whole.

Imagine your own personal organism. How would your lungs work correctly without information from your circulatory system? And how could your circulatory system deal with injuries without information from your nervous system? Our brains, hearts, lungs, stomachs, kidneys and livers must be in constant communication with one another at all times. And any one of these systems can be impacted at any time by new information pulled in from outside through our senses. A healthy organism is not one where each individual system performs its specific tasks as efficiently as possible. A healthy organism is one in which every system is constantly striving to ensure the greater good of the entire organism.

Many enterprises are discovering today that they need to implement a system of systems.

Implementing a system that encompasses all of your existing systems can increase your capacity for management, analysis, and understanding of underlying business problems and opportunities. Gain real-time insight into how altering just one component of a process can impact all other processes. For instance, witness in real time how a change to a maintenance schedule effects productivity and asset performance. Discover opportunities to reduce energy consumption or create greater coordination between your production schedule and your supply chain.

A system of systems can promote greater high-level situational awareness, increase your capacity for interdepartmental collaboration, and allow for entirely new models of analysis and automation. Imagine the following scenario: a plant floor machine’s throughput drops below what’s expected; immediately, an alarm notification is sent and the machine is automatically shut down for maintenance. Another task is triggered to generate a work order; the work order is automatically assigned to the technician who is closest and best able to perform the work (the technician is notified in real time on his smart phone or tablet). While the maintenance is performed, all of the day’s numbers related to production, profit, warehousing, shipping, etc. are automatically adjusted to accommodate the downtime. Meanwhile, the technician is able to perform the maintenance, test the machine, and update the work order right there on the spot (on his phone, for instance). All other systems are automatically aware of the work order’s completion in real-time and everything is adjusted again accordingly.

Imagine creating custom interfaces for each role in your organization. Depending on an individual’s job responsibilities, he/she could have real-time access to all data necessary to do their jobs – regardless of where that data was generated or where it is stored.

With a little imagination, there is a seemingly endless number of possibilities revealed when all of your data systems and personnel are working in a network of continuous communication. And the best part is that implementing an SoS does not require removing or replacing any of your existing systems. The software application or suite can be installed as a sort of top layer that ties all of your systems together. Keep your SCADA/DCS system. Keep your CMMS, your ERP, and any of the other useful systems in which you have already invested enormous amounts of time and money. They will still provide value. Your SoS is not intended to replace these systems, but to weave them together into a single fabric of continual intelligence and agility.

Are Farmers Leading the Way to the IoT?

The agriculture industry is embracing the IoT like no other.

We have all heard the banging of drums declaring the Internet of Things to be the next great technological revolution. The IoT is expected to make production processes more efficient, reduce waste and resource consumption, improve customer service, and provide a wide array of new products and services that will change the way we all live and work.

It is already impacting manufacturing, retail, utilities, and myriad other industries all looking to get a jump on the next big thing.

It may come as a surprise to some, but of all the many industries investing in and adopting IoT (Internet of Things) technology, the most prolific may in fact be the agriculture industry. Farmers have been very eager to adopt the IoT, and have already had a significant amount of success.

There are a number of reasons for this:

Ease of Deployment

Inexpensive sensors placed in various parts of a cultivated field can quickly yield very useful actionable data – whereas in an industrial environment adoption would require modifying or disrupting existing networks and software systems.

Instant Value

Pre-existing metrics of precision agriculture can be applied more easily, maximizing the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheremones. Of course, there is the obvious and very tangible benefit of decreased resource consumption and increased yield.

Continual value

In agricultural IoT deployments, the same practices that provide instant value will continue to provide value for as long as they are employed. Conservation of water and waste reduction provide repeated value, as well as the increased yield brought on by precision farming.

Early adopters have primarily been large commercial farms, but smaller farms are finding ways to leverage sensor data and remote monitoring to make incremental improvements to their yields as well. In fact, the IoT may eventually serve as a sort of equalizing factor that allows smaller food producers to compete with the larger commercial growers.

So, not only is the IoT revitalizing an essential industry, it has the potential to solve some very serious problems related to food shortages and ever-increasing populations. This, of course, is in addition to reducing the environmental impact of farming and bringing the family-owned farm back into the global marketplace.

That’s not bad for technology that many people think is confusing and consider to be a bunch of “hype”, is it?

Industry 4.0 – The Industrial Revolution Continues

Industrial revolution is an on-going process.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
– Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)

It is becoming a matter of common knowledge that we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, alternatively referred to as the Industrial Internet or Industry 4.0. This circumstance resulted from the usual combination of capability and need, and as usual, participation will not be optional.

In each previous period of revolution, companies that wished to remain competitive in the marketplace had little choice but to embrace the march of technology and leverage the same revolutionary tools employed by their competitors. In the late 18th or early 19th Century, when Jim’s Widget Factory down the street bought a steam engine to power his production processes, how could you hope to keep your widget factory afloat? No clever re-organization of your business processes or motivated personnel could ever hope to compete with a steam engine. The reality is you had to get one too.

The same holds true when you move into the next period of revolution (Industry 2.0), marked by the introduction of the moving assembly line and electrically-powered production. Obviously, it didn’t happen overnight, but when your toughest competitors began to employ this new technology, there was no way to pretend your comparatively slow manual assembly line could ever hope to compete. The inevitably ubiquitous nature of these technological advances is exactly what made them “revolutionary”. Flash forward to the advent of the microchip and personal computers – Industry 3.0 – and an obvious pattern emerges. Industrial revolutions don’t just affect the few companies that have the resources to leverage the new technologies; they affect the entire industry. Whether you and your organization choose to embrace the revolution or ignore it, there is no way to stop it and there is no way to shield yourself from its influence on the marketplace.

So, What is Industry 4.0?

The latest industrial revolution centers around the new world of smart, connected objects. This is the realm of autonomous factories and self-healing machines. This is the world depicted in the science fiction of the mid-twentieth century. Through the convergent development of advanced computing power, sophisticated network technology, sensors, robotics, and analytic techniques, we are seeing the integration of systems both vertically and horizontally. We are seeing machines communicating with other machines and making decisions based on real-time data. We are entering a time when new rules are emerging and business processes are being evaluated anew. Much in the same way that previous revolutionary advances forced themselves into the awareness of business owners and managers, the time has come to face reality of the industrial internet.

Of course, a unique thing about this fourth industrial revolution is that its benefits extend beyond the marketplace. Whereas previously advances were made by increasing the scale or speed of production, the new paradigm focuses on increasing efficiency, reducing resource consumption and eliminating waste to find opportunities for greater profit. The new industrial landscape of smart, connected devices will incidentally lead to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable planet.

Industrial enterprises that have embraced the new paradigm have seen measurable results. Real-time consumer data is helping companies be more responsive to the needs and expectations of their customers, and helping to eliminate gaps between supply and demand. Predictive analysis is helping to reduce maintenance costs and incrementally improve production processes through systems of continual improvement. A plant floor machine can now be aware of its current condition and environment and make decisions about its operation – or even the operation of other machines.

The fourth industrial revolution is every bit as revolutionary as the previous three, and the evidence surrounds us. We are living in a smarter, connected world full of “smart” cities full of “smart” buildings, and this is only the beginning. By 2020, what we now call Industry 4.0 will be known simply as ‘industry’. Where will you and your business be?