Journey to an Enterprise Industrial Digital Infrastructure

In this book, the character of Peter Argus represents managers at companies in a range of industries. They work with systems that track operation- related activities. However, they have a major challenge: They are not getting the information they need, when they need it, to make better decisions and improvements in their processes. As a result, their results are not as strong as they should be.

To survive, companies must create what Arie de Geus, the group planning coordinator for Royal Dutch Shell, called "the living company" (De Geus 1988). He theorized that the only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization's capability to learn faster than its competition. De Geus developed these strategies in the 1980s while looking for the secrets of corporate longevity and studying companies that had survived more than 100 years. He concluded that a company that involves everyone needed for execution in the planning and decision-making process will be more successful in a world which it does not control. De Geus concluded that it is not efficiency, but flexibility to adapt that an organization needs to survive. Companies must have methods, vision, and faith to institute a system that enables the existing staff to be flexible. People can alter the direction of the company with many small moves within and outside their domain (Kennedy 2002).

Proclndustries is embarking on an operational excellence program. The company's leaders are betting on the future: the digitization of their physical world through advancing technologies such as the industrial Internet of things (IoT). As such, by reevaluating what they have and building a digital data infrastructure, they will apply smart thinking, engineering, and analytic tools to proactively improve awareness and avoid operational losses. They will enable their people to succeed.

Of course, this kind of operation is not easy to achieve. At its root, the challenge may be that they are not using their existing plant information systems to their full capabilities. It may be that they need to update their current business performance methods to take advantage of new sensors and data analysis capabilities that provide real-time insights into operations (see the box "Managers at a Disadvantage without Real-Time Data"). Or it could be a combination of these two factors.


Many enterprises face competitive challenges, volatility in their raw material supplies, and changes in work processes and regulatory regimes. The collection and analysis of detailed data about operations can empower frontline managers and workers at every level, helping them manage these challenges. A digital data infrastructure enables this capability and brings real-time visibility into operations to every level of the company, from frontline workers to their managers to the executive suite.

Although the exact factors may differ, the voyage to improvement has common traits and a common destination: an enterprise industrial data infrastructure (EIDI) that brings insights to plant teams so they can make better decisions to improve operations. With EIDI, one plant can share lessons with others, and the larger enterprise can collect these lessons and develop best practices that the organization can codify and build on for a more sustainable and profitable future.

That is the goal for Peter and his colleagues at Proclndustries. There are four stages to the journey:

  • 1. See the future. Plant teams need to recognize the potential and value of an EIDI and articulate their vision.
  • 2. Gain management support and form the team. Achieving a successful EIDI means winning support from stakeholders to make the vision a reality. Creating a team of stakeholders to lead the EIDI implementation is an essential part of that effort.
  • 3. Understand the barriers to success. Only through a detailed understanding of existing practices can an EIDI be implemented. This calls for learning about how work is accomplished, the roles in a plant, and how each team member uses data and shares data. It requires interviews and information exchange.
  • 4. Proceed. Armed with stakeholder support, an understanding of current conditions, and a vision of the future, the team leading an EIDI effort can move forward to implement the initiative.

In this book, as in real life, some of these activities can overlap and occur simultaneously. For example, support for an EIDI project among some stakeholders can build as they begin to understand the company's challenge and how an EIDI can help them. The journey itself can be hard work, but the destination is rewarding, not only for the team members who gain new skills but for the company as a whole.

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