‘Machine integration is the starting point of realising IIoT’


Shrikant Zarekar responded to a few questions from Industrial Automation on the opportunities opened by IIoT for digital transformation.

  • Client

    Orient Cement

  • Services

    Utilising Digital, IIoT and Analytics to solve real-life business problems

  • Technologies

    Industrial Automation

  • Dates




IIoT is said to have the potential to transform every aspect of manufacturing. What is the vendors’ perspective here?

Agreed! To me, transformation in the context of IIoT would mean enhanced cost vs. quality vs. time matrix on the operations side and enhanced customer experience through on-time, hyper relevant products and personalised experiences. And as the cost of connecting, retrieving, storing and analysing data is plummeting exponentially, IIoT seems like a practical possibility across industries.


Which leads to the question, why hasn’t it all happened yet? Why is it that most of the clients across industries have yet to realise the potential of IIoT? The answer to this question may not be simple.


IIoT offers countless opportunities, but knowing which of those opportunities are to be explored first in the context of present world is the most challenging question.


John Wanamaker (father of modern advertising and a pioneer in marketing), beautifully said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”.


I think story of IIoT is quite similar to the quote. Doing what is needed and not doing what looks flashy in the moment is important. IIoT has the potential to solve real life major problem, and hence knowing which of those problems we should attempt first, is the bigger question.  Realising IIoT is a strategy tool and not just a technology tool is the first step towards understanding the potential of it.


Lastly, the context of the markets we cater to, the country we live is also very important to understand what the need of the hour is. Driverless cars, and drone delivery systems and connected cities are definitely desirable but if compared to; on time delivery of goods through GPS enabled trucks you are the better judge which solution we should prioritise in India.


Digital transformation is the key to success in IIoT. Are the user industries ready for this?

Digital transformation is the pretext to successful IIoT implantation. There are many challenges which industries need to address.


Compatibility between old age machines and new age digital technologies pose a serious technology challenge. But there are solutions which can address this issue. Focusing on architecting a sustainable digital solution to connect machines and leverage insights from machines is the key. Similarly, collecting constant feedback on user experience is important to drive decision to make products and services enriching in customer experience.


Moreover, change management is at the heart of IIoT adoption challenge. Addressing it through contextualising systems and process coupled with strong steer from top management is needed.


All of the above essentially are addressed by digital transformation.


While the advantages of IIoT can be overwhelming, it is often the case that manufacturers are in a dilemma where to begin. Is this the reality?

Barry Schwartz in his book “The paradox of choice, why more is less” aptly puts it:


“Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction we get out of what we choose – even when what we choose is terrific”


With IIoT offering so many choices to get started with, any choice might seem suboptimal and hard to make. Choosing a starting point and staying committed to the strategic vision is important. “Failing Fast” is the new norm in many industries and hence making the first call on the suboptimal choice is better than waiting and not taking the first step.


Do vendors have enough use cases to convince a fence sitting manufacturing enterprise?

If RoI is the only matrix of measurement for choosing a project then the choice of projects might be limited. But being cognitive about the future readiness would broaden the scope for adoption. For example, if a simple MIS solution might not look attractive on RoI terms (primarily because it’s hard to define RoI) in short term but the data that this project might collect over the years can fuel future analysis and optimisation problems.


That being said, there are many use cases which can reflect in short term benefits – such as operations planning and optimisation, continuous manufacturing process optimisation, track and trace quality, logistics planning and optimisation and many more.


Typically, if IIoT project implementations can run on self-funding (coming from savings) would really be an ideal start.


Ideally, for a typical user, legacy equipment is a big consideration as to how to start the digital transformation. Are there solutions for this?

Many M2M connectivity devices (hardware) and software solutions can easily collect data over OPC and Modbus without much investment. Innovative products such as eWon Flexy can help you connect to most of the legacy PLCs at low cost. Moreover, many brands – Mitsubishi, Rockwell, Siemens, ABB – have their connectivity devices from PLCs, DCS, SCADA and HMIs.


Machine integration is the starting point of realising IIoT.


Is it possible to start small, and then scale up the implementation?

Definitely, doing pilot runs in localised, miniaturised manner is an important aspect of IIoT implementation. Co-Creation model of engagement lets clients and vendors collaborate to find the most suitable solution. Proving the utility without wasting much time, failing fast and moving on to the next big problem is a mindset which needs to be nurtured. It’s important to consider vendors as partners in problem solving and not mere suppliers. And it’s also equally important for vendors to work with clients on the problem at hand and not supply generic solutions.


Shrikant Zarekar is passionate about utilising Digital, IIoT and Analytics to solve real-life business problems through Co-Creation, Design Thinking and Agile. He works as Digital Think Tank at Orient Cement; and is an alumnus of IIT Bombay and IIM Bangalore.