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Data Alchemy: When the Intelligent Edge Meets IoT

In medieval times, alchemy was a hot trend for those seeking fame and fortune. Today, instead of attempting to make base metals into precious gold, the smart organisations are turning everyday data into a prized outcome: knowledge. Fortunately, thanks to the right blend of technologies, they have a far greater chance of success.

Most businesses create far more data than they realise. This is thanks to an extraordinary rise in the number of connected devices: by this year, it was expected that more than 150 million IoT devices would be connected worldwide. From cameras and thermometers to sensors, the devices perform a vast array of operational tasks. In performing their important operational technology (OT) functions, the devices generate massive amounts of data, but this is routinely underused.

The IoT Opportunity

Typically, the data generated by IoT devices is used for retrospective detection of anomalies or problems. This in itself is useful. If equipment in a temperature-controlled environment has failed, for example, delving into environmental data should identify the culprit. The problem is, by that time, the impact on operations has already happened, and rectifying the problem may take a while. Instead of this reactive approach, it is now possible to use the data to predict issues and optimise their operational technology use. For one Western Australian business in the mining and resources sector, measuring equipment condition with Cisco OT gave them rapid, reliable, and actionable insights. They were able to optimise operational priorities based on current conditions, predicting where their efforts would be most beneficial. They reduced duplicated effort and increased productivity.

Resilience

Resilience is another big winner. Faced with supply chain disruption during the global pandemic, some businesses and government organisations have been changing tack. With difficulties including moving skilled staff across state and international borders, the ability to manage and monitor operational environments remotely has had a hugely positive effect on resilience, and allowed businesses to sidestep a huge stumbling block. While the word ‘unprecedented’ is thrown around a lot when discussing the pandemic, the reality is that organisations face many shocks and upheavals, so resilient environments never go out of style.

Safety

One thing that is shared by our customers across sectors such as resources, transport, utilities, and manufacturing, is that IoT devices have exceptional application in improving safety. In a mine, that may mean analysing detailed information about conditions and structure, while in transport, it may involve monitoring anything from driver behaviour to vehicle maintenance. In the case of one transport organisation we work with, an Infrastructure Diagnostic Vehicle (IDV) travels the rail network, and comparing track condition to its previous checks, then identifies where maintenance is needed. It means through Cisco IoT the organisation can manage rail and overhead infrastructure cost-effectively, and rail user safety is prioritised.

How Edge Computing Brings IoT to Life

To harness the potential of IoT-generated data, it is necessary to overcome some initial hurdles. Latency is a particular pain point for organisations operating in remote locations. Lower latency is necessary for many modern applications to work effectively, but if data is travelling from the Pilbara to a data centre in, say, Sydney, that app may be reduced to a glitchy liability. Network costs can be prohibitive when vast amounts of data produced by connected devices is processed in a central location.

Cisco Edge

For this reason, vendors like Cisco have poured resources and investment into a model that shifts compute capabilities away from public data centres and closer to the devices at the network’s edge. Both latency and network costs are lower, but that isn’t the only win. By enabling analysis at the edge, automation occurs more efficiently, leading to a more cost-effective use of equipment. It also allows for a more proactive level of analysis. This can, for example, be used to predict when key equipment must be replaced before it fails, preventing the expense of unplanned operational downtime. One of our mining customers recently installed sensors in its heavy machinery, which, combined with augmented reality technology, make it possible to reduce diagnosis time and keep the equipment running for more hours.

IoT and Security

Security must be a primary consideration when connecting operational technology. Without a comprehensive plan, connected devices are a boon for hackers. In fact, 75% of vulnerabilities are now found in IoT/ICS devices1. A regular security review will help here, and technology should be chosen with these numbers in mind. The cost of security breaches affecting the operational environment are immense. Colonial Pipeline, which experienced devastating cyberattacks recently, uses a range of sensors, and even ‘smart pig’ inspection robots, as it transports 45% of East Coast petrol, diesel, and jet fuel in the USA2. While investigations continue into the cause of its recent breach, the outcome caused chaos when Colonial took the pipeline offline.

Whether sending workers in person is problematic due to COVID-19 restrictions, other crises, or sheer distance, remotely accessing and managing operational technology is an attractive prospect, but it should never be a trade-off with security. Here, again, Cisco edge technology is a defensive MVP. They designed a secure, end-to-end validated solution simple enough that operational managers can grant and control access within minutes to chosen personnel, then disable it when their work is completed.

The Time for IoT is Now

Still, the cost and efficiency gains of securely managed IoT are immense, and in times of crisis, well-chosen technology can keep organisations operating without pause. In today’s world, that resilience advantage is no small thing.

Time to improve your business resiliency with IoT? As an Australian leader in the Cisco IoT / OT portfolio, Data#3 are uniquely positioned to help you further your IoT strategy and solution. Talk to our Cisco experts to learn more about how the unparalleled Cisco IoT / OT portfolio could help you turn edge device data into operational gold.

1 Security Boulevard (2021), 20-surprising-iot-statistics-you-dont-already-know [ONLINE]. Available here. 
2 BBC (2021), Colonial Hack: How did cyber-attackers shut off pipeline? [ONLINE]. Available here.

Tags: Cisco, Cisco Edge, Internet of Things (IoT)

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