There is significant value to be gained on the journey to digital transformation and substantial productivity gains to be realized, but only by taking a hard look at both the cultural and the technological constraints that inhibit most manufacturing organizations from achieving great, sustainable outcomes on this journey.

Two decades after automation networks on the plant floor became ubiquitous, it’s still generally true that information accessibility between plant floor devices — and the people and systems that can create new value from them — continues to be a significant challenge.

It’s clear that we need a fresh paradigm to enable the real-time flow of information throughout the manufacturing enterprise so we can truly capitalize on technology innovations such as predictive analytics, machine learning and digital transformation.

Let’s take a hard look at the underlying root causes for this phenomenon.


  • OT (manufacturing operations) leaders are motivated and incentivized differently than their associates in IT (information technology), often causing diametrically opposed actions/initiatives in operations;
  • OT is characterized by a here-and-now mentality, keeping production going at all costs with little room to think about the future/sustainability of their actions/systems (i.e. solve this problem right now, but spend as little as possible and give little thought to standards, system sustainability, security impact, etc.);
  • OT tends to make software technology selections based on the minimal investment required to solve the problem at hand. Often the result is a custom solution (shadow IT), which is likely non-compliant with IT standards and outside the purview of IT;
  • IT executives live in an environment where adherence to standards, process rigor, and systems sustainability is paramount IT is often perceived by OT as taking too long to serve the needs of the plant/operations;
  • IT is motivated to reduce the number of systems, vendors, and shadow-IT solutions in operations, which puts them at odds with their associates in the plants;
  • IT is skeptical of, wary of, and often unwelcome in plant operations. OT doesn’t trust IT to be able to help in a cost effective and timely fashion.

I contend that digital transformation can be the catalyst to align these essential elements – culture and technology – as a foundational enabler for value creation, empowering both sets of stakeholders, OT and IT, to collaborate and solve the here-and-now problems that arise in the plants, and to advance the long-term strategic initiatives so essential to achieving the anticipated productivity gains.

The first objective on this journey is to remove the complexity and domain expertise required to access plant floor devices and systems.

Getting at a sensor, a variable frequency drive, a PLC, a historian, etc., should be no more difficult than connecting to a printer. This would greatly enhance the velocity of plant floor data moving throughout the enterprise, making it available for anyone to generate new insights and create value and dramatically reduce the time and skill sets required to effectively solve big manufacturing problems.

This is truly about enabling all OT and IT practitioners to access all the plant floor devices and systems they need and use the tools they’re already comfortable with to interact with the data and create the outcomes they’re seeking.

At Rockwell, for example, we are focusing on encapsulating and digitizing the key attributes of plant floor devices and systems and exposing all relevant content for that device via a well-documented data model.

What this means is that a whole new set of stakeholders can get access to the data from these devices using standard, well-understood technologies. This is a big step on the journey to digital transformation!


John Dyck is Director, Software Business Development, at Rockwell Automation